SAN DIEGO (AP) — Right-hander Mark Prior, who has missed more than two full seasons because of shoulder problems, and infielder Chris Burke agreed to minor league contracts with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday and were invited to spring training.
Prior signed with the Padres as a free agent prior to the 2008 season but missed the entire year after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder on June 4, the latest medical setback to a once-promising career.
Prior also missed the 2007 season after undergoing surgery on the same shoulder that April.
He last pitched in the big leagues on Aug. 10, 2006, with the Chicago Cubs. He was 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA that season.
Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Prior threw off a mound on Friday for the first time since surgery, and the report from team trainer Todd Hutcheson was good.
"The last surgery benefited him a great deal," Towers said. "It looks like his mechanics are back in line again and he has good carries on his throws when he's doing long tosses.
"He's had quite a few surgeries, and we're hoping this one certainly fixed any issues he had," Towers said. "I hate to put any timelines on it, but we hope he's pitching competitively at the start of the season. If it's not in the big leagues, then maybe a few starts in the minor leagues."
Prior will make $1 million if he's on the big league roster. His salary is not guaranteed.
Prior was once thought to be the Cubs' ace of the future. In 2003, he finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting, was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and struck out 245 in 211 ⅓ innings.
That October, he was on the mound for Game 6 of the NL championship series against Florida with the Cubs leading the series 3-2. Chicago led by three runs in the eighth inning before the Marlins, perhaps helped by fan Steve Bartman's play on a foul ball at Wrigley Field, rallied to win. Florida won Game 7, then went on to win the World Series.
Prior has won just 18 games since then.
He grew up in San Diego and was the second pick overall in the 2001 amateur draft.
Burke was with the NL West rival Arizona Diamondbacks last year, playing all four infield spots and both corner outfield positions. He batted .194 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 86 games. Burke was acquired by the Diamondbacks prior to the 2008 season from the Houston Astros.
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