Chicago Cubs: The Heroes of Wrigley Series presents Mark Prior

Mark Prior / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Mark Prior / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Once a promising, young blue chipper, Mark Prior’s career was cut short. Marred by countless injuries, yet he remains an unforgettable memory for so many Cub fans.

Initially drafted by the New York Yankees out of the University of San Diego High School in the 1998 amateur draft, Mark Prior opted to play collegiate ball for the Trojans at the University of Southern California.

While at USC, he became a decorated pitcher, winning several Player of the Year awards ahead of the 2001 draft.  In just two years pitching at USC, Prior compiled an astonishing 15-1 record with a microscopic 1.70 ERA, striking out more than 200 batters against only 18 walks.

Scouts lauded his performance, as well as his pitching mechanics.  They saw his swift delivery as symmetrical and sound.  His fluid delivery was poetry in motion but, while scouts saw it as perfect at the time, it would ultimately be seen as detrimental to his career just a few short years later.

Nevertheless, in 2001, Prior was considered one of the top prospects in the draft, along with catcher Joe Mauer and third baseman Mark Teixeira.  With the second overall pick in the draft, the Chicago Cubs drafted him and inked him to a $10.5M contract, a record for a newly signed draft pick.  The contract remained the most until 2009 when the Washington Nationals signed Stephen Strasburg for $15.1M as the first overall pick that year.

Prior began his first season of professional baseball in Double-A and was quickly promoted to Triple-A Iowa.  After just nine games and 51 innings pitched in the minor leagues, the Cubs called him up on May 22.

In his first career start, Prior took to the mound to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of the home crowd at Wrigley Field.  With the help of a two-run double by aging first baseman Fred McGriff and a solo shot by superstar slugger Sammy Sosa, Prior cruised through six innings, allowing just two runs on four hits, picking up the win in a 7-4 Cubs victory.

He also finished the game with 10 strikeouts, becoming the first pitcher in team history to reach that feat in their first game since 1969.

The Cubs limped to a putrid 67-95 record to end the 2002 season but Prior proved a bright spot, finishing with a solid rookie campaign going 6-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 19 starts over 116.2 innings pitched.  He also fanned a total of 147 batters.

As the Cubs looked to turn the page going into 2003, they expected Prior to lead the charge heading into his sophomore season.