Despite another awful outing this weekend in Cactus League play, Mark Prior locked up a starting spot with Class A Daytona Cubs. Prior gave up four runs on four hits–including a home run–against the lowly Royals, punching his one-way ticket to the minors, where he will start Thursday.

In two outings this spring, Prior has seen his ERA balloon to 18.90. Perhaps most disturbing was the ringing double off the center field wall that Prior served up to former teammate Alex Gonzalez on Saturday, the same underachieving shortstop who fumbled away the Cubs’ pennant in 2003, and was out of baseball entirely last season.

“I still feel bad for Alex and I wanted to make him feel better so I just put one out there on a tee for him to tattoo, but I still figured he’d miss it,” said Prior. “Once I get my velocity out of the 70s, he’ll look like the whiffing Alex that we all remember.”

With a salary of nearly $3.6 million, Prior will easily be 2007’s the highest paid regular minor leaguer.

“If we had our choice, we’d send Mark down to a community college or back to high school junior varsity, but his salary is just too big,” said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. “But by the end of the season I still expect he and Kerry [Wood] will have 35 wins between them and that is money well spent.”

heckler editorial staff