Red Sox’ Gamble on Mark Prior Showing Early Signs of Paying Off

Red Sox' Gamble on Mark Prior Showing Early Signs of Paying OffBefore there was Stephen Strasburg, there was Mark Prior.

A decade ago, Prior was the can’t-miss pitcher, a distinction that resulted in the Cubs selecting him second overall during the 2001 MLB Draft. After one All-Star season in 2003, Prior’s career was derailed by shoulder, elbow and groin issues.

Prior hasn’t thrown a single pitch in the majors since 2006. Yet, the Red Sox took a flier on the former phenom, inking him to a minor-league deal in the spring and promoting him to Pawtucket in recent days.

And the Red Sox have nothing to lose by gambling on Prior. From the get-go, Boston general manager Ben Cherington expressed his intention to mold the 31-year-old into a possible reliever.

It helps that Red Sox director of player personnel Dave Finley has a longtime friendship with Prior. Before any contractual agreements, Finley scouted Prior personally in San Diego and gave the team a green light to lock him up.

And at the end of the day, it’s merely a minor league deal. When speaking to reporters in Rhode Island, Prior recognized that his checkered injury history would continue to haunt him for the duration of his career. It’s fair game.

Even six years after his last pitch for Chicago, there’s still a chance that Prior can recapture his lost potential. He’s proven reliable in two starts for the PawSox, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless frames and allowing just two hits while striking out six batters.

Although Prior is still far away from pitching at Fenway Park, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has heard encouraging reports.

“I haven’t heard a hitter’s perspective, but I’ve heard about the gun readings and the arm speed and it sounds like he’s pretty good,” Valentine said.

It’ll be an uphill battle for Prior. With Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon and Clayton Mortensen higher on the depth chart, the former Cubs pitcher will have to wait his turn — if he ever gets one — to take a major league mound again.

It’s a move that will require patience from the Red Sox, but the team has nothing to lose in this situation. If Prior stays healthy and delivers on the mound, it could pay off handsomely for the Red Sox.

Have a question for Didier Morais? Send it to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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