06/22/2005: Rick Ankiel Watch
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about how onetime Cardinals pitching sensation Rick Ankiel is doing in the low minors. For those of you not playing the home game, Rick first came up with the Cardinals in 1999 at age 19, and for two years ('99 and '00) did an absolutely spectacular job for such a young player (arguably, '99 might have been attributed to small sample size distortions, as Rick pitched in only 9 games and 33 innings, but '00 was no fluke; Rick played in 31 games (starting 30 of them), pitched 175 innings, racked up 11 wins and 7 losses, got 194 strikeouts, and registered an ERA of 3.50 (as against a league average of 4.64)).
Then, of course, came the 2000 postseason, where Rick picked up a case of Steve Blass disease (i.e., the seemingly complete and utter inability to throw strikes, even if his life depended on it). By 2002, Rick was back in the minors, where the organization diligently worked on him (and he underwent surgery that kept him out of action for a season), briefly to surface with the Cardinals in September of 2004. After a disappointing spring training in 2005, Rick announced that he was giving up on pitching, and would attempt to break into the bigs again as an outfielder.
According to the Post, Ankiel's hit 7 homers in 80 at bats. That's the good news. The bad news is that when he started the season, with Class AA Springfield (Texas League), he went 1 for 20 (with, I believe, no homers) before being placed on the disabled list. Upon activation from the disabled list, he's been playing with the Class A Swing of the Quad Cities (Midwest League). Quoth the Post:
Ankiel has seven homers in just 80 at-bats over 22 games for the Swing. He is batting .263 with 20 RBIs, a .330 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage.Um... excuse me for being a cynic... Of course I'd expect Ankiel to hit the ball harder, farther than the other kids in high A ball. For Christ's freaking sake, Rick's 25 years old (he'll turn 26 in July), which is several years older than the average for kids playing A ball (when Rick was that age, he was pitching in the majors...). And of course Rick was pitching in the National League, where he actually got to see (and occasionally, hit) major league caliber pitching.
National baseball columnist Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News, writing on FOXSports.com, quoted a major-league executive who said Ankiel probably will make it back to the majors as an outfielder.
"When he takes batting practice with the other kids he's with, it's different," the unnamed executive told Rosenthal.
"He hits the ball harder, farther. He does have a chance."
Maybe before we start projecting a new major league career for Rick, we should see how he's hitting in AA and AAA first.
Len on 06.22.05 @ 10:57 PM CST