Rick Ankiel Isn't Exciting Anybody for the First Time Ever

Peter FleischerSenior Writer IMay 31, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 17:  Rick Ankiel #24 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats against the Chicago Cubs on April 17, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Rick Ankiel has done a lot of things over the course of his MLB career.

But never this. He's never been boring.

As a young pitcher fresh out of his teen years, Ankiel electrified and then horrified. Before he melted down in the playoffs against Atlanta, Ankiel had one of the top strikeout per nine innings ratios in all of baseball. His fastball was Randy Johnson-esque, his curveball was Zito-esque.

And even as an outfielder, Ankiel has been anything but boring. Spectacular throws, natural, raw power at the plate, and a knack for the dramatic. Coming into his first opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent, many Cardinals fans were worried that Ankiel, a Scott Boras client, would have a monster season and leave for the greener pastures of a bigger market team.

That has definitely not happened.

Ankiel has struggled to a .233 start, with only two home runs, hurt in part by lingering effects of a scary crash into the center field wall at Busch Stadium. Not only has he not progressed as a hitter in his second full season as a big league outfielder, but he hasn't even been as good as he was last year.

This means a few things for both the Cardinals, and Ankiel as well.

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For Ank, he's simply got to be better. Colby Rasmus hasn't sprung to stardom, but not even Tony La Russa's bromance for Ankiel can validate putting him in the lineup consistently. If he wants a chance at a full-time role ever, he's got to show he can perform over the rest of this season.

And for the Cardinals, this makes Rasmus' development even more important. Rasmus has the potential to be a sweet-swinging and graceful lefty center fielder, and it appears that after a few seasons of developing, Ankiel might not have that same potential at this point in his career.

Some realizations have been made. The Cardinals might not need Rick Ankiel as much as they thought. And Ankiel might need this season more than he's ever needed a season before.

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