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What if? With Mark Prior and Kerry Wooden, Cubs followers nonetheless marvel what may need been

What if? With Mark Prior and Kerry Wooden, Cubs followers nonetheless marvel what may need been 1

Final week we checked out three place gamers – Eric Davis, Nomar Garciaparra and Grady Sizemore – who began their careers trying certain for Cooperstown, solely to have accidents derail these hopes and expectations.

In the present day, we’re a few pitchers who suffered related irritating fates. These Cubs pitchers who nonetheless result in sturdy feelings from those that love Wrigley Discipline: Mark Prior and Kerry Wooden.

Let’s check out what occurred.

MORE: Watch ‘ChangeUp,’ a brand new MLB dwell whiparound present on DAZN

Mark Prior, Cubs (and different organizations)

The promise and the glory: Earlier than the Cubs selected Mark Prior with the No. 2 general choose within the 2001 draft, the query wasn’t whether or not Prior – the dominating school right-hander from USC with “perfect mechanics” – could be a star within the majors, the query was whether or not he would skip the minors solely and simply begin his profession within the bigs. Prior did make 9 begins within the Cubs system (six at Double-A and three at Triple-A) in 2002 earlier than making his Chicago debut. He was stellar, hanging out 147 in 116 2/Three innings for the Cubs, posting a 3.32 ERA and three.zero bWAR in simply 19 begins.

That set the stage for an unforgettable 2003 season from the 22-year-old righty. Prior was the whole lot Cubs followers might have hoped for. He made 30 begins, posted a 2.43 ERA and seven.Four bWAR, struck out 245 batters in 211 1/Three innings and completed third within the Cy Younger race. In his first profession playoff begin, in opposition to the Braves within the NLDS, Prior completed his complete-game effort in 133 pitches, permitting simply two hits and one run. The Cubs received his first NLCS begin behind seven sturdy innings. In his Sport 6 begin, with the Cubs one win away from the World Collection, Prior cruised by his first seven innings, whitewashing the Marlins. what occurred within the eighth inning, although, so we cannot get into it. Watch, if you would like.

The downfall: Prior missed the primary two months of 2004 with an Achilles tendon damage, and he wasn’t fairly the identical when he got here again in June. Coping with a barking elbow, Prior allowed 5 or extra earned runs 5 occasions in 21 begins – after doing so simply twice in 30 begins in 2003 – and completed with a 4.02 ERA. The widespread cry was that supervisor Dusty Baker had used Prior an excessive amount of down the stretch in 2003 (he averaged 126 pitches a recreation in September), however a collision on the bottom paths with Braves second baseman Marcus Giles injured his shoulder and price him a few begins. Looking back, that damage can fairly be traced to numerous Prior’s points.

Prior was a lot better to open 2005, however in his 10th begin of the 12 months – with a 2.93 ERA – a line drive off the bat of Brad Hawpe fractured Prior’s pitching elbow. He spent a month on the DL, then had a 4.07 ERA in 18 begins after he returned. Shoulder soreness made 2006 a catastrophe; Prior made simply 9 begins and completed with a 7.21 ERA. He would by no means once more pitch within the main leagues. These shoulder points saved him out for a few years, after which a cavalcade of accidents saved him away till he lastly retired in 2013.

The aftermath: Yeah. He lastly retired in 2013, and the final time he pitched within the majors was 2006. These aren’t typos. Prior did not pitch in any respect in 2007, 2008 or 2009, saved off the sector by shoulder points (he was underneath contract with the Padres for 2008-09). He pitched 11 innings within the impartial Golden Baseball League in 2010 and one with the Rangers’ Triple-A workforce in 2010, 12 innings within the Yankees system in 2011 (after a stable spring with the large membership), 25 innings with Boston’s Triple-A membership in 2012 (hanging out 38 as a reliever) and, lastly, made seven appearances with Cincinnati’s Triple-A membership in 2013.

He simply couldn’t keep wholesome. His physique – particularly his shoulder – betrayed him, and irrespective of how arduous he labored, he could not get again to the majors. Feels value stating two quotes right here. First, from a chunk he wrote for Sports activities Illustrated in 2016: “Others – mostly Cubs fans – still blame my manager, Dusty Baker, for the series of injuries that derailed my career. They believe that he overused me in 2003 and blah, blah, blah. Only, here’s the thing: I don’t blame Dusty for what happened to me.”

