Word got out quickly on Wednesday after Rick Ankiel announced he was retiring during the St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcast of their game between the Miami Marlins. With the proclamation, the former 1997 second round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals closed the book on an up-and-down, unique playing career.
Ankiel opened his professional career at Single-A Peoria of the Midwest League in 1998. He advanced through two levels in 1999. He was then rated the #1 top prospect in the minor leagues before the 2000 season, and after a dazzling performance on the mound, Ankiel found himself on the St. Louis roster for the first time in his career. The hard-throwing left-hander became an 11-game winner over 30 starts. He concluded the year with a 3.50 ERA in 175 innings. It would be his only good season as a pitcher, as most know the story of the wheels falling off for Ankiel. The inability to throw strikes forced him to turn his attention to the outfield, where he would adequately survive over seven more seasons with five different big league clubs.
The now-34-year old veteran saw parts of four seasons in Memphis (’99, ’01, ’04, ‘07). As a pitcher with the Redbirds, the southpaw ended with a combined 8-5 record and a 3.76 ERA, even being named the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year in 1999. Even during his best season as a pitcher at Triple-A, the potential as a full-time hitter always seemed to be with Ankiel, when he went 6-for-21 with two doubles and four RBIs in ’99. Records say he would not log an at-bat with Memphis again until 2007, when he hit .267 with 32 home runs and 89 RBIs. Those stats warranted a call-up from St. Louis, finishing the year by playing 47 games with the Cardinals and driving in 39 more runners.
That 2007 season with Memphis was one for the books though. He led the team in total bases, (221), home runs and RBIs. He holds three single-game Redbird records, two of which he earned in one game during the ’07 season. He is tied with three other players after hitting three home runs on June 16th against Iowa. Ankiel ended up with 13 total bases that game after adding a single to his 4-for-5, three-RBI game, which still stands as the record in that category. The outfielder paired a .314 on-base percentage with a .568 slugging percentage, a career-high between both the majors and minors. He had the highest HR/AB ratio in the Pacific Coast League that year, a mark that stood at 1/12.16. There were 13 different games when Ankiel recorded three or more RBIs. He hit home runs in back-to-back games seven different times, even going yard in four consecutive contests from July 3rd to the 7th. The strong arm he used to pitch with came into play during his time split between right and center fields. While he committed seven errors in 238 chances, Ankiel posted eight outfield assists and started three double plays. Adding to all of that, the then-27-year old swiped four bases in seven chances. He was named a starting outfielder at the Triple-A All-Star Game and awarded a Post-Season All-Star selection from the Pacific Coast League. His promotion to St. Louis on August 9th was well warranted. Ankiel would go on to play two more seasons with the Cardinals in ’08 and ’09 before moving elsewhere.
For me, Ankiel was someone I thought had it all together. I knew he could throw hard and that he was considered to be good. When he tried to make the conversion from pitcher to outfielder, I gave up on him for a little while. That 2007 season in Memphis would go on to springboard him into a respected all-around outfielder. I will always have two memories regarding him. The first was when I had gotten two of the same rookie cards of him in one baseball pack. I remember being the hot trader on the block with that extra card. The other is actually baseball related and it came when I was glued to the television as the Cardinals were in the midst of a six-game road swing during the 2008 season. It was a beautiful May night in Colorado and Ankiel was manning center field for St. Louis. In what I still consider to be two of the greatest throws from the outfield, Ankiel recorded two assists by gunning the ball with pinpoint accuracy to third base. When he nailed the runner at third for his second assist in eight innings, I was cheering so loud my mom had to tell me to settle down. (Enjoy)
Rick Ankiel was a talented man. Having success after switching from a top pitcher to outfielder will rarely, if ever, happen in the way that Ankiel made it happen. As he continues his life past a playing career, I wish him all the best and give thanks for the memories he provided me with growing up.
Spring Training is the perfect time to see a majority of an organization’s top prospects on display. Talented players get to show whether they have progressed or regressed during the offseason. Prospect talk becomes a hot topic around this time of the year with players from low levels given the potential chance to go up against Major League veterans.
Baseball America released its Top 100 prospect list last week, and this week MLB is releasing each organization’s Top 20 list through the MLB Pipeline. The list for the Cardinals was revealed on Tuesday and we offer more information below on those that we project to spend some part of the season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 20 Sam Freeman: The southpaw has contributed in the St. Louis bullpen the past two seasons with a combined 4.21 ERA in 37 games. Delivering from the left side the past two seasons with the Cardinals, Freeman actually saw better success when dealing with right-handers, holding them to a .179 clip.
The former 32nd round draft pick has some room for improvement to become a sharp middle reliever. Two encouraging signs from Freeman is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased and WHIP has decreased during his rise to higher levels of play.
No. 19 Mike O’Neill: Playing the outfield in every single game during his professional career, O’Neill has never had more strikeouts than walks at any level during his four year career. With a career .435 on-base percentage, he is a player that relies on speed and plate discipline to reach base. O’Neill has never hit more than five home runs in a season, but has yet to commit more than four errors also. The former USC Trojan hits for average and hustles in the field, but it may be tough for him to become a regular at the Major League level.
