Stephen Strasburg Goes on the DL: Is He the New Mark Prior?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIJuly 30, 2010

ATLANTA - JUNE 28:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The news that the Washington Nationals have put rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg on the disabled list for shoulder inflammation is not just a minor setback. It brings about the possibility that he is damaged goods and will never attain the greatness that has been predicted for him.

He may be the most hyped baseball player in recent years, but not so long ago there was another pitcher coming out of college that had a Hall of Fame plaque engraved for him before he threw even one pitch in the show.

He was the pitcher with absolutely perfect form. He was known as "robo-pitcher" because of that delivery, and it was said he would never have arm problems.

He was supposed to be the next Tom Seaver, and for a while he was right on course to match and even exceed those predictions, but not anymore.

You might have heard of him. His name is Mark Prior, and he was every bit as good as Stephen Strasburg coming out of college. In fact, they called him the greatest college pitcher ever.

They even had similar first outings living up to the hype. Prior struck out ten in his debut, giving up just four hits and two runs in six innings.

Strasburg pitched seven innings with fourteen K's, four hits and two runs.

Before the Cubs shut Prior down to protect his arm, he finished the year with a 6-6 record, a 3.32 ERA, and 147 strikeouts in just 116.2 innings.

He didn't have any arm problems, they were just being cautious with their prized possession and didn't want to overwork him in his rookie year.

Up until being put on the disabled list, Strasburg was 5-2 with a sparkling 2.32 ERA and 75 K's in 54.1 innings.

Both pitchers were highly touted and lived up to expectations right from the start.

Is Strasburg going to follow in Prior's footsteps with an injury-plagued career that leaves fans muttering, "What if?"

Prior followed up his stellar rookie year with a dominant sophomore season helping lead the 2003 Chicago Cubs to the playoffs.

He finished the year 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings. He should have won the Cy Young award, but fell short just like the Cubs did that year.

He's the pitcher that caused me to write that there were only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Mark Prior. I wrote that before the infamous Steve Bartman game in the NLCS in 2003.

That's how good I thought he was and I wasn't the only one.

It's only after he started having arm problems the next season and the following years  that the experts actually said his motion was doomed from the start. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2006.

The scary thing for Strasburg is the way he throws is being compared to Prior.

In May, former New York Mets GM Steve Phillips said, "With his delivery, I could see the potential of a Mark Prior sort of breakdown."

You could dismiss Phillips as a failed GM with bad eyesight after his tryst with an ESPN intern, but you can't do that with Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.

Cooper spoke Thursday on Sirius Radio about Strasburg saying, "The real concern is what I call an upside-down arm action." (It has been compared to an inverted W.)

He continued, "I am not wishing (Strasburg) bad, but for him to be having problems right now when they are really, really watching him, what are they going to see when they are trying to get 220 innings from him? He does something with his arm action that is difficult, in my mind, to pitch a whole lot of innings on."

In one last thought that didn't bode well, he added, "It's very difficult to change arm action, so no, I don't think you can do that."

He also compared Strasburg's issues to both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, another former Cubs pitcher with unbelievable stuff whose career fell far short of expectations because of injuries.

Hopefully the experts are wrong and Strasburg will have the career that everybody predicted for him. 

If they're right, a brilliant career might flame out far too early and that will be a damn shame, but not a surprise.