Mark Prior will be taking his potentially outstanding pitching repertoire to San Diego in 2008.
Since Prior’s arrival on the Cubs’ Major League roster in 2002, less than one year removed from destroying the competition for the USC Trojans, his story has been filled with promise and disappointment.
After a dominant first full season in 2003, which saw Prior contend for the Cy Young award at only 23-years-old, things took a turn for the worse.
Most likely caused by the tremendous stress placed on Prior’s fragile, young arm during the second half of the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the kid with Hall-of-Fame talent has essentially fallen off the map. The tragic part is that with the right franchise, one without the pressure of not having won a World Series since 1908, Prior and fellow flamethrower Kerry Wood might have been nurtured into the co-aces the Cubs envisioned during the early 2000s.
After succumbing to the incredible stress placed upon his body by an astronomical number of pitches thrown and an unfortunate collision with then-Atlanta 2nd baseman Marcus Giles, Prior’s formerly otherworldly combination of stuff and command dissapeared. His walk rates nearly doubled over the next couple years, which raised his WHIP significantly, and Prior’s fantastic K/9 rate fell to a career-low 7.83 in 2006–the year things officially came apart at the seams.
Some have called Prior’s mechanics “perfect,” while others have claimed his form may have helped lead to his long medical history. I’ll let you decide, but one thing’s for sure, the extreme load placed on Prior’s body at such a young age was no help.
This brings us to the day after Christmas, 2007. Mark Prior is set to take up residence in Southern California at the backend of a rotation that currently includes Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, the constantly improving Chris Young, the greatest pitcher of the steroid era, Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, and fellow injury-proned rehab case, Randy Wolf. This could be the perfect spot for Prior, who is a native of San Diego, and stands to learn much about pitching with lesser stuff from the pitching professor himself, Maddux.
At only $1 million guaranteed, there is almost no risk for the Padres, but quite a bit for Prior, who is running out of chances to re-prove himself. If things work out, we may look back at this deal in the same light we now see the Cardinals’ heady signing of Chris Carpenter back in 2003.
Here’s hoping past sins against the young superstar’s arm don’t prevent him from regaining his form for the Padres and rewriting an ongoing saga that could still end with a bust in Cooperstown.