Ankiel to learn outfield in Double-A

HOUSTON -- Rick Ankiel signed a a minor league contract Wednesday with the St. Louis Cardinals and will work on his conversion from a pitcher to an outfielder.

Removed from the major league roster Monday, Ankiel cleared unconditional release waivers Wednesday, then re-signed later in the day. The Cardinals plan to send him to their Double-A farm team in Springfield, Mo.

Ankiel will spend a few more days at the Cardinals' spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., then plans to join the Double-A club.

He decided last month to end his pitching career but the Cardinals persuaded him to play in the outfield.

Ankiel, 25, was always considered a very good hitter for a pitcher, with a .207 career average and two homers, a double, a triple and nine RBI in 87 at-bats. He also impressed as a
designated hitter for the Cardinals' rookie league team in Johnson
City, Tenn., hitting 10 homers in 2001.

There's little precedent for what he's attempting. Babe Ruth was a two-time 20-game winner with the Boston Red Sox early in his career before becoming one of the game's greatest sluggers. Stan Musial was an 18-game winner in the low minors before injuring his shoulder in 1940 and beginning a Hall of Fame career as an outfielder.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa thinks Ankiel has a promising future at his new position.

"He's a legitimate major-league prospect," La Russa said Wednesday. "He's a guy, if you saw him playing, you'd sign him in the outfield. He's more advanced as a hitter than you'd expect."