Mark Prior’s retirement reminds us that young pitchers will break your heart

29 Comments

Every year we get a report that Mark Prior is working out, hoping to make a major league comeback after years of injuries. No more. Andrew Simon of MLB.com reports that the former Cubs phenom is calling it quits:

After a series of injuries and several comeback attempts, it appears Mark Prior is ready to call it a career.

The right-hander, now 33, was in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday for the Winter Meetings, where he told reporters he was retiring. Prior also indicated he could take a job in the Padres’ front office, although the club has not confirmed it.

Prior is Exhibit A for the proposition that young, talented pitchers exist to break your heart. The second overall pick in the 2001 draft, Prior was a fixture in the Cubs’ rotation by 2003, when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings at age 22. The sky was, seemingly, the limit. The conversation wasn’t about whether or not he could keep it up, but just how great would he end up being.

And then the injuries came. He made only 21 starts in 2004. He made 27 starts in 2005. In 2006 he started nine games, was totally ineffective and then had reconstructive surgery on his shoulder. It would not be until 2010 that he would pitch in a minor league game. He never pitched in the big leagues again.

At the time his career was disintegrating due to injury, many pointed a finger at Prior’s manager with the Cubs, Dusty Baker, for allowing him to pitch too many innings and throw too many pitches in too many outings. And maybe Baker did work Prior too hard. But I don’t feel anyone to this day knows enough about ideal pitcher usage and preservation to say anything with any amount of certainty about that. Some pitchers break, some pitchers don’t, and despite his reputation as an abuser of pitchers, Baker’s pitchers have been pretty darn durable since Prior and his teammate Kerry Wood went down.

Prior just broke. Even guys who look like they’re going to collect multiple awards and hundreds of wins some day break. And with them break the hearts of any baseball fan who put too much faith in young promising starting pitching.

Bryce Harper defeats Kyle Schwarber 19-18 to win the 2018 Home Run Derby

Rob Carr/Getty Images
10 Comments

Bryce Harper, who said he was tired after taking his cuts in the first round, certainly appeared gassed in the final round. So, too, did his dad, who was throwing to him. But Harper caught fire, going on a tear and tying Kyle Schwarber with 18 home runs before time expired in the final round of the 2018 Home Run Derby. Harper unlocked 30 seconds of bonus time by hitting two home runs at least 440 feet. With his second swing in bonus time, Harper homered to straightaway center field for No. 19. He tossed his bat in celebration, grabbed his trophy, then gave it to his dad before he was mobbed on the field by his All-Star teammates.

Harper hit 13 home runs in the first round, eliminating Freddie Freeman and advancing to the semifinals. In the semis, Harper topped Max Muncy 13-12 to advance to the finals. On Schwarber’s side of the bracket, he bested Alex Bregman 16-15, then defeated Rhys Hoskins 21-20.

Harper is the first member of the Nationals (or Expos) to win the Home Run Derby. Harper participated in the 2013 Derby but finished in second place behind Yoenis Céspedes. Harper is also the first left-handed hitter to win the Derby since Prince Fielder in 2012. The only players to win the Derby in their home park are Todd Frazier in 2015 and Ryne Sandberg in 1990.

As a spectator, the 2018 Home Run Derby was tons of fun. The four-minute clock adds a lot of tension and intrigue even to the initial rounds. Seeing teammates cheer and get excited for their teammates in the Derby is really fun. Of course, watching dinger after dinger is cool, too. Can’t wait for next year.