Luck has had little to do with Mark Prior’s success as a ballplayer. It was his dedication and talent that landed Prior in the major leagues and perhaps a lack of luck that attributed to the right- handed pitcher being sidelined during the peak of his career. But at age 26, Prior is optimistic of a comeback.
When Prior debuted with the Chicago Cubs on May 22, 2002, he was nothing short of impressive which should have been expected considering he was the second overall pick in the draft. His record earned him all-star status as he was chosen to play in the 2003 All-Star game in only his first full season in the major leagues.
Prior’s pitching technique seemed flawless and was considered a combination of the styles of Greg Maddox and Roger Clemens. His first full season with the Chicago Cubs ranked him third in the National League’s Cy Young Award voting with a record of 18 wins and only six losses. Prior became well known for his 90-plus mph fastball, curveball, slurveball and changeup.
But freak accidents and injuries began to disrupt his career in the making. Numerous stints on the disabled list and now an entire season on hold to recuperate from shoulder surgery have many questioning the future of the once valued Cubs pitcher.
Born September 7, 1980, Prior attended University of San Diego High School where he excelled on the ball field. As a 1998 graduate, he had a 0.93 earned run average. Prior was then drafted by the New York Yankees in the amateur draft but a contract was never negotiated and signed.
He began his college education at Vanderbilt University, the same school his father attended. During his sophomore year, Prior transferred to the University of Southern California (USC). There he was honored as one of the best collegiate athletes in the country.
Prior pitched for USC for two seasons and earned numerous awards including seven national Player of the Year awards. As a junior, his record was 15-1 with six complete games and three shutouts. His ERA was 1.69. He earned the prestigious Golden Spikes Award. He also led the team to the 2000 College World Series.
Prior entered the draft again and this time he was chosen as the second pick overall in the draft. As he concentrated on his baseball career and the hope of one day being called up to play for the Chicago Cubs, Prior continued his college education on a part-time basis and eventually earned a business degree in 2004 from the USC Marshall School of Business. In 2003, his first full season as a pitcher for the Cubs, his talent was obvious as he tallied an 18-6 win-lose record despite missing three starts due to an injury.
Prior was injured when he collided on the field with the Atlanta Braves second baseman Marcus Giles. Both Prior and Giles were scheduled to play in the 2003 All-Star Game but missed due to their injuries. Prior was voted Player of the Month in August and September. He went on to earn a 10-1 record as the Cubs made their way into the playoffs. That led to the infamous fan interference incident in which Steve Bartman caught a fly ball hit into the stands that could have easily been caught by the Cubs outfielder. The Cubs ended up losing the game and Prior suffered through the loss.
In 2004, Prior missed the first two months of the season with an Achilles tendon injury. Although rumors surfaced that Prior needed reconstructive elbow surgery, he returned to the mound with a less than stellar performance with six wins and four losses and an ERA of 4.02. Again in 2005, Prior started the season on the disabled list. He returned and was pitching up to par until May 27th when another misfortune came his way.
Prior was pitching to Brad Hawpe, an old rival from LSU who hit a three-run homerun off Prior in the College World Series. As they faced off in the major leagues, Hawpe drilled a pitch and sent a 117 mph line drive back to Prior, hitting him in the right elbow and putting him on the disabled list with a compression fracture. Prior finished the season 11-7 in 27 starts. During spring training the following year, Prior began to feel a stiffness in his throwing shoulder.
He was put on a slow pitch program and sent for tests that revealed he had a strained shoulder. He was put on the disabled list for 15 days in March missing the start of the 2006 season. When he returned, he gave up six runs to the Detroit Tigers in the first inning. He went on to earn a devastating 0-4 record with a 7.71 ERA and was once again put on the disabled list after straining his left oblique during batting practice. He returned to the minor leagues and three games later, Prior earned his first win of the year against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
By August of 2006, he was back on the disabled list with tendonitis for the remainder of the season. His record was 1-6 and ERA was a high 7.21.During the off-season, he complained of a loose shoulder and when conditioning did not improve the situation, Prior sought medical treatment and discovered he would need arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.
In April, Prior underwent surgery and it was successful but put an early end to the 2007 season before it even began for him. Because of his age, doctors see no reason Prior cannot return to pitching in 2007.
MLB Advanced Media, LP (2001-2007) Chicago Cubs. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=407578