The last few years have been baby steps for Mark Prior. A player who ascended to superstardom in just his second full season as his professional, Prior’s return to the major leagues has been significantly more arduous. Since his major league career skidded to a sudden end in 2006, Prior didn’t pitch from 2007 to 2009 as he continued to recover from shoulder surgery. But in 2010, he threw 1 inning in affiliated ball in the Rangers organization. In 2011, he threw 12 innings in the Yankees system. And in 2012, he threw 25 innings at Triple-A for the Red Sox. As someone who has made over 10 million dollars in his professional career, Prior could have easily called it quits by now. But as he recently detailed to MLB.com’s Doug Miller in a poignant article, he’s not about to give up. Now 32 years old, Prior hopes to find another organization where he can keep pitching and steadfastly pursue his seemingly impossible dream of returning to the major leagues. With spring training beginning across baseball, Prior still hasn’t found a place to pitch. Could the Rays be the next team to give Prior a chance?
His ill-fated stint in the major leagues in 2006 excluded, Mark Prior has struck out 10 or more batters per 9 innings every single year as a professional. The nature of his arm is quite paradoxical, perfect yet so unbelievably prone injury. Even now, though, Prior still has something left. His career as a starting pitcher is over. But somehow even after two different shoulder surgeries, somehow his fastball still registers at 91-92 MPH and his curveball still flashes the devastating break that gave hitters fits in Prior’s brief run of dominance in the major leagues. Even if he stays healthy, Prior isn’t about to return to the major leagues. In 2012 at the Red Sox’ Triple-A Pawtucket affiliate, he struck out 13.7 batters per 9 innings in 19 appearances, but he also allowed an 8.3 BB/9 and a 1.4 HR/9. What Prior needs more than anything else is to stay on the mound and get back into rhythm as a pitcher. But if that happens, maybe Prior still could make an impact in the major leagues. The odds are slim of that falling into place- but the risk is so little. All Prior wants is a spot in a Triple-A franchise’s bullpen. Why couldn’t the Rays be that team? Prior is certainly no quick fix- they’re not going to move his positioning on the mound and suddenly remove his injury issues- but in terms of an upside play with negligible risk, Prior plays perfectly into the type of moves the Rays love to make. Last year, Prior didn’t sign until May. If Prior proves he’s healthy, another team could sign him at around the same time this year, and that team could be the Rays.