SAN DIEGO -- With their highest selection in eight years, the Padres hope they've found their next ace. San Diego selected high school left-hander MacKenzie Gore with the third overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft on Monday night.
Gore's numbers at Whiteville High School in Whiteville, N.C., are nothing short of dazzling. In his senior season, he posted a 0.19 ERA and struck out 158 hitters in 74 1/3 innings, while walking just five. He went 11-0, leading his team to its third state title in four years.
"He just kept getting better," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "It was a pretty easy pick and a target of ours."
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"It's overwhelming right this minute," Gore said via conference call. "I'm just enjoying it."
The Padres view Gore, a 6-foot-2 southpaw with a four-pitch mix and a mid-90s fastball, as a future starter at the front end of their rotation. It's the third consecutive year in which the Padres have taken a pitcher with their first pick. They selected Cal Quantrill at No. 8 overall in 2016 and Austin Smith at No. 51 in '15.
Gore, 18, is the first high-school left-hander taken by the Padres since Max Fried in 2012. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and he complements it with three above-average off-speed pitches. He says his curveball has been his "out pitch" this season, but his slider and changeup also project as above-average Major League offerings.
"The athleticism, ease of operation, arm angle jump off the table at you," Padres scouting director Mark Conner said. "As you start watching, the competitor comes out more and more. He's easy to fall in love with."
Said Preller: "We felt like he was as talented as any left-handed high school pitching prospect that we've seen over the course of the last 10 years."
Having allowed just 16 earned runs over four years, Gore has been dominant his entire high school career. But he shot up draft boards this season with an uptick in his velocity and better command of his off-speed pitches.
"It all started by getting in the weight room in the fall, putting on about 15 pounds and getting a lot stronger," said Gore, through his thick Carolina drawl. "That's kind of where the velocity came from. The breaking stuff, I got more consistent with it and really worked on it in games when I started throwing. Now, I feel like I can throw it any time in the count."
Gore's high school coach, Brett Harwood, noted that Gore's talent is off the charts. But after four years, Harwood came away just as impressed by his mental makeup and team-first mentality.
His case in point: After Whiteville clinched the state championship, Gore was awarded the tournament's MVP Award. But it was shortstop Jake Harwood, Brett's son, who picked up the win and notched the walk-off single to secure the title. Afterward, Gore gave the trophy to Jake, feeling as though his teammate had earned it more than he had.
"Some people talk the talk, but I've seen him actually do it," said Harwood. "It's very humbling as a coach when your best player is also your hardest worker and your best teammate."
Gore pointed to Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner as his favorite player growing up, saying he'd particularly like to emulate, "the way he competes and wants the ball in the biggest games." Padres fans might not be too happy with that admission, but they certainly won't mind the comp between the two; both are well-built left-handers out of North Carolina. In fact, Gore actually spent a day with Bumgarner last offseason after they met through a mutual connection.
"He definitely has a unique delivery," Conner said. "It's more athletic than just trained and mechanics. He's the type of athlete that can repeat actions. His body control is exceptional."
Gore, a client of agent Scott Boras, is currently committed to East Carolina, but it's unlikely he'll pitch there.
The Padres also selected a pair of high school catchers on Monday night, Luis Campusano-Bacero at No. 39 overall and Blake Hunt at 69. The Draft will continue Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 9:30 a.m. PT, with exclusive coverage beginning at 10 a.m. PT.
The third overall selection carries a suggested bonus allotment of $6,668,100. In total, the Padres have the Majors' fourth biggest pool at $11,839,000, which they can spend on bonuses for picks in the first 10 rounds, as well as any subsequent players receiving bonuses of greater than $125,000. Any team going over its allotted pool will be taxed on the overage. And in some extreme cases, that team could lose a future pick.