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

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

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