Originally posted by ESPN.com/APRick Ankiel is ending a pitching career derailed by injuries and record wildness and will try to make the St. Louis Cardinals' roster as an outfielder.
Ankiel as a hitter
Rick Ankiel's athletic ability makes his move from the mound to the outfield an option, and his hitting background, as both a professional and as an amateur, indicate his move to the outfield has a small chance of succeeding.
As a major leaguer, Ankiel is 18-for-87, including a .250/.292/.382 season in 2000, when he went 11-7, 3.50 on the mound. Ankiel also homered twice that season, which is when his control problems cropped up in the playoffs.
When his wildness forced him out of the big leagues in 2001, the Cardinals dropped Ankiel to Rookie-level Johnson City in the Appalachian League to clear his head. As a 22-year-old, Ankiel pitched and hit for Johnson City and hit .286-10-35, striking out 26 times in 105 at-bats. If he had qualified, he would have led the league with a .638 slugging percentage.
In 1997, as a high school senior, Ankiel played for USA Baseball's junior national team, which won a bronze medal in the World Championships. The roster included future big leaguers such as Reds outfielder Austin Kearns, Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday and Twins infielder Michael Cuddyer. Kearns led the team in hitting and Cuddyer topped the club in home runs and RBI. Ankiel, meanwhile, was the team's fourth-leading batter, hitting .387-3-16 in 62 at-bats.
"At the time, (Rick) was as good a hitter as he was a pitcher," said Paul Seiler, CEO of USA Baseball and the general manager of the U.S. Junior national team in '97. "He's athletic enough to do it; he flipped between pitching and first base for us with Austin Kearns, who was considered more of a pitcher in high school. He was a smooth hitter who could go yard at any time. He was hitting against legit guys in our trials like Ryan Anderson, Matt Riley, Corey Vance, Kearns ... It would be a great story if he were able to become a contributor as a hitter." -- John Manuel, Baseball America
Ankiel, 25, had yet to appear in a spring training game as he tried to revive a career interrupted by control problems and reconstructive elbow surgery. He was to have pitched in a "B" game Wednesday, but it was rained out.
Ankiel said he's been thinking of making the switch since he left winter ball in Puerto Rico after feeling a twinge in his elbow. He was impressive in his first time throwing to hitters this spring, but the outings since then have been erratic.
"This whole time, the frustration that built up, it seems like it was really eroding my spirit and starting to affect my personality off the field as well," Ankiel said. "It just became apparent that it was time for me to move on and pursue becoming an outfielder. I feel relieved now and I'm happy to move on."
Ankiel is a career .207 hitter in the major leagues, going 18-for-87 with two homers, a double, a triple and nine RBI. He played some at designated hitter for the Cardinals' rookie league team in Johnson City, Tenn., where he hit 10 homers in 2001.
"I've always enjoyed playing outfield and I've definitely enjoyed hitting," Ankiel said. "Hopefully, I can pick up as much as I can being around some of these guys and spending more time with them in the cage."
Manager Tony La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty had been aware for a few days that Ankiel was considering giving up pitching. Ankiel said the pair "said they understood and wished me luck."
"We are fully supportive of Rick's decision to convert to an everyday outfielder," Jocketty said. "Rick will continue to train with the major league club this spring, and we look forward to seeing his development as a full-time batter and outfielder."
It's unfortunate the way his control deteriated so quickly, so violently, in such a public setting. Hopefully, he can cut it as somebody's fourth outfielder in the bigs someday.
I can't help but feel bad for the guy. As a Cards fan, after his postseason fiasco against the Mets, I wanted his neck. But now, with hindsight, I'm cheering for the guy.
He was definitely a good-hitting pitcher with the Cards. They've used him as a pinch hitter a few times. But he really needs to work on his fielding, which is something this story doesn't address. In 2000, his decent rookie season and only full major league season, he led all MLB pitchers in errors.
Also, it's far from a gurantee that he's gonna make the team as an OF. In fact, the story says he'll likely be sent to the minors this way, whereas he was almost a lock to make the roster as a pitcher.
More interesting is Neyer's comment on that ESPN page:
Originally posted by Rob NeyerThere's a precedent here.
In 1957, Cardinals rookie Von McDaniel pitched a two-hit shutout in his major league debut. He wound up the season with a 7-5 record and a 3.22 ERA. Oh, one more thing: he was 18 years old.
McDaniel never won another game in the majors. He missed most of 1958 with an injury, and spent 1959 in the Florida State League. He pitched well that season, going 13-5 ... and he also played in the field, and batted .313 with 10 homers and 71 RBI. That basically ended McDaniel's career as a pitcher, but he spent six more seasons in the minors as a power-hitting infielder.
That's about what I think will happen to Rick Ankiel. He's immensely talented, but almost certainly not talented enough to hit major league pitching with any sort of consistency. He's the new Von McDaniel.
I would say this is probably the most likely scenario. Ankiel must have a real fear of pitching or seriously doubt his ability to pitch anymore to make this move.
If I made a totally uneducated guess at what Ankiel would do over a full season as a fifth outfielder (and I realize he'll be in the minors learning to hit and all), I would have him well below the .250/.292/.386 numbers he had in 2000 with the Cards. I think best case scenario is he ends up a vagabond professional hitter like John Mabry.
But still, I'm rooting for him, because outside of being a wackjob of a pitcher, he's always seemed like a pretty level-headed guy.
Don't the Cards risk losing him by sending him to the minors? He doesn't have options left, if I am not mistaken, and would have to clear waivers. Wouldn't a team like the Braves, who make caviar out of bat guano, jump at the chance to take him on as a pitching reclamation project?
Just to add this (stltoday.com), which I hadn't realized:
(from the linked article) Jocketty conceded there was "risk" to outrighting Ankiel but voiced skepticism that another club would take Ankiel and his $400,000 salary, knowing that it must keep him on its 25-man roster or risk losing him to a similar claim.
Anyone think that ANY club would hose a roster spot for him as a position player?
(also from the linked article) "We're going to let all teams know he's not going to pitch anymore," Boras said. "It's not an option. We would never do that to the Cardinals."
When Scott Boras displays something akin to principle, most people surely want to: a) check their backs for the "kick me" sign b) call home and make sure the wife and kids still live there c) run their hand across their pocket to make sure their wallet is where they left it
Lowe was having such a bad year in '04 that Boston wanted to sit him out the rest of the year. But when it came playoff time, he got the Sox through some huge games, including Game 7 against the Yanks.