Luhnow Turns To Cardinals Roots Again With Ankiel

HOUSTON—Jeff Luhnow's former life continues to pay dividends for the rebuilding Astros.

Since exchanging his role as Cardinals scouting director for the title of Houston general manager in December 2011, Luhnow has added ex-Cardinals executives, minor league instructors and mid-level players to the Astros.

Luhnow collected another former St. Louis star in January.

With Houston moving to the highly competitive American League West and in desperate need of increased run production, the Astros took a chance on ace-pitcher-turned-inconsistent-slugger Rick Ankiel, signing him to a minor league deal.

The 33-year-old outfielder hit just .228/.282/.411 in 68 games with Washington in 2012 and hasn't hit even .240 since 2007.

But Luhnow was St. Louis' farm director when Ankiel was "crushing" the ball in Triple-A during a comeback that saw an 11-game winner in 2000 revitalize his career as a line drive-hitting, sharp-armed outfielder.

Now, Ankiel hopes earn a full-time major league spot in Houston's young, inexperienced outfield.

"We've got a lot of players in the mix right now. But he's got the most experience out of all of them," Luhnow said. "So he's got a pretty good chance to make the club, I'd say."

A 10-year run with the Cardinals made Ankiel's name. A second-round pick out of Port St. Lucie (Fla.) High in 1997, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ankiel went 11-7, 3.50 with 194 strikeouts in 175 innings in 2000 with St. Louis. He fell apart on the mound during the playoffs, however, posting a 15.75 ERA in three appearances in the National League Division Series and Championship Series. In his four postseason innings that year, he walked 11 and was unnervingly erratic.

Ankiel barely played in 2001 and was heavily protected by the Cardinals while attempting to regain his control. He missed all of 2002 with an injury, thenstruggled for two seasons as a pitcher before becoming a position player in '05. Ankiel averaged nearly 16 homers from 2007-09 with the Cardinals. But his numbers have fallen off since 2010, a year in which he signed with the Royals as a free agent.

"We believe he's still young enough and athletic enough and smart enough to make some adjustments and hopefully get back to where he was when he was in his groove," Luhnow said.

Space Shots

• Astros prospects Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer were among 18 players who received non-roster invitations to spring training in Kissimmee, Fla. First baseman Jonathan Singleton, who recently failed a minor league drug test and is suspended for the initial 50 games of 2013, wasn't invited.

• Outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin will play for Taiwan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, while righthander Murilo Gouvea is on Brazil's roster.