Ankiel Making Strides at Triple-A

Rick Ankiel, the former second-round draft pick and one-time Cardinal farm system crown jewel, has had something of an up and down season thus far at Triple-A Memphis through his first 19 games.

Already Ankiel has seven home runs and 20 RBIs to lead the St. Louis farm system. But the left-handed hitting pitcher turned outfielder is batting just .235, having hovered around the Mendoza Line for much of the season.

Ten of his 16 hits this season have gone for extra bases, prompting Ankiel to note: "It just seems like every time I get a base hit, it's a homer."

But the hits have slowly started to roll in more frequently for Ankiel in recent games. With his 2-for-3 performance in Memphis's 8-7 win over Omaha on Tuesday afternoon, Ankiel extended his hitting streak to a modest four games.

He's hit safely in seven of his last eight starts overall, and Memphis hitting coach Rick Eckstein has noticed some progress in the outfielder's strides as of late.

"He's gotten better and he's worked very hard," said Eckstein. "He continues to make some adjustments at the plate and he's shown a little bit of power."

With almost half of his 16 hits having left the yard, it might be easy to look at the numbers and wonder if Ankiel is sacrificing average for power.

Eckstein doesn't believe that's the case, though.

"I don't think it's that," he said. "I just think he's learning. As everyone knows, he pitched most of his career and now he's trying to make the (offensive) jump. He's still learning his approach and how to take his at-bats."

Defensively, Ankiel has been learning the ropes in center field this season after making the switch from the corner outfield spot(s) in Spring Training.

Ankiel feels the transition has gone well so far.

"It's good to go out and get experience," he said. "If I had to choose, I guess I'd choose to play all three (outfield spots) and see the ball from every angle."

Ankiel had never played center until this season. Does he feel he could one day replace a Gold Glove caliber player such as Jim Edmonds?

"We'll see," Ankiel says. "I'll let the Cardinals decide that. Right now the big thing is to come out here and play every day."

For the time being, Ankiel says his only goal this season is to stay healthy after missing all of the 2006 season with a knee injury.

In the long run, however, his Triple-A hitting coach sees the potential for a solid if not decorated major league career.

"With Rick, the athletic ability is there in so many ways," Eckstein noted. "He has the power to hit in the middle of the lineup. With his work ethic and the way he continues to progress, I can see him being a major force in somebody's lineup.

"Right now, it's the quality of his at-bats that I look at and not so much his batting average," Eckstein adds. "He's grown tremendously as a hitter."

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