Couldn't find a pic of Prior, so here's one of Strasburg, with the reminder to always protect your young arms. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The last domino from the Kelly Shoppach deal has fallen, and with it a noble experiment. In order to make room for newly-acquired righty Pedro Beato, the Pawtucket Red Sox have released one-time Cubs ace Mark Prior.
Prior was drafted second overall by Chicago in the 2001 draft (behind some guy named Joe Mauer), and was widely considered the best college pitcher available, possibly in the history of the draft. The hype surrounding him was comparable to that around Stephen Strasburg when he was drafted, and his career should give us all an idea of why the Washington Nationals are so adamant that they'll keep Strasburg's innings limited, playoffs or no.
After a promising rookie campaign in 2002, Prior exploded onto the scene in 2003, going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts for the division-winning Cubs. However, the wear of 211 innings, plus 23 more in the playoffs, proved too much for the 22-year-old's arm. His innings total crashed the following year, and eventually his major-league career was ended by massive shoulder damage.
Boston decided to give Prior a shot in the minors, and some signs were certainly good. His velocity was solid, regularly in the low 90's, and he struck out 38 batters in only 25 innings, certainly the sort of thing you look for in a relief option. However, that astounding 13.7 K/9 came saddled with a similarly astounding 8.3 BB/9. You can forgive a lot for a high strikeout rate, but throwing those sort of walk numbers into the AL East would have turned bad in a hurry. Perhaps with a bit more time, or fewer roster constraints, Prior could have developed into a decent reliever. As it is, his time in a Red Sox uniform becomes one more might-have-been in a career sadly defined by them.