SEATTLE - This Tar Heel already knows the footsteps he's following to Seattle.
Dustin Ackley became only the third outfielder in more than two decades selected first by the Mariners on Tuesday, when Seattle picked the University of North Carolina slugger with the No. 2 overall choice in baseball's amateur draft.
The move came minutes after Stephen Strasburg went No. 1 overall to Washington. That left Ackley the obvious choice in a draft many believe was short on top college position players.
The other outfielders drafted first by Seattle: Jose Cruz Jr. in 1995 - and some kid named Ken Griffey Jr., their first overall pick in 1987.
The Mariners hope the speedy, powerful Ackley turns out even a bit like Griffey did.
"Sweet swing," Mariners first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik said of the left-handed Ackley while inside Safeco Field, a stadium in which left-handed power hitters thrive. "We think this guy has the potential to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter in the major leagues."
Just don't mention to North Carolina's only three-time baseball All-American that he's now following the same paths into the Seattle outfield as Griffey, the now-39-year-old superstar back with the Mariners, and eight-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki.
"I mean, that's crazy," Ackley said.
His school's career batting leader with a .410 average in three seasons, Ackley comes from Walnut Cove, a former plantation-turned-town outside Winston-Salem so small and unknown that the information the Mariners handed out called it Walnut Grove.
Asked if he's now its most famous resident, Ackley said sheepishly, "I guess so."
Eight months ago, the 21-year-old couldn't throw a baseball following ligament-replacement surgery in his right arm. North Carolina moved him from center field to first base to protect his arm, and he said only last month that he felt like his old self.
Zduriencik made it clear, though, that he drafted Ackley to be an outfielder.
"We're very excited about this. We think this kid is the best hitter in the draft. This is a guy we thought could be here in a short period of time," Zduriencik said, moments after Seattle made its highest pick since it took Alex Rodriguez first overall in 1993.
"The only reason he played first base this year is Tommy John surgery last year," Zduriencik said. "We think this kid's got a really nice future for him in Seattle."
With their second choice in the first round, at No. 27 overall, Seattle selected switch-hitting shortstop Nick Franklin of Lake Brantley High School outside Orlando, Fla.
With the 33rd overall choice, compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to Philadelphia after last season, Seattle selected Steven Baron, a catcher from John A. Ferguson High School in Miami.
Ackley is one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player this season. His three-run homer on Sunday led North Carolina into the College World Series beginning this weekend - he was more jazzed talking about that mission than he was being the No. 2 overall pick.
He is so health conscious, he can't remember the last time he drank soda. But Tuesday night was so special, he figured he'd finally have one.
"I just try to stay away from the bad stuff," Ackley said.
How soon do the Mariners expect Ackley to soar through the minor leagues?
"Those are tough things to predict. But it's not going to be far away," Zduriencik said. "We think it's going to be a short time until he's a major leaguer."
In the second round, Seattle chose Georgia first baseman Rich Poythress. He finished this season with a .376 average, 25 home runs and a school-record 86 RBIs.
Seattle's third-round choice was second baseman Kyle Seager, Ackley's teammate at North Carolina.