Ankiel's presence on the 2011 roster was a plus. No, he didn't hit a lot, just .239 in 122 games. with nine home runs and 37 RBIs. He also struck out far too often, 96 times in 380 at-bats, about every fourth trip to the plate. His glove and arm, however, were stellar. Ankiel covered a lot of ground in center field, and racked up nine assists.
Ankiel had other options, including the New York Mets, where he likely would've received greater playing time. Washington's decision to bring him back for another go-around indicates that they're still not completely sold on the ideas of Jayson Werth as the everyday center fielder or Bryce Harper as being in the opening day lineup in right.
Ankiel joins fellow non-roster invitees Mike Cameron, Brett Carroll and Jason Michaels in the center field/spare outfielder sweepstakes. Cameron is the oldest and most experienced, Ankiel already knows the drill and the other guys are hoping for the best, which also applies to veteran Roger Bernadina and prospect Eury Perez, both on the 40-man roster.
There seems to be some difference of opinion on Harper, who has only 37 games of experience at the Double-A level. He'd have to have a Joe Hardy-esque spring training to convince the brass that he doesn't need at least a couple of additional months in the minor leagues before a big league debut.
Ankiel's clubhouse persona has been roundly praised by teammates and management alike. If it turns out he doesn't make the club, he'll play for someone on the big league level. In the meantime, he's a pretty good insurance policy.
His number from last year, 24, has already been assigned to Cameron, so he may have to return to 43, the digits he began the year with before handing them over to Brian Bixler.