No Pac-12 pitchers have been better than former USC flamethrower Mark Prior. He earned the distinction of being the top pitcher in the Pac-12’s illustrious 100 years on Monday when he was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Century.
Prior became the first player in USC’s storied baseball program to win the Golden Spikes Award given to the nation’s top amateur player and only the second player in college baseball history to sweep all the national player of the year awards.
He was soon drafted as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2001 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs and quickly ascended to the big leagues where he became an All-Star in 2003. Unfortunately, after going 41-23 with a 3.24 ERA in his first four seasons with the Cubs, arm and shoulder injuries kept him from being the consistent star he was at USC.
The right hander leads a group of three USC pitchers on the Pac-12 All-Century team, being joined by Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Tom Seaver. Stanford is the only other school that produced three pitchers with the trio of Jack McDowell, Mike Mussina and Mark Appel.
A native of Bonita, Calif., Prior went from University High to Vanderbilt University and became a second team Freshman All-American in 1999 before deciding to transfer back home to Southern California. In his first season with USC, Prior was solid, producing a 10-7 record with a 3.56 ERA while striking out 150 in 136.1 innings. But it was his junior season that will forever be remembered around Dedeaux Field.
In 2001, Prior gave up his partial time as a designated hitter (8 HR, 35 RBI in 137 career ABs) to concentrate solely on pitching. It was a smart move. Prior dominated the competition in 2001, going 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 20 appearances. He tossed six complete games and allowed just 100 hits in 138.2 innings. Most impressive was his more than 11-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as he struck out 202 batters while issuing only 18 walks. He recorded double-digit strikeouts 13 times his junior year.
Prior was so outstanding on a weekly basis that he tied the conference record by being named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week five times during the season. He tossed a pair of two-hitters and struck out 15 in a three-hit shutout of Arizona.
Arizona State had the most fielders with six. Three of the Sun Devils were outfielders led by Barry Bonds. USC had three position players on the All-Century team: Mark McGwire at first base, Bret Boone at second base and Fred Lynn in the outfield.