March 23, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Positive and Negative
The big story Thursday came out of Jupiter, Fla., where the Montreal Expos walked three consecutive times. That's an amazing feat for a team routinely near the bottom of the league in walks drawn, and an encouraging sign for those of us who expect the Expos to make at least some noise in the NL wild-card race.
The walks were drawn by Peter Bergeron, Milton Bradley, and Fernando Tatis. Bergeron is having a lousy spring; the walk was just his third in more than 50 plate appearances, and his OBP is lingering below .300. Bradley's walk was his sixth in nearly 70 PAs; he's hitting better than Bergeron, and may go from trade bait to Expos regular if that continues. Tatis, who will likely bat behind Vladimir Guerrero when Jose Vidro is healthy, walked for the fifth and sixth times of the spring. Tatis posting a .370 or so OBP is going to be a critical piece of any Expos improvement on the scoreboard.
OK, you may have heard the story spun a bit differently, something about the pitcher involved, but it's good to remember that there are always two sides to a baseball game. And one, in this case, had a big positive to it.
The better-reported side, of course, was that Rick Ankiel had a first-inning meltdown, coughing up those three straight walks in front of a Vladimir Guerrero grand slam, a continuation of his inexplicable wild streak. After the Guerrero bomb, Ankiel pitched a little better, allowing two more runs in three total innings of work, and throwing enough strikes to make it his second encouraging outing of the spring.
I'd like to say I have some great insight into Ankiel's future, but I don't. It's safe to say that he is beyond the point of chalking his control problems up to mechanics or other baseball-related issues, and that we're into an area where outside analysts are going to come up short.
There's no shame in saying, "I don't know," and unfortunately that's the answer I've been providing people who ask me about Ankiel. I don't believe--maybe I don't want to believe--that he's going to be lost for this season. He's had enough positive stretches to convince me that the ability to throw strikes and get batters out is still there.
But that's as much "hope and faith" as anything else, because I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I think of what this must be like for Ankiel. I hope everyone who can help him does so, and that the rest of us just shut up and stay away for a while.
USC 99, Duke 97
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.