Mark Prior isn’t just any injury-ravaged pitcher- he is a former phenom, the first Stephen Strasburg before there was a Stephen Strasburg, the last “slam dunk” pitching prospect. In fact, he is the warning that goes out to every manager who is tempted to push his 21 or 22 year old pitchers a bit too hard towards the end of the season. With what seems like his hundredth surgery behind him, Mark Prior wants to make another run a the majors, where he hasn’t pitched since 2006. He practiced in front of scouts last week, one of whom was from the Orioles organization. While the team apparently has some interest, their review of his performance came off as “just okay.”
Just okay? Stop the presses and get that guy a jersey! I am sorry, there are a lot of injury prone pitchers that the Orioles could take chance on, and Mark Prior is a walking cautionary tale, not a major league starting pitcher at this point. If a player looks “just okay” in a workout that he can take as much time as he wants to prepare for and can hold on his own terms, then imagine how he will play with live hitters? Nevertheless, NBC Sports, MASN, and others have reported that Baltimore appears to be willing to take a second look at the much maligned pitching bust, just at a time in which the starting rotation seems to have some semblance of continuity.
Now, by continuity I don’t mean they are performing particularly well or that they are guaranteed to make it through a season without being demoted back to Norfolk. But this isn’t like 2009 when the team was hoping for someone, anyone to start for them. If this was last season, Prior would already have taken the mound for the Orioles, or at least had a contract thrown his way. While the starting pitching hasn’t been muchbetter this season, the players the organization has a vested interest in are the ones doing the pitching. This isn’t Brian Burres, Rich Hill, and Dennis Sarfate trying to make starts for the club and failing- this is Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman. These are guys the team wants to see succeed in the long term, not throwaway veterans or long men trying to make starts. There is no sense at this point in throwing Mark Prior into that mix when he hasn’t pitched at all in years.
However, I am the kind of guy who, when my team is struggling, am willing to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. I can see the Orioles perhaps offering Prior a minor league contract. He is still young enough to make a comeback (29 years old) and has a career ERA of 3.51 in 106 starts. If he is healthy he is a solid member of any major league rotation. For most players that is a minor “if”. For Mark Prior, that is a gigantic glaring “if” that overshadows everything else. Mark Prior has not been healthy since he made his debut and was pitched like he was CC Sabathia in Milwaukee en route to the Cub’s playoff exit. Prior has expressed a desire to stay on the West Coast, but I think more than anything he has a desire to pitch. If the Orioles give him that opportunity when no one else will, I think he will have a hard time saying no.
But you have to think, if there is one team that can afford to take a chance on a guy with almost no chance of succeeding, wouldn’t it be the Orioles? If he pans out then he is a #3 starter, so throw a small contract at him and see what happens to him in Norfolk. At least then the Orioles will be spending a tiny bit of money to take a flier. Again, I wouldn’t waste my time with it, but I won’t be beating down the doors of the warehouse if they do.
Hey, is Mike Hampton available?