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One More Season: Rick Ankiel Signs With The Washington Nationals in 2011

Todd WashburnContributor IDecember 20, 2010

One More Season: Rick Ankiel Signs With The Washington Nationals in 2011

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Washington Nationals have agreed to terms with former Cardinals Starting Pitcher and OF Rick Ankiel, reports Sports Illustrated's John Heyman.  The deal is worth $1.25 million dollars for one year.  He can earn another $1.25MM in performance bonuses.

    Ankiel has a great baseball story to him. Rick attended Port St. Lucie High School in Florida, where he went 11–1 with a 0.47 ERA during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched, and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today in 1997. He was also a first-team high-school All-American pitcher.  He was so good he didn't even need to be drafted.  

    Ankiel signed with the Cardinals out of high school for a $2.5 million signing bonus, the fifth-highest ever given to an amateur player. In 1998, he was voted the best pitching prospect in both the Carolina and Midwest leagues, and was the Carolina League's All-Star starting pitcher, Baseball America's first-team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher, and the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year. That year he led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts, with 222.  Ankiel had so much promise he was even compared to the likes of former Cardinals lefty Steve Carlton.

    In 1999, he was named the Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today. He was also Texas Leaguer All-Star pitcher, Double-A All-Star starting pitcher, Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, and Baseball America 1st team Minor League All-Star starting pitcher.

     He pitched his first full season in 2000 at the age of 20 (second youngest in the league), posting an 11–7 record, a 3.50 ERA(tenth in the league), and 194 strikeouts (seventh in the league) in 30 games started. . He struck out batters at a rate of 9.98 strikeouts per nine innings (second in the NL only to Randy Johnson), and allowed only 7.05 hits per nine innings (second only to Chan Ho Park). He came in second (to Raphael Furcal) in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He received The Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award.

    Then, disaster struck in the 2000 in the NL Division Series vs the Atlanta Braves. It wa clear Ankiel was having a bad game in the first two innings, but in the third inning, his stat line grew to this: 8 batters faced, 35 pitches, 4 earned runs, 2 hits, 4 walks, 5 wild pitches. 

    Quickly the event was brushed off like a bad day as most pitchers experience, but something wasn't quite right.  However, his next start in Game 2 of the NLCS vs the New York Mets, Ankiel threw everywhere but the catchers glove in the first inning.  Ankiel appeared again in the seventh inning of Game 5 facing four hitters, walking two, and throwing two more wild pitches. The Cardinals lost the series four games to one to the Mets.

    The 2001 season had Ankiel reeling.  The loss of control was unknown to anyone, even himself.  He started the season so bad, he was sent all the way down to the Johnson City Cardinals, where he regained control and learned to be a part time Designated-Hitter.  A video can be seen herehttp://best.complex.com/2000s/Top-100-Sports-Moments/rick-ankiels-nlcs-pitching-meltdown  where Ankiel had another meltdown in AAA-Memphis where the crowd didn't even give him the sympathy and heckled his control issues.

    Thankfully, the story gets better.

Ankiel 2006

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    Victor Baldizon/Getty Images

    In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training with the major league squad as an outfielder, with a slim chance to make the team as a reserve player. His fielding impressed scouts and managers, and he had shown flashes of power hitting in the minor leagues. However, he injured his left knee before the season started, and had season-ending surgery on May 26.

Ankiel The Bat

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ankiel enjoyed an overwelming welcome back by the St. Louis crowd known for its fan support, in the 2007 season where he was called up from the AAA-Memphis Redbirds to play RF against the San Diego Padres. During the seventh inning, he hit a three-run home run off Doug Brocail to right field to help the Cardinals defeat the Padres, 5–0.

    During a May 4 game against the Phillies, Ankiel collided with the outfield wall, and was carted off the field. The injury was reported as whiplash, and Ankiel was placed on the DL on May 7.

    Even though Ankiel wasn't a premier name to some, he was fun to watch in the outfield because of his  Jim Edmonds-like ability to track down fly balls, and his big bat potential.  In his best season he posted an amazing 25 Home Runs, 75 RBI's, and a .337 OBP in 2008.  However, his strikeout rate was alarming with a 24.2% versus a 9% walk rate. 

    After struggling the rest of the season, the Cardinals decided to part ways with the "Wonder Boy" and he continued his MLB career elsewhere. 

Rick The Royal

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    In January 2010, Ankiel signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Kansas City Royals.  Ankiel began the season as the Royals' starting center fielder, but was placed on the disabled list in early May with a strained right quadriceps after playing sparingly from April 24 on.  In Kansas City, Ankiel played only 18 games and his offense was limited.  Bouncing between the Royals and their AAA-affiliate, the Royals too decided they had enough. 

Rick The Brave

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    On July 31, Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth were traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jesse Chavez, Gregor Balnco, and Tim Collins. 

    On October 8, in the second game of the 22010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, Ankiel hit his first career postseason home run into M off Giants reliever Ramón Ramírez in the top of the 11th inning, leading the Braves to a 5-4 win.

    Rick joined the all-time career home run leader Barry Bonds as the only two players to hit a ball into the cove in the postseason.

    Speaking on television after the game, Ankiel called the home run “the pinnacle of anything I’ve ever done."On November 2 , 2010 The Atlanta Braves Decided to Decline Ankiel's Option, so he opted Free Agency.

Ankiel 2011

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    My guess is Ankiel will one day bat behind newly added Jayson Werth, perhaps a bench bat/platoon guy, and this will be an image he will see for his 2011 career in Nationals Park.  The fans still miss him in Cardinals Nation, but understand that both sides had to part ways eventually like most players, and they tend to carry on in different directions like so many before. 

    Rick has had a tough career, even through the HGH admissions and the Mitchell Report, ("doctor's orders").

    Starting a promising pitching career, going through a mental meltdown, to a promising bat, Tommy Johns Surgery, wringing his neck on the outfield wall, to inconsistent play, he is wished well the rest of his career. 

    St. Louis, Kansas City and Atlanta all say, "Thank You Rick".

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