Wanted: Athletic, Defensively Skilled, On-Base Machine. Two out of three ain’t bad? The single biggest hole on the Nats roster is Centerfield/Lead-off batter. Now, there are free agents out there, in-house candidates, and the entire Nats camp that have their fingers crossed - waiting for Bryce Harper to come and save us all. But what if the right man was right in front of us all along…he was just wearing glasses and weird clothes. That’s right, I’m talking about Rick Ankiel.
The current book on Rick: Athletic, Mega-Super-Awesome Arm (that’s just the term scouts use), can hit the ball a mile if you leave it over the plate, can’t hit lefties or off speed stuff, strikes out WAY too much. The description doesn’t quite fit the personal ad the Nats are sending out. However, recently he has shown flashes of dropping some of those OBP anchors. Take his RBI double Tuesday night, how many times have we see Rick actively going the opposite way? It’s pretty rare. If he can expand on that, shorten his swing, and look to go the other way in the right situations, his average and On-Base Percentage would go up.
Rick Ankiel is going to strike out. Every major league player does it. It’s a part of today’s game. But if he could work on his approach at the plate and lay off a few of those breaking balls in the dirt, he could turn some of those K’s into BBs, or at least more fastball counts.
Now I know, I know, this is a big if, but Rick’s story and history in baseball show that he has the desire to succeed in Baseball, no matter what, and has the ability to make any adjustments necessary. It also means that from the time he was a high school All-American at Port Saint Lucie High School right up until he decided to switch from pitching to outfield in March 2005, he focused all his energies on the art of pitching. So, realistically he is only a few years into his career as a hitter and still has a ton of room to grow and refine his approach at the plate.
The last thing he could do to turn himself into an OBP machine and the answer to Mike Rizzo’s prayers? Take the off-season, and perfect the art of bunting. All of you Davey Johnson/AL-minded fans must be saying, “dude can jack a HR at any time, why take the bat out of his hands!?” Well its simple statistics. In his career he has struck out 425 times, and hit 64 home-runs. So it’s not as if you are asking The Babe to lay one down with RISP. But with Rick’s athleticism, and the fact that he is left-handed and therefore closer to first base, he could parlay drag bunting into 10-15 hits a year. And the threat of the bunt changes the way pitchers and defenses approach you, changing the game in your favor.
Ok. Do I really think Rick Ankiel will be the singular answer to the Nats centerfield/lead off problems? No, not really. But it's fun to think about. And in a few paragraphs I’ve made a reasonable argument that he could be the answer with a few (big) adjustments. So, Rick Ankiel if you are reading this… take a few pitches and practice your bunting!!
Thoughts on my wide-eyed optimism? You know where to go!