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2015 Spring-Training Countdown, Day 22: Mark Prior

What might have been.

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Former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior retired from baseball more than a year ago, making the announcement in December 2013. He was 32 years old and hadn't pitched in the major leagues in more than seven years.

We spent quite some time here mocking the "towel drill" that Prior often did after his myriad of injuries. The injury that I think did him in happened May 27, 2005, when a line drive from the Rockies' Brad Hawpe hit Prior in the elbow. It was horrifying. You could hear it in the bleachers.

At the time, it seemed as if this injury would be season-ending if not career-threatening. But he was back on the mound four weeks later, throwing six one-hit innings against the White Sox. The rest of his 2005 season wasn't so good, though; he had a 2.66 ERA following that outing on the South Side, but posted a 4.31 mark in 17 starts the rest of the way. He was hurt in spring training 2006 and made nine mediocre-to-poor starts later that year, his last in the big leagues.

It is my opinion -- and I have nothing to base this on, just my feeling -- that coming back too soon after the elbow injury might have caused Prior to subtly alter his motion. That could have led to the shoulder problems that plagued him the rest of his career. He had not had any shoulder issues before that -- the time he missed in the 2004 season was due to an Achilles tendon injury.

Something similar happened to famed 1930's hurler Dizzy Dean, decades before. Dean had been hit in the foot by a line drive in the 1937 All-Star Game, breaking a toe. Like Prior, Dean tried to come back too soon from the injury and altered his pitching motion. He managed a handful of starts for the Cubs after they acquired him from the Cardinals hoping he'd come back from the injury, but he was essentially done at age 30.

It's a shame that Prior, who was called "the best college pitcher ever" at the time the Cubs made him their No. 1 selection in the 2001 draft, didn't have more than fleeting success in the big leagues. His 2003 season, though -- there haven't been many better in recent Cubs history.

The current occupant of No. 22, Felix Doubront, will be in a spring-training battle for the No. 5 spot in the Cubs' 2015 rotation.