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

Dec 10, 2013, 8:29 AM EDT

Mark Prior throwing

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.

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