Can pitcher make Cardinals roster at new position?
There'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.
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."
|ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian comments on Rick Ankiel's attempt to move from the mound to the outfield.
• Kurkjian: Precedent for Ankiel's move
Pitching coach Dave Duncan said he didn't know of the decision until Wednesday morning.
"I've been trying to get him ready to pitch," Duncan said.
Center fielder Jim Edmonds sympathized with Ankiel's decision.
"It can't be any more difficult than what he's been going through," Edmonds said. "He's been through a lot."
Ankiel sat out 2002 with a sprained left elbow and missed most of the 2003 and 2004 seasons after reconstructive elbow surgery.
The left-hander made it to the major leagues at age 19 and was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 175 innings in 2000 but developed record-setting wildness in the playoffs. In the postseason opener against Atlanta, he became the first major league pitcher since 1890 to throw five wild pitches in one inning and had nine wild pitches in four innings during the postseason.
He went 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA in six starts for the Cardinals in 2001, walking 25 in 24 innings, then was sent to the minors. He didn't return until last Sept. 7 and made five late-season starts, going 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings.
Before Wednesday, Ankiel had been a virtual lock to make the team because he is out of minor league options. Now that he's changed positions the Cardinals likely will have an easier time sending him outright to the minors because, as an unsuccessful-pitcher-turned-outfielder, he'll likely clear waivers.
"My concern is just taking care of me as a person, and whatever else happens will fall into place," Ankiel said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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