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Ankiel on HOF ballot with comeback in progress

Veteran is working toward return as a reliever, five years after retiring as a hitter
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

The 2019 Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday, and on it is a former Cardinal looking to pitch his way off it in the months to come.

If all goes to Rick Ankiel's plan, the current Cards broadcaster will complete his attempted comeback to Major League Baseball following left elbow surgery. But for now, Ankiel finds himself in an unusual spot: five years since officially retiring (for the second time) and in some rare company.

The 2019 Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday, and on it is a former Cardinal looking to pitch his way off it in the months to come.

If all goes to Rick Ankiel's plan, the current Cards broadcaster will complete his attempted comeback to Major League Baseball following left elbow surgery. But for now, Ankiel finds himself in an unusual spot: five years since officially retiring (for the second time) and in some rare company.

Should he appear on even one ballot this winter, Ankiel would join former Reds pitcher Jose Rijo, White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, Brooklyn Dodgers slugger Babe Herman and Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean as players who appeared in the Majors after receiving a BBWAA vote. If Ankiel were to make it back to the big leagues, his Hall of Fame eligibility would be reset until five years after his next retirement.

Video: ATL@SF Gm 2: Ankiel belts a go-ahead jack in the 11th

Ankiel, 39, is 14 years removed from his most recent appearance on the big league mound. His last MLB appearance came in 2004, four years after anxiety issues famously derailed the first half of his career. The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2000, Ankiel lost his command that October, throwing nine wild pitches and walking 11 batters in three postseason outings. He later reinvented himself as a power-hitting outfielder and hit 74 home runs across seven MLB seasons, including 49 in three seasons for the Cardinals.

Both Ankiel and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a potential reunion in St. Louis. A former second-round Draft pick of the Cardinals in 1997, Ankiel resides in Jupiter, Fla., where he has access to the club's spring complex. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this month that the Cardinals have a Minor League offer waiting for Ankiel when he is able to resume pitching.

Video: Ankiel on decision to attempt comeback on the mound

"Expectations are that he still wants to give it a try," Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Goold at this month's General Managers Meetings.

This summer, Ankiel returned to the mound for the first time in a brief relief appearance at the Bluegrass World Series in Kentucky, where his team of former big leaguers faced off against college teams. That rekindled his desire to pitch professionally.

Tweet from @BluegrassWS: What a moment in last night's #bluegrassworldseries game! @TheeRickAnkiel returns to the mound and gets the K. #cardinals pic.twitter.com/sSmEQ1FGmK

Ankiel was among 20 newcomers named to the 2019 BBWAA ballot. Other first-year candidates with Cardinals ties include former outfielder/first baseman Lance Berkman (2011-12), left-hander Darren Oliver (1998-99), and second-baseman Placido Polanco (1998-02). They join holdovers from last year's ballot in former third baseman Scott Rolen (10.2 percent of the vote in 2017) and outfielder Larry Walker (34 percent of the vote).

Minor League signings
The Cardinals added to their farm system Monday, announcing nine signings. Among those new to the organization are left-handed pitcher Hunter Cervenka, right-handers Mike Hauschild, Williams Perez, Harold Arauz and Ramos Santos and catcher Joe Hudson. The club also re-signed left-hander Tommy Layne, catcher Jose Codoy and first baseman/outfielder Rangel Ravelo.

Ravelo could be a candidate to crack the 40-man roster come Tuesday, when teams face a deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old is considered one of the top fielding first basemen in the Minors, and hit .308/.392/.487 with 13 home runs in 100 games for Triple-A Memphis in 2017. A six-year veteran, Layne last appeared in the Majors in 2017 for the Yankees. He could factor into the bullpen mix that currently features left-handers Brett Cecil, Tyler Webb and Chasen Shreve, though the Cardinals expect to add to those options further this winter. The same applies to Cervenka, who made 73 appearances for the Braves and Marlins from 2016-17.

Perez, 27, made 34 starts for Atlanta from 2015-16. Hauschild (two games for Toronto) and Hudson (eight games for the Angels) were the only two players from Monday's crop to see big league action in 2018.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals