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Untapped Potential: Mark Prior

Mark Prior pitches at home for the Chicago Cubs.

One of the saddest stories and brightest pitching prospects in recent memory is former No. 2 overall pick Mark Prior.

SP Mark Prior was a rising star in MLB before injuries threw his career off track. Now, being a No. 2 overall pick, Prior knew he would have to face some pretty high expectations. And, at the start, he certainly looked to be a dynamite starter with a lengthy career in the making for the Chicago Cubs.

However, injuries would set him back and derail the makings of a promising future for the right hander. Following an incredible 2003 season, Prior fought through multiple ailments, and he would never again find his true form. After spending five seasons as a pro, he called it quits in 2013.

This is Back Sports Page’s Untapped Potential. For the most recent piece in the series, check out Jacob Barker’s writing on Jamie McMurray.

So what are the chilling details behind the untapped potential of Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior? Let’s take a deeper look.

Prior Finds Home in Chicago

After attending high school in San Diego, Prior was the 43rd pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. However, Prior elected to forego the selection and instead develop his skills by going to college. Mark started his collegiate career at Vanderbilt University, where his dad Jerry was a big football star. Prior would later transfer to the University of Southern California ahead of the 1999-2000 school year.

His junior year in 2001 wowed many MLB organizations. Prior posted a 15-1 mark with a 1.69 ERA while striking out 202 batters against 18 walks in 138.2 innings.

Those statistics made him the No.2 pick by the Cubs in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.

Career Gets Started with a Bang

Right away, Prior did not disappoint. As an article by notes, “After spending less than a year in the minors, Mark Prior made his big-league debut for the Chicago Cubs on May 22, 2002, striking out 10 in six innings in a 7-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was solid that first season, starting 19 games and accumulating a 6-6 record with a very respectable 3.32 ERA before being shut down in September.”

2002 also saw Prior finish with a career-best 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings (with 147 strikeouts over 116.2 innings) and receive the seventh-most votes for the National League Rookie of the Year. He threw 116.2 innings in an era when few teams managed the workloads of their young starters.

2003: All-Star Year, Cubs Success, Career Starts to Bloom

The 2003 season was clearly the best of Mark Prior’s short career. In that season, he logged career highs in innings pitched (211.1), wins (18), and strikeouts (245), while touting a career-low 2.43 ERA and tossing three complete games (one shutout) in the campaign. Mark finished third in the National League Cy Young race that year, and he was one of the key cogs leading the Cubbies to the National League Championship Series that year.

2003 would also be Prior’s lone All-Star Game selection for his career. Then in the playoffs, Mark would be tabbed as the starter for the infamous “Bartman Game”. Prior pitched seven shutout innings before falling apart in the eighth, allowing three runs.

After 2003, Prior was on a major wave of momentum looking ahead to 2004. But that’s when everything began to come crashing down.

2004-2005: Injuries Derail The Bright Future

The injury bug hit Prior with an Achilles ailment and elbow soreness, sidelining him for two months in 2004. Rumors also began to sprout of potential overuse of Prior, which could logically lead to the injuries. His bottom-line numbers declined that year, as Prior had a 4.02 ERA in 118.2 innings.

2005 got off a to better start, however, maintaining a sub-1 WHIP and a 2.66 ERA through 10 starts. But during the tenth start, he took a line drive off of his pitching elbow. He would miss four weeks, and could not return to his old self, surrendering a 4.31 ERA over his final 17 starts of the campaign.

2006: Injuries In Final Big-League Season Create Major Struggles

Prior would start the 2006 season on the DL with shoulder issues. Those injuries forced him to miss over two months, with his first start of the ’06 campaign coming on June 18. He was shut down in August of that year, finishing with a 1-6 record over nine starts and a 7.21 ERA. He never pitched in the Majors again.

Comeback Bids Fall Short

Prior would bounce around multiple organizations playing in the Minor Leagues, but shoulder issues kept him from making it back to the big stage. Well, as a player at least. Prior was still pitching in AAA as late as 2013 with the Louisville Bats. In five seasons as a pro, Prior logged a 42-29 win-loss record, a 3.51 ERA, and 757 strikeouts against 223 walks in 657 innings.

So Where Is Prior Now?

After retiring as a player in 2013, Prior is now a well-recognized pitching coach. He spent three seasons in the San Diego Padres organization as a Minors pitching coordinator, and now today, he is the pitching coach behind one of the best staffs in the Majors, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Final Thoughts On Mark Prior

Overall, Mark Prior was destined to have a lengthy MLB career. But injuries early on cost him some of the peak years of his game. If the injuries never came, who knows what would have happened? Such is life, with Untapped Potential.


Nate Powalie is a contributor for Back Sports Page. A 2022 graduate of Ashland University (Ashland, Ohio), Nate has five years of sports writing experience, and has gotten the chance to call sporting events for radio and live stream. Nate also works as a cashier and can be found on Twitter (@PNate22) and Facebook (Nate Powalie).

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