Everyone loves a comeback story, and right-handed pitcher Mark Prior hopes he can make his own, having signed a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

Prior was signed by the Reds to a minor league deal and reported to the team’s spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz. after passing his physical on Friday, according to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay.

The signing was confirmed by MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon.

The 32-year-old Prior was once one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball but hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2006 because of a litany of injuries, including several major shoulder surgeries.

The Chicago Cubs made him the second overall pick in the 2001 draft out of the University of Southern California. After a nine-game stint in the minors, he was summoned to Chicago and inserted in the Cubs rotation.

In five seasons (2002 to 2006) with Chicago, Prior accumulated a record of 42-29 with a 3.51 ERA in 106 starts. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and dominant curve, he also averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. 

His best season came in 2003, when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, resulting in a third-place finish in that year’s National League Cy Young race. Unfortunately, it was the only full season he has managed in his professional career.

He last pitched in the majors in 2006, going 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA in nine starts with the Cubs before being shut down because of reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Since then, he has pitched (primarily in relief) in the minors for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. He even had a stint in independent ball, but he has not been able to regain his once-promising career.

Last season, Prior had a 3.96 ERA in 19 relief appearance for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, but he failed to be called up to the Red Sox.

The Reds’ manager, Dusty Baker, who managed Prior when he was with Chicago, was instrumental in bringing him to Cincinnati. The skipper told Fay, “He called me and said asked for a chance. I talked to Walt (Jocketty). (Prior) says he feels good. He feels like he has some unfinished business.” 

Once a rising star, Prior told Sheldon that he is now simply grateful to still receive opportunities:

I don’t necessarily feel like a martyr or something because I’ve worked hard and I should be paid with an opportunity, but I’m grateful for it. I don’t take it for granted. I’ll do everything I can to go out and perform and try for a spot. I enjoy competing, first and foremost. It’s always a joy to go out and compete. I’m going to take it day by day. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s literal for me. I really do have to take it day by day. I was in San Diego without a job on Tuesday and I’m here today.

Some believe that past overuse by Baker contributed to Prior’s injury woes, but the pitcher will have none of that, telling Sheldon, “I hold no ill will against him. By no means do I think it was his fault with how my career has gone. It’s no one’s fault.”

The Reds are looking to repeat last season’s NL Central title. They have little time for heartwarming stories, but if Prior can prove he still has the talent, they would be happy to give him a chance to resume his major league career. 

Statistics via BaseballReference.

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