Dontrelle Willis: The Next Rick Ankiel?

Jeffrey MannCorrespondent INovember 26, 2008

Amidst the new rumors that the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers are contemplating a swap of "bad" contracts in Julio Lugo and Dontrelle Willis, I was reminded of just how far Willis has fallen since his breakout 2003 season. From 2003 to 2006, Willis was one of the premier pitchers in the National League. Since then, his decline has been rapid.

Demoted all the way down to single A ball this season, Willis posted an atrocious nine plus ERA during his brief stint with the Tigers this season. Always possessing a herky-jerky motion, Willis has over-adjusted his mechanics to the point where he can no longer control his body.

It is highly questionable that Willis will ever return to form, because when you adjust your motion that much, there usually is no going back. Much like Rick Ankiel in 2001, Dontrelle has lost the strike zone. Maybe not as drastically as Ankiel, but the same overall result as far as his success as a pitcher is concerned.

So, of course, the natural progression will follow Ankiel as well. Dontrelle was always a good-hitting pitcher, twice posting batting averages over .250. He would definitely not be a major league ready outfielder to start, but with time in the minors (where he currently resides anyway,) he could develop into a productive outfield option.

He has always possessed natural power as a hitter, and like Ankiel, the pitching arm should translate well as an outfield arm. It is impossible to project his production on the major league level, but surely it must be greater than that of a washed-out pitcher. And maybe whatever team takes that gamble will be rewarded as St. Louis has been for sticking with Ankiel.