Here’s what people often forget about Rick Ankiel: he wasn’t just a pitching prospect, he was THE pitching prospect. After a 1998 season where he struck out 181 batters in 126 innings as an 18 year old in high-A ball, he was ranked the 2nd-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. At age 19, he struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings between AA and AAA, then came to the big leagues and struck out 39 in 33 innings. He was a lefty with a fastball that could touch 98 MPH, and possessed a curveball that seemed to defy the laws of physics:
And after the 1999 season, Baseball America ranked him as the best prospect in all of baseball — he was the future of the sport. So when he succumbed to Steve Blass disease, seemingly unable to throw a strike, it wasn’t just a sad day for Rick Ankiel, or for the Cardinals. It was a sad day for baseball.
So his career renaissance was truly one of the most amazing baseball stories of all time. This was a world-class pitcher, among the most talented arms of his generation, who essentially started a second career in his mid-20s, training himself to become a major-league caliber outfielder. That’s truly a testament to both Ankiel’s determination and his sheer athleticism.
Now, granted, Ankiel was very flawed as a position player. His approach at the plate left much to be desired; while he had power, he rarely walked, and struck out far too often to be a major league regular. But while he did have some offensive highlights (this and this come to mind), it was that golden arm that was his biggest asset. Here now are five incredible throws from Rick Ankiel’s improbable career.
August 8th, 2009 — Cardinals @ Padres
August 20th, 2010 — Braves @ Cubs
August 28th, 2011 — Nationals @ Reds
April 16th, 2012 — Nationals v. Astros
May 2nd, 2013 — Astros v. Tigers
You will be missed, Rick Ankiel.