That final sentence was bolded for emphasis, in case you puzzled.

And second, a quote from his dad, Jerry, from the June 4, 2001, difficulty of The Sporting Information journal (the draft preview difficulty characteristic story on Prior). He was addressing the query we talked about earlier: Ought to Prior skip the minors and go straight to the bigs within the 2001 season? “I think it’s ludicrous. I’d rather see him pitch for 10 or 15 years. Get him 10 starts in the bigs and (added to his college starts) you guarantee over 200 innings on a 20-year-old arm. You can chart every kid in this age who hit 200 innings (and you’ll find each one) breaks down. There’s just reams of statistics on pitchers who break down between the ages of 20 and 25. … Somebody has to protect him. I’d like him to show up for his second season.”

MORE: 10 single-season MLB feats we’ll by no means see once more

Kerry Wooden, Cubs (and two others)

The promise and the glory: The story of Kerry Wooden’s promise and glory can solely have one place to begin, and it is not when he was the No. Four general choose within the 1995 draft as a hard-throwing prep right-hander from Texas conjuring visions of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens, or when he threw 5 shutout innings in his second profession MLB begin, at 20 years previous. No, the Kerry Wooden story begins … effectively, the place it begins. In his fifth profession MLB begin, Wooden turned in some of the dominant performances in MLB historical past.

The child with the exploding fastball and ungodly breaking pitches whiffed 20 Astros and allowed solely two base runners – one hit and one hit-by-pitch – in an outing that captured the eye of just about each single baseball fan on the planet. The Astros regarded utterly helpless on the plate; even future Corridor of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio mixed to strike out 4 occasions in six at-bats. In a Sporting Information characteristic on Wooden after the command efficiency, there was this line: “Wood’s development is in overdrive, careening toward greatness.”

Wooden did not pitch the ultimate month of the season, however he nonetheless received the NL Rookie of the Yr award, an in depth race in opposition to a man who turned in a reasonably high-quality profession, Todd Helton. Wooden’s ultimate numbers nonetheless make Cubs followers salivate and wince on the identical time. His 12.6 strikeouts per 9 innings – 233 strikeouts in 166 2/Three innings – set a major-league document (since handed however nonetheless fourth all-time). Certain, he walked too many guys (4.6 per 9), however few individuals made stable contact (NL-best 6.Three hits per 9) and Cubs followers began to dream of a greater tomorrow.

The downfall: Keep in mind how we simply talked about Wooden missed the ultimate month of his rookie season? His elbow was sore, and by the following spring, it wasn’t higher. The Cubs introduced he’d miss the 1999 season after present process Tommy John surgical procedure.

Let’s cease for a minute and acknowledge that TJ surgical procedure wasn’t Wooden’s ultimate downfall. Removed from it. However in a profession that included 14 journeys to the disabled record in 14 years – 4 of the 60-day selection – for an array of illnesses (together with his elbow, again, indirect, shoulder, finger and triceps), this primary one was the longest.

The aftermath: Wooden was so-so in his return from TJ surgical procedure in 2000 (4.80 ERA in 23 begins), as is commonly the case. However he was peak Kerry Wooden – tons of strikeouts, plenty of walks and few hits allowed – from 2001 to 2003, together with one of the best season of his profession, in 2003. Wooden led the league in strikeouts (266) and produced a 6.1 bWAR, with a 3.20 ERA in 211 innings overlaying 32 begins. His first three postseason begins that 12 months had been excellent – 2.45 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 22 innings – however his Sport 7 begin within the NLCS in opposition to the Marlins did not go so effectively (7 ER in 5 2/Three innings), as you most likely know.

Wooden spent a few months on the DL in 2004 with a triceps damage, then was restricted to 66 innings in 2005 with shoulder points and solely made 4 begins in 2006 with much more shoulder issues. At that time, it turned clear that his carer as a starter was accomplished. Wooden reinvented himself as a reliever – he made the 2008 NL All-Star workforce because the Cubs’ nearer – however even with the smaller workload, accidents piled up. His sixth season as a reduction pitcher was his final. At 35 years previous, Wooden knew it was time to hold up his spikes. He did give the Wrigley trustworthy one ultimate thrill, hanging out Dayan Viciedo with the ultimate pitch of his profession.


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