Mark Prior is "having a blast" playing independent league ball

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Mark Prior is making his latest and perhaps last comeback attempt with the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden League, and Tom Krasovic of Fanhouse caught up with the former phenom who said he’s “having a blast … just getting back out there and just playing the game.”

Prior is seeing game action for the first time since 2008, when he “felt something like a firecracker going off in my shoulder” while trying to make it back to the majors with the Padres. Once a dominant starter with Hall of Fame potential Prior is now working as a reliever in the hopes that shorter outings can finally keep him healthy at age 29.

According to Krasovic his fastball is in the high-80s and low-90s, topping out at 92 miles per hour. Before all the injuries, Prior averaged 94 mph. However, just a few weeks ago he was struggling to crack 90 mph, so Prior is hopeful that he can add even more velocity as he progresses.

Assuming, of course, that he can stay healthy.

I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s taken me awhile to get my arm healthy. I think it’s healthy. I think I’m starting to show that to people. Now I need to refine and retool everything after three or four years away from competitive games. I don’t think I’m going to come back as a starter right now. Right now my best goal and my best chance is to come back as a reliever.

I think my body will handle that better than trying to go out there and throw 110 pitches or 120 pitches every fifth day. Once I can show everybody that I’m healthy as a reliever, maybe get a full season under my belt as a reliever, maybe I’ll go back to that road [as a starter] and see what’s up.

Prior hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2005 and right now he’s pitching against low-level competition in front of a couple hundred fans per game, so regardless of role he’s still a long way from the big leagues.

Diamondbacks return Rule 5 pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

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Diamondbacks’ right-hander Tyler Jones is headed back to the Yankees, the teams announced on Friday. The Diamondbacks had previously selected Jones in the Rule 5 draft last December, but elected to leave the 27-year-old off of their 40-man roster heading into the 2017 season. Rule 5 draft rules stipulate that when a player is not kept on the receiving team’s roster, the player must be offered back to his original team.

Jones signed a minor league contract with the Yankees prior to the 2016 season. He pitched to an impressive 2.17 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 13.2 SO/9 over 45 2/3 innings with Double-A Trenton, but was unable to make the leap to Triple-A or beyond during his stay with the organization.

Jones’ outlook with the Diamondbacks appeared slightly more promising. GM Mike Hazen described the righty as a power arm with a “good fastball and power curveball” after selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, and early reports indicated that Jones would be in the mix for a bullpen spot. A rough spring performance — underscored by his lack of experience at the Triple-A and major league levels — undid most of that confidence, however, and the Diamondbacks weren’t willing to keep him on the active roster throughout the entire 2017 season in order to acquire his control rights.

Jones is set to open the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, per a report from the Yankees.

Derek Norris signing with the Rays

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Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown reports that Derek Norris is signing with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Norris was released by the Nationals nine days ago, made redundant by the Nats’ signing of Matt Wieters and by everyone sliding down a notch on the depth chart below him. Norris hit only .186/.255/.328 with 14 home runs and a .528 OPS for the Padres in 2016.

Still, there always seems to be a place for a backup catcher. For Norris that place is Tampa Bay.