Monday, March 12, 2007

Prior Sent to Minor League Camp

Mark Prior has been sent to Minor League camp to work on his pitching problems. Lou Piniella said sending Prior to the Minor League camp will allow him to work out without all of the media attention. He said he wants Prior to just relax and get back into the groove that saw him go 18-6 in 2003.

Mark Prior is a complicated guy to figure out. He was lights out in 2003 and has struggled since then through injuries and inconsistency. He missed a good part of 2006 with injuries. He had that time to rehab, as well as the off-season. He came into camp saying he felt great and he was ready to go. Even so, he has struggled so far this spring, pitching only 3 1/3 innings, while giving up seven runs, eight hits, and walking five batters.

Cubnut over at The Cub Reporter says he thinks Prior is pitching like a man who is afraid he’s going to injure himself.

“He didn’t look like a guy pitching through pain or an injury; he looked like a guy who was terrified of getting injured and was throwing accordingly.”

I think Cubnut makes a great point. If what he says is true, Prior’s problems aren’t physical, but mental. To me, this makes sense. Prior has been a guy who has experienced tremendous success in his life because of his ability to throw a baseball. Now, he has experienced three consecutive years of adversity due to injury. When he has pitched, he has gotten knocked around like never before. His magic right arm is letting him down and he’s not sure how to deal with it.

Now that he is healthy (or at least is supposed to be), he’s afraid he might injure his golden arm once again. So he compromises his pitches and changes his arm angle in an attempt to save his arm. But instead, what he is doing is getting away from doing the things that made him so effective in the first place.

If Prior wants to experience another season like 2003, he needs to get back to what got him to the big leagues. His velocity will come with time. But what he needs more than velocity is the movement his pitches once displayed. And to get that, Prior needs to recapture the mechanics he once had. To do that, he’ll need to have his head on straight. I hope he can do that in Minor League camp.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A lot of people are unhappy with the pitching staff that Jim Hendry put together for this year. The argument being made by the naysayers is that Carlos Zambrano is too emotional, Ted Lilly gives up too many home runs, Rich Hill is too unproven, Jason Marquis is no longer effective, and the Cubs 5th starter is still undecided. While there are bits and shreds of truth in these criticisms, overall I disagree with them all.

First, Carlos Zambrano is a legitimate ace. He’s proven his worth and there are only a few pitchers I would prefer to have at the top of the rotation than Big Z. He’s emotional, but he’s nonetheless effective. And once he gets complete control of his emotions and can harness that energy, he’ll be even better.

Ted Lilly is a flyball pitcher, which normally does work well in Wrigley Field, but I’m not ready to write him off. He was effective in Toronto and his switch to the NL should help him.

Rich Hill is unproven, but so is every other pitcher with his level of experience. That last sentence may not have made complete sense, but what I’m trying to say is that every young pitcher is unproven. That just means that Hill is in the process of proving himself.

Jason Marquis is better than a lot of people think and he is better than he showed in 2006 with the Cards. Obviously, I can’t prove he’s going to have a good 2007, but that is what I expect.

As for the 5th starter, I’m not upset that the position is not set yet. That’s what Spring Training is for. The Cubs have five legitimate pitchers who could fill this position, including Mark Prior, Wade Miller, Angel Guzman, Neal Cotts, and Sean Marshall.

I’m not buying into the doom and gloom about the Cubs pitching staff. There are only a few pitching staffs in the NL better than the Cubs. Barring unexpected injuries, I expect the Cubs pitching staff to be a strength for the 2007 team.


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