Major League Baseball is littered with incredible stories. You don't even have to look that hard if you don't want to - every single player has put in an unbelievable amount of work. Even the players who just get a cup of coffee in September.
There are certain stories that stand out from the others, though. Jose Bautista woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be the best hitter in the world. Brandon Beachy went undrafted and dominated with the Braves as a starter at the age of 24. Steve Delabar was a substitute teacher before the Mariners gave him a tryout and eventually sent him to the bigs. And, of course, there's Ryan Vogelsong, who followed such a ridiculous path that his last name's a verb.
I don't need to go into detail here. Vogelsong was a prospect. Then he was bad. Then he was a non-prospect. Then he went to Japan. Then he came back. Then he was 33. Then he posted the fourth-best ERA in the National League. There is no part of the Ryan Vogelsong story that makes sense, which is exactly what makes his story so compelling. By keeping Ryan Vogelsong in mind, one can always have faith.
Now, whenever something amazing happens, there's a scramble to identify the next amazing thing that's going to happen. I don't follow basketball at all but God knows everybody's trying to identify the next Jeremy Lin. People have tried to identify the next Jose Bautista and the next Brandon Beachy. They've tried to identify the next Ryan Vogelsong, too, but I was never on board myself. I didn't think there would be a "next Ryan Vogelsong." It was too improbable.
Then I saw this.
#Padres signed RHP Dennis Tankersley to a Minor League deal. He last appeared in the big leagues with San Diego in 2004.— Follow The Padres (@FollowThePadres) March 7, 2012
If there's ever going to be another Ryan Vogelsong ... I mean, it has to happen here, right? The feel is so perfect.
The stories don't match up exactly. Tankersley, for example, has never pitched in Japan. He has way less major league experience than Vogelsong did, and there are countless other details that aren't alike. Tankersley isn't literally going to be the next Ryan Vogelsong.
But think about it. Who is Dennis Tankersley? If the name sounds familiar, it's either because you're thinking of Taylor Tankersley, or because you recall that Tankersley is a former top prospect. Before the 2002 season, Baseball America ranked him the 16th-best prospect in baseball. He was the Padres' No. 9 prospect before 2001. He was the Padres' No. 2 prospect before 2002, ranking between Sean Burroughs and Jake Peavy. He was part of what was supposed to be an impressive wave of young pitching.
Tankersley didn't work out. In just under 90 major league innings, he posted a 7.61 ERA. He dropped off prospect lists. He bounced around in the minors, and he declined. Between 2004-2008, he pitched for the triple-A affiliates of the Padres, Royals, Cardinals, Tigers, and Nationals. And after 2008, his performance record is blank. He hasn't pitched in the minors or the majors since, if he's pitched at all.
As a matter of fact, I don't know what Tankersley's been up to. I haven't been able to track anything down, aside from this. That is Dennis Tankersley's user account on a Missouri softball message board. The username matches up with Tankersley's. The birthday and location both match up with Tankersley's. The account was active in summer 2011.
Ryan Vogelsong has Japan. Dennis Tankersley has this. He has an extended absence, and some summer softball in Missouri. Now he's 33 years old, and he's signed a minor-league contract with the major-league organization that was supposed to have him blossom into an ace a decade ago.
The parallels are there. They aren't exactly there, but the idea of them is there, and the feel of the whole thing is there. Ryan Vogelsong just re-emerged out of nowhere with the team that had him as a prospect, and now Dennis Tankersley is in a very similar situation.
It's so alarmingly similar that I'm starting to feel pretty confident. Tankersley can do this. Those old prospect lists, that comparison to Pedro Martinez - those don't matter anymore. That was a long time ago. But if the stars were aligned for Vogelsong, they're aligned for Tankersley, and there's no better place for a pitcher to get back on the map than Petco Park. The average guy you find on the street could fall out of bed and post a sub-4 ERA. Let him have breakfast and we're diving into the 2's.
I'm not saying that Dennis Tankersley is guaranteed to become something. But his story is like if you took Ryan Vogelsong's story and played telephone with it, and there's something about the ingredients that makes the improbable feel more probable. Ryan Vogelsong was a bust who flipped the right switches in the right order. Dennis Tankersley has basically flipped those same switches, so don't be surprised if it turns out he's cracked the code.