Prior still pushing on comeback trail

June, 6, 2012
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- When he was 20, Mark Prior was a stud pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization and knew it was only a matter of time before he was pitching in the big leagues.

He accomplished that goal as a 21-year-old and spent a total of five seasons in the majors with the Cubs before a slew of injuries derailed his once-promising career.

Now, at age 31, he’s hoping for another chance in the majors, only this time with the Boston Red Sox.

“It’s a lot harder this time around,” Prior said Wednesday afternoon at McCoy Stadium. “When I was coming up with Chicago, I almost don’t want to say it was a guarantee that it was going to happen, but I knew I was going to get to the big leagues.

“I knew, physically, I could get guys out. I know, physically, now I can get guys out, but things are different. Is there an opportunity? Is there a place that you would slot in? Back then, I was their high draft pick. They were going to make room. That’s not the situation here. That’s not the situation for most people who get to the big leagues.”

The Sox recently signed the right-hander to a minor league deal, and after spending a few weeks at the club’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., Prior was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 1.

The former starter is attempting to reinvent himself as a reliever. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006 due to a pair of shoulder surgeries in 2007 and 2008. Prior also missed 2009 season and made failed attempts to comeback in 2010 and 2011.

The New York Yankees signed him in 2011 but he suffered a groin injury and needed surgery to repair a sports hernia. During the winter he spoke with longtime friend and Red Sox director of player personnel Dave Finley.

Prior explained that his groin was healthy and he was ready to attempt another comeback. He was only looking for advice when Finley said he would stop by and watch Prior throw a bullpen session near his home in San Diego.

Finley liked what he saw and invited Prior to Fort Myers for a three-week evaluation with “no strings attached” and “no guarantees.” It was an offer Prior quickly accepted.

“I went down there and obviously caught their attention,” Prior said. “They liked what they saw. It’s as simple as that.”

He was assigned to Pawtucket and worked one scoreless inning of relief with one walk and one strikeout last Saturday in Lehigh Valley.

“I want to be in Boston, just like everybody else in here,” Prior said of his PawSox teammates. “They want to be in Boston. I’m not na´ve not to know what that bullpen is doing is unbelievable. I’m pitching here to get to Boston. I want to be there. I think I can help them when I do get there.”

It doesn’t matter to Prior which role he’s asked to perform, it’s all about getting back to the majors and being part of a World Series team, something that eluded him during his time with the Cubs.

“I want to get to the big leagues, but if I can get to the big leagues and have a shot at a championship, that’s awesome,” he said.

For the time being, Prior will continue to hone his once-dominant skills with the PawSox and will try to stay healthy and productive in hopes of a call up to Boston.

“I’m enjoying the time that I’m here, obviously with the goal and the mindset that I want to make it to the next level,” he said. “It’s kind of like I’m in a situation where I can say I never made it to the big leagues. That’s what it’s like for me. I’m trying to work my way up and fight and grind. It’ll be like my first call-up again -- under different circumstances, but it would be fun.”

Joe McDonald

ESPN Staff Writer

Mark Prior



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