He was the can’t-miss pitcher that the Minnesota Twins second-guessing over for taking Joe Mauer ahead of him in the 2001 First Year Player Draft. He was the phenom with the perfect mechanics, repetition and delivery. He was the Chicago Cubs‘ Mark Prior.
Prior undoubtedly exploded onto the scene with his debut in 2002 with promise oozing out of him. Sadly, that time has passed, and Prior officially called it a career earlier this week, seven years after his final major league appearance.
Prior will forever be linked in Cubs’ history for being the guy on the mound when the team was just five outs away from the World Series in 2003. Prior and Kerry Wood were to be the horses that were going to carry the franchise to great leaps and bounds, but sadly, both players ran into not only bad luck, but also possible over-usage at a young age. There will always be a debate that then-manager Dusty Baker was the cause for overworking the two arms too much too fast.
For Wood, he will always be held in high regard in Cubs lore, but Prior was a player that just kind of went his own way when injuries became to much. But make no mistake about it, he was supported as much as anyone during his playing time in a Cubs’ uniform. That 2003 season, Prior was in the top-five in Cy Young voting and top-10 in MVP voting after an 18-win season.
When he was on the mound, he was simply electric and pure all at the same time. I remember watching film of him in high school because his mechanics were what you wanted to emulate.
But all of a sudden, injuries took their toll on the right-hander. The injuries were somewhat freak accidents, which is a part of the heartbreak for Cubs fans. There was one injury where he got caught in a collision while running the bases, and another when he took a come-backer off of the elbow.
It was always one step forward and two steps back for Prior. To both Wood and Prior’s credit, the two never gave up the dream of being a major league pitcher. Wood did find more success at the big league level while Prior only bounced around through a few different minor league systems, but the two always tried to get back on that bump and work on their craft.
Prior is now interested in a possible front-office position. I believe indirectly, Prior’s situation may have played a part in the Washington Nationals‘ decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg early a few seasons ago when coming back from an injury. For young pitchers, limiting innings early on in their career is becoming a vital aspect for organizations.
The Miami Marlins shut down Jose Fernandez after reaching his limit last year. That way of thinking could be the “Mark Prior Clause” to protect teams’ investments in young pitchers.
For Prior, it will always be left to wonder what could have been. That 2003 season simply was magical, and it was oh-so-close to reaching a World Series to fulfill all of that promise. But like any magician, it vanished in the blink of an eye, only leaving fans to wonder how it happened.
Nick Schaeflein is a Chicago Cubs writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.