Reunited

Prior Pitched for Baker With Cubs

Mark Prior is a recent example of injury snuffing out a promising baseball career prematurely. The former second overall pick soon made his way as an elite pitcher at the highest level. Now after reconstructive shoulder surgery and six years past his last big league pitch he will continue to try and make it back with the Reds.

Things were good in Wrigleyville in 2003. The Cubs appeared well on their way to an elusive trip to the World Series. Manager Dusty Baker had three young pitchers that figured to be atop their rotation for years to come in Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and former rookie of the year Kerry Wood. A funny thing happened on their way to end the curse of the Billy goat. They lost games six and seven at home to Marlins to get knocked out of the LCS. They had a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning of game six only to be victimized by one of the most bizarre non-plays on a foul ball amid yielding an eight run meltdown. What they did not know at the time was that the end of their postseason signaled the final days that their rotation as well.

The next year both Wood and Prior had arm problems and neither started more than 22 games. Prior took the ball 27 times and had a decent 2005 while most of Wood's appearances were out of the bullpen. By 2006 they combined for nine starts which were the last time that either of them would throw a first pitch of a MLB game. Wood eventually went on to have a lengthy MLB career as a reliever while Prior never pitched in the major leagues again……yet.

Prior had a Fidrych-type career. He was the second overall selection in the 2001 draft and debuted in the majors the next season at the age of 21 and soon enjoyed a brief period as one of the elite pitchers in the league. Not far into his trip to Cooperstown his body started throwing up road blacks. At first they didn't seem serious; his 04 season was hampered by an Achilles heel problem and a line drive off his elbow. It got more serious with a strained shoulder in 06 that eventually required reconstructive surgery that prevented him from throwing a baseball for the next three years. Since then he's made attempts to return to the big leagues with San Diego, Texas, New York Yankees, and Boston.

Many Cub fans will blame current Reds manager Baker for ruining Prior's career with overuse. Two people that do not share that opinion are Baker and Prior. He recently contacted his old skipper and it was announced Friday that Prior signed a minor league contract with the Reds which did not include an invite to spring training. The 32 year-old right-hander will report to workouts with much younger minor league prospects.

Last season he kept an ERA around four in 19 starts at Pawtucket. That was the most action he'd seen in a single season since his surgery. Most of his prior action was rehab assignments and a stint in an Independent League. So much time has passed that Prior is a long shot to make it back to the major league level. On the other hand, he should know what it takes and there's something that makes him keep trying. Who knows, if he's successful some might credit Baker for being helpful in saving his career.

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