This time last year, Stephen Pryor was looking forward to his first major league training camp and a possible quick rise to the Seattle Mariners' Class AAA team in Tacoma, Wash.
By June 1 he was in Seattle, and this year he'll go to spring training in Arizona as a proven member of the Mariners bullpen. He almost got to stay in Arizona for the 2013 season after going 3-1 with 27 strikeouts in 23 innings as a 2012 big-leaguer.
In his first appearance on June 2 in Chicago, he faced White Sox slugger Paul Konerko with two outs and struck him out on five pitches, two of them hitting 100 mph. About a week later he got his first win as part of a six-man no-hitter.
The 23-year-old offseason Ringgold resident talked about his budding career at the Kiwanis Club of Brainerd's luncheon meeting Friday.
He and three other Mariners were publicly listed last week in a potential trade for Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, but Upton vetoed the move to Seattle.
Pryor didn't look at the possible swap as a sign the Mariners didn't want him. Rather, he saw it as proof that other teams see value in him, too.
"I didn't mind it. As long as I'm playing somewhere, I'm happy," the 6-foot-4, 245-pound right-hander said. "If teams are trading for you, they're going to make a spot for you. And Arizona would be a nice place to be, but I enjoy being in Seattle as well."
After zooming through the Mariners' minor league system at about the speed of one of his fastballs, he's set a short-range goal of becoming a seventh- or eighth-inning setup man on the way to his ultimate objective of being "the best closer in the game."
After two years as a starter at Cleveland State Community College, Pryor embraced Tennessee Tech's needed role of closer. He flourished there and was drafted in the fifth round in 2010.
He and his wife, the former Christian Hudgens -- a local native who pitched softball for Cleveland State -- and their two young daughters are leaving Feb. 5 for Arizona. The World Baseball Classic has forced major league teams to adjust their schedules, so Pryor has to take his physical on Feb. 12 and be ready for the first official "pitchers and catchers" workout the next day.
He told his audience Friday that he works out regularly at the Rush fitness center near Hamilton Place.
"I do three days of heavy lifting and three days of cardio and sprints -- things I hate, but a trainer works with me and stays after me," Pryor said.
Pryor said he tried hockey, soccer, football and basketball in addition to baseball as he grew up in Mount Juliet, Tenn., but it was only in baseball that he never wanted the season to end. A catcher most of his early life -- he always threw hard but lacked control -- he moved to first base and right field before becoming a pitcher upon his transfer from Mount Juliet High School to little Friendship Christian Academy for his junior season.
FCA won the Class A state championship his senior year, and then he moved on to Cleveland State, where he met his future wife and was drafted in the 42nd round as a freshman. He didn't sign a contract then, but he knew he had a shot at pro ball.
Aside from his big-league stats, he compiled a 4-3 minor league record with 25 saves in 30 chances, a 2.77 earned run average and 163 strikeouts in 124 innings.