One of baseball's biggest reclamation projects in history will attempt to make the roster of the sport's largest organizational rebuild.
Rick Ankiel was an 11-game winner as a left-handed pitcher with St. Louis in 2000. He hit 25 home runs as an outfielder with the Cardinals in 2008. Now, the 33-year-old who hit just .228 in 68 games with Washington in 2012 will attempt to extend his career with the Houston Astros. General manager Jeff Luhnow said Houston has extended a non-roster spring training invitation to Ankiel.
The rebuilding Astros are especially thin in the outfield, with Fernando Martinez, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes expected to compete for playing time.
Ankiel struggled during his last two seasons with the Nationals and hasn't hit above .239 since 2008, when he batted .264 with 71 RBI and an .843 on-base plus slugging percentage in 120 games for St. Louis. The Astros believe Ankiel still has offensive power and is a solid defender, though, and his arm once made him one of the top defensive outfielders -- and among the most promising young pitchers -- in the game.
Injuries and inconsistency have limited Ankiel the last three seasons while playing for Washington, Atlanta and Kansas City.
A 10-year run with Cardinals made Ankiel's name. A second-round pick out of Port St. Lucie High School (Florida) in 1997, Ankiel went 11-7 with a 3.50 earned-run average and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings during 2000 with St. Louis. He fell apart on the mound during the playoffs, though, posting a 15.75 ERA during three appearances in National League divisional and championship series, including 11 walks in just four innings.
Ankiel barely played in 2001 and was heavily protected by the Cardinals while attempting to regain his pitching control. He didn't play in the majors in 2002, then returned to the game in 2007 as a line drive-hitting, sharp-armed outfielder. Ankiel averaged 14.6 homers from 2009 but his numbers have fallen off since 2010, when he was traded July 31 to Kansas City.
Ankiel was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report, which documented performance-enhancing drug use in MLB.
If Ankiel makes Houston's roster, the 10-year veteran could provide clubhouse experience and run production -- two assets the Astros clearly lack.
A report recently hinted Ankiel could attempt to return to the mound. Houston is expected to utilize Ankiel as an outfielder, though -- the Astros already have eight pitchers competing for five starting spots.
Astros pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 for spring training in Kissimmee, Fla. Houston's roster is at the maximum of 40.