No. 18 Lee Stoppelman: The fourth left-handed pitcher on the list, Stoppelman is coming off a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings. Not known for blowing the competition away with velocity, he relies on pitch movement and location to keep hitters off balance. A season after holding hitters to a .150 average in 37 games at Double-A Springfield, Stoppelman will more than likely spend his first full season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 17 Zach Petrick: Even through his college days, Petrick has been known for striking out hitters in excess. Named the 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Cardinals’ organization, he posted a 1.99 ERA and 122 strikeouts through three different levels. The right-hander relies on location and using a three-pitch mix to keep hitters guessing. Still young, Petrick is entering only his third professional season and was one of eight pitchers that received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year. His future seems bright with a likely landing spot at Triple-A Memphis.
No. 13 Jordan Swagerty: Unfortunately for Swagerty, the injury bug has plagued him much of the past two seasons. A victim of Tommy John surgery that made him miss the 2012 season and a majority of the 2013 season, the right-hander started as a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year, but was sent to minor league camp after experiencing inflammation in his elbow. Nonetheless, he notches the list because of plus stuff that includes a strong fastball with a solid curveball. He had an impressive run in 2011, spanning three levels of play and possessing a 1.83 ERA. With two plus pitches and past experience, Swagerty has the potential to turn heads if he can stay healthy.
No. 12 Randal Grichuk: Acquired from the Angels with Peter Boujos in the trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to Los Angeles, Grichuk may be best known for being picked one spot ahead of superstar outfielder Mike Trout. The 22-year old has put up sturdy power numbers the past two seasons that include 114 extra-base hits, 40 of those home runs. He may be better known for a good glove though after earning the 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award at right field. He committed two errors while throwing out 11 runners, five of those as part of double plays. If Grichuk can find plate discipline and hit for a higher average, he will have the tools needed to make an impact at the Major League level.
No. 11 Charlie Tilson: Known best for his speed, Tilson has the makeup of a quick outfielder that covers lots of ground and hustles around the base pads. The defense is there and as he progresses through higher levels of play, his offense hopes to remain strong as well.
No. 10 Tim Cooney: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, Cooney progressed to Double-A in only his second professional season in 2013. The lefty recorded 148 strikeouts last season, most of any St. Louis minor leaguer. His ability to strike batters out stem from his sinking changeup and strong location skills. He uses his fastball wisely, getting ahead of hitters through the ability to spot the pitch on both sides of the plate. Cooney received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year and has already received buzz about the terrific job he has done. He will get the chance to prove his stuff at Triple-A this year, and could be a key starter from the left side for St. Louis down the road.
No. 7 James Ramsey: Playing at Florida State University, Ramsey hit above .360 in both his junior and senior seasons. He has struggled to repeat that success at the professional level though, posting a .253 mark through his first two seasons. While his average dipped in 2013, his power numbers surged, as he recorded 16 home runs and a total of 36 extra-base hits. One thing some overlook is Ramsey’s speed that allows him good range in the outfield and the ability to leg out infield hits.
No. 5 Marco Gonzalez: The second left-hander in the top 5, Gonzalez is known for coupling his quality control with steady off-speed pitches. While he continues to pitch, look for a good strikeout-to-walk ratio as he consistently pounds the zone. With velocity that will not blow any hitters away, Gonzalez never relies too much on one side of the plate and works in his secondary pitches smoothly. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is expected to make a rapid expansion through the minor leagues, with a chance of seeing action at Triple-A.
No. 3 Stephen Piscotty: The organization is high, and should be, on Piscotty after an excellent 2013 season that was followed up by a first-class showing in the Arizona Fall League. The now-outfielder began his career as a third baseman, but with past experience as a pitcher, the arm strength is not a problem. Even with the ability to get around on inside pitches, Piscotty is more of a line drive hitter that can crack a home run from time to time. The former Stanford Cardinal will look for another strong showing coming off an impressive year.
No. 2 Kolten Wong: At 5’9”, Wong has proved to be a perfect fit at second base. Combining quick bat speed, good baseball instincts and a swift agility running the bases and tracking balls down, the former University of Hawaii Warrior has the tools to be an everyday starter on the right side of the infield. Already acquiring big league experience in his third season during 2013 puts Wong a step ahead in trying to secure a job with St. Louis for the 2014 season. He has proven his ability at the minor league level and now things need to translate offensively with the big league club for Wong’s hope of earning a job in St. Louis.
No. 1 Oscar Taveras: Simply put, Taveras is the next superstar to come through the St. Louis organization. With a smooth swing, good speed, strong arm and a lot of potential, the outfielder should see time with the big league club at sometime this year.
For a complete list of the prospects, take a look here.
As the snow begins to melt and the sun sneaks through the clouds, we’re reminded that the Battle of the Birds is only 23 days away! With the season just around the corner we figured it would be a good time to give the fans a sneak peek of an upcoming promotional giveaway. On Friday, May 16, when the Redbirds welcome the defending PCL Champion Omaha Storm Chasers to AutoZone Park, it will be Kolten Wong bobblehead giveaway night. The bobblehead is the first of three bobbleheads the Redbirds will feature during the 2014 season.
Tim Cooney, recently ranked as the No. 6 top prospect in the St. Louis organization by Baseball America, has apparently been impressing many people in a short amount of time. Receiving a non-roster invite to Cardinals Spring Training, the former Wake Forest hurler is coming off a terrific 2013 campaign. The southpaw was named a Texas League Mid-Season All-Star, back-to-back Texas League Pitcher of the Week winner, and finished first in the entire St. Louis organization with 148 strikeouts in 2013. Entering his third professional season, Cooney still has yet to allow more than two walks in a single outing. There is a lot of excitement and potential surrounding the young pitcher, as he looks to bust out in 2014.
Read more here.