According to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune, former Cubs starting pitcher Mark Prior has been selected to the USC Trojans Hall of Fame – a class which features former head coach and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Back in 1998, the New York Yankees drafted a right-handed pitcher out of the University of San Diego High School but were unable to sign him to a contract, resulting in him going back to school. Prior attended Vanderbilt University during his freshman year before transferring to the University of Southern California (USC) where he put together an impressive college career.
Fast forward to 2001 and you have a top prospect who has won three player of the year awards such as the Dick Howser Trophy, Golden Spikes Award and the Rotary Smith Award while posting a 15-1 record with a 1.71 ERA. Prior recorded six complete games with three shutouts in 18 starts, and 202 strikeouts with the Trojans that year, which was good enough to get the attention of the Chicago Cubs.
Shortly after Prior was drafted second overall by the Cubs in the draft, the then 20-year-old right-handed prospect was assigned to the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. The right-hander would make quick work of the farm system before being called up to the big leagues during that same 2001 season, posting a 4-1 record and 2.60 ERA with the Diamond Jaxx, and 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA with the Iowa Cubs. He made his Major League debut on May 22, 2002 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a game in which he recorded his first ever big league win.
Prior made it through six innings that day against the division rivals, allowing the Bucs to plate two runs (both earned) off four hits including a home run while striking out 10. He would finish his rookie year 6-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 116 2/3 innings of work. We all know what happened during the 2003 season along with fellow pitchers Kerry Wood and Matt Clement. Prior and Wood dominated the regular season and had themselves a strong showing during the postseason before falling to the then-Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series after leading the team to an 88-win season and a division title.
It was a great year to be a Cubs fan.
He finished the 2003 campaign with a career best 18-6 record with a solid 2.43 ERA, and finished third when it came to the National League Cy Young award. His career was short-lived after being hit with a couple of injuries during the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons. Things slowly started to go downhill for both Wood and Prior as time would go on. Both men averaged a high pitch count under skipper Dusty Baker, who has been blamed by some fans for ruining their careers.
Prior signed with a couple Major League teams after moving on from the Chicago Cubs but was unable to find himself on a big league roster. He has signed with the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and even worked a little Independent League baseball.
The 33-year-old former Cub retired from the sport he could have dominated for years in December of 2013 after being released by the Reds in June of that same season. We could only imagine how great this man would have been if he was able to avoid those freak injuries. Could he have been another Greg Maddux or even better?
In five years with the Cubs, Prior won 42 games while dropping 29, recording a 3.51 ERA in 657 innings of work. He nearly reached 800 strikeouts in that short time frame, finishing with 757 which sets him at the number 23 slot on the all-time list with the franchise behind Ed Reulbach.