Mark Prior wants nothing to do with what ifs and if onlys.
What ifs are bad, those are bad questions, Prior said. Theres been a lot of, Well, do you know why? Why is a bad question. What if? is a bad question. Its just easier to focus onI dont want to sound psycho-babblebut its easier just to wake up every day and say, This is what were doing today. These are the things I need to accomplish. And at the end of the day you can look back and say, OK, I did all these things. It was a good day. You start adding a bunch of good days up, hopefully good things happen.
Still, no one could blame Prior, whose career was derailed by injuries, if he indulged in such reflection. The first-round pick of the Cubs in 2001, and second overall pick behind Minnesotas Joe Mauer, Prior finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2003, his second season in the majors, going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 30 starts. But, he has not appeared in the major leagues since 2006, when he started nine games for the Cubs, positing a record of 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA.
Im not going to lie and say there havent been times when I was close to saying enoughs enough, he said. But I try to view everything as positive. It gave me a chance to hang out with my family, and watch my kids be born and grow up, things a lot of players dont get to see, at least get to experience fully. Theres been a lot of support from my family, agent, friends. They all know what Ive been trying to work for. So it hasnt been completely negative. There have been trials but in life theres always trials. So you just put your head down and grind away and things will work out for the best.
Since he last appeared in the big leagues an Aug. 10, 2006, loss with the Cubs in Milwaukee the right-hander who is still just 31 has pitched at every level in the minors and has even done a stint with an independent team. After signing a minor league contract with the Red Sox on May 2 and working out in extended spring training at the teams complex in Fort Myers, Prior was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 1.
He is as close to getting back to the big leagues now as he has been at any point in the last six years.
I honestly dont focus too much on that, Prior said. Thats my goal. I want to get to the big leagues. Id love to do it here in Boston and have an opportunity to win a championship. But on an everyday basis, I know if I just trust and stick with my routines and the process and showing up every day, just be a professional, things will work out. Whether that works out in being in Boston, only time will tell and only one person knows that answer.
And right now, Ive been down the road of what-ifs: What if Im here in two weeks? What if Im doing this in two weeks or four weeks? Its too much to comprehend. Its better just to focus on day by day, hour by hour, what you got to do and take care of yourself and prepare yourself to just try to be successful on the field.
So far, Prior has been very successful on the field with the PawSox. In four appearances, spanning 5 23 scoreless innings, he has given up three hits with four walks and 13 strikeouts. He has a whopping 20.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio. On June 5, he went 1 23 innings against Indianapolis, recording all five outs on strikeouts, giving up two hits.
Hes been throwing the ball very well, better than I expected, said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur. Velocitys been consistently 90, 91, 92. Hes got a slurve, half slider, half curveball. Working on his changeup, hasnt thrown it maybe once or twice. Its a work-in-progress pitch. But his fastball has been very effective. Hes been able to elevate it whenever he wants. He just seems like hes got decent command of it, which is always the first thing you need in pitching.
From what Ive seen so far, I think hes going to get back to the big leagues if he stays healthy because hes only going to get stronger. Hes still 31. Thats not that old. Ill never say 31s too old, because theres still some good years left.
From what hes shown in the four outings here, I think if he keeps progressing the way he has in the time hes been with us, he could help us or he could help somebody.
Prior is strictly a reliever now. Of his 106 big league games, in which he posted a career record of 42-29 with a 3.51 ERA, Prior never made a relief appearance. Working out of the bullpen has been a big adjustment for him, physically and mentally. But he knows his best chance to get back to the big leagues is likely to be in the bullpen.
Id love to start maybe again, but I dont think thats physically something Im capable of doing at least right now, he said. I dont know if we were having this conversation in five or six years, maybe things would be different. But I think right now my best bet of staying healthy and getting to that next level is relieving.
But, what hes doing and what hes trying to accomplish is impressive to those around him.
Im sure its tough, said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. These guys are pretty good out here and to get back to that standard, especially a guy that was so elite like he was, just to get back and compete, Im sure its tough. But the expectations and knowing that you threw 95 100 mph and now youre dealing with 88 93, 94 at best right now, and 88 -92 probably comfortably and knowing that he doesnt have that to go to anymore, hes got do things different.
And we think theres more there. Goose Gregson, the Sox Gulf Coast League pitching coach and other evaluators in extended spring training sent him up here, they thought there was more there.
But the way hes been throwing, thats enough. Its pretty impressive. Hes got a good little slider, and can throw a changeup and above all hes got the experience. You cant teach that. Hes been a great guy around here, a hard worker.
Now, though, Prior is looking to his past experiences for guidance. Hes not dwelling on them.
You look to the past for experience and knowledge, not to make mistakes, he said. You dont look to the past as a precursor to the future, so to speak. You try to learn from your mistakes and your history. But trying to dwell on the past, you wont move forward. And again, this is not baseball. Its life. And if youre worried about what happened 10 years ago, youre not going to be worried about whats happening tomorrow.
Mark Prior wants nothing to do with what ifs and if onlys.