Free agent outfielder Rick Ankiel may consider giving pitching another shot, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The former second round pick of the Cardinals in the 1997 draft hasn’t pitched in a major league game since September 2004.
In an interview Wednesday, Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss was asked about the possibility of Ankiel returning to the Cardinals as a pitcher.
Q: Would the Cards have any interest in taking a flyer on him if he’d reconsider his stance on pitching?
Strauss: I’m hearing Ankiel is open to giving pitching one last shot since his market as a position player appears minimal. And, yes, I think the Cardinals would be among those open to providing such an opportunity. For now it remains in the rumor stage. Developing story …
Ankiel, who once threw a 97-mph fastball, was dominant in his first full season with St. Louis. In that 2000 season, he started 30 games, recording eleven wins, posting a 3.50 ERA, 4.12 FIP and 3.2 fWAR. He recorded 194 strikeouts, good for seventh best in the National League, and his 9.98 K/9 was second best to only Randy Johnson.
Ankiel’s future was bright until the now-famous third inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. After two scoreless innings, Ankiel stepped back on the mound for the third inning and proceeded to allow four runs on two hits with four walks and the kicker – five wild pitches.
In his next start, Game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets, Ankiel threw two more wild pitches and didn’t make it out of the first inning. It was clear that one of the biggest fears for any ball player became reality: Ankiel had clearly lost “it”, losing control of almost all his pitches.
Ankiel struggled again in 2001, and after injuries in 2002 and 2003, he returned to the majors in 2004 making five relief appearances for the Cards. After pitching well in the winter league in 2005, he announced the decision to switch from pitcher to outfielder. Hard work and dedication got him to the majors in 2007, making his debut as a position player on August 9 against the Padres.
Over his career, Ankiel has a .244/.306/.422 line with 69 home runs in 608 games. After three years with the Cardinals, he signed with the Nationals, but could never find the form at the plate that powered him to a 25 homer season in 2008.
His steady increase in strikeouts (59 Ks in just 171 plate appearances) for Washington this past season prompted his release from the club in mid-July. The Yankees were reportedly interested in the left-handed bat, but ended up trading for Ichiro Suzuki rather than signing Ankiel.
The thought of Ankiel returning to the mound is hard to believe after all the twists and turns he went through at the young age of 20, but if he feels pitching represents the best way to get back to “The Show”, good on him for (possibly) giving it a shot.