SAN DIEGO -- If the 2020 baseball season had lived up to its annual “marathon” metaphor, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño would've spent the first few miles on the sideline. The Padres pitching prospects were always destined to open the season in the Minor Leagues, where they would’ve been given a chance to earn a midseason callup.
For once, however, that truism does not apply. Padres general manager A.J. Preller recently called the season a "60-game sprint," and he's not the only one who has flipped that adage on its head.
So what does this year’s “sprint” mean for the arrivals of two highly touted pitching prospects? The Padres are still working through that question.
"It's all open game right now," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. "That's what we've got to use these next 18, 19 intrasquad games and practices for. They're going to be competing for roles. Is that going to be a starting role? Is that out of the bullpen, one time through the lineup? Is that long relief? Is that short relief? We've just got to be prepared for all hands on deck."
It's telling that Tingler wouldn't rule anything out. If the lefty Gore and righty Patiño prove themselves among the best arms available, it might mean that they pitch in relief, especially with rosters expanded to 30 at the start of the season.
For now, however, Gore and Patiño are being built exclusively as starters. Patiño even took the ball for the team's first formal intrasquad game of Summer Camp on Friday night and pitched three innings. Given the depth of the Padres' bullpen, it’s likeliest Gore and Patiño remain in starting roles through the beginning of the season.
That could mean they open the year off the roster at the team's alternate training site. It's currently an uphill climb for a place in the rotation, where the Padres were close to settling on their one through five starters during Spring Training (most likely: Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Garrett Richards, Zach Davies and Joey Lucchesi).
"Yeah, I want to be a part of the rotation," said Gore, the sport's top-ranked pitching prospect and No. 5 prospect overall, according to MLB Pipeline. "That's obviously the goal. But I've got a lot of work to do in the next few weeks if I want that to happen."
Patiño, ranked 27th overall, views the competition in the same light, adding that he doesn't even allow himself to think of the alternative.
"I've never been indecisive or unclear about my goals," Patiño said. "When I was [in Spring Training], my mind was made up that I was going to make the team. Even if the chances were low or you told me I wasn't going to make it, even if A.J. was saying you're not going to make the team. I had it made up in my mind that I was going to make the team no matter what. Until the day I was sent down, nothing was going to change that.
"That's the same case here. I know that I can help the team. I know that I can make an impact this year. I've always known that."
The Padres know that, too. That's why Gore and Patiño were named to the 60-player pool in the first place, and it's why they're not among the prospects training exclusively at the University of San Diego (all players who don’t factor into the team's roster plans).
But Gore and Patiño will have -- at most -- one exhibition outing against another club. To that extent, Tingler has basically called upon his prospects to flaunt their stuff in the team's nightly intrasquad games.
"Don't nibble, get after it, and get in the zone," Tingler said. "I want to find out what their ball does against [Manny] Machado, [Eric] Hosmer, [Fernando] Tatis [Jr.], [Jurickson] Profar. I want to find out how aggressive they can be and find out how the stuff plays."
With the bigger picture in mind, Gore and Patiño only combined for 3 2/3 innings of game action during Spring Training before camp was shut down in mid-March.
Both spent the break training alongside big leaguers. For Patiño, it was fellow Colombian José Quintana, the Cubs left-hander he grew up idolizing. Gore, meanwhile, worked alongside Paddack.
"He's locked in," said Paddack, whose surprisingly strong camp earned him a rotation spot in 2019. "He's hungry to earn a spot on this team this year, and I think he's got a really good chance. ... We're going to need a young lefty on the roster to help us win a championship."
Added Machado, who has already faced both in sim and intrasquad games: "They're going to be a big part of it. … They're a great talent, they've got good stuff, and they're going to be a big part of our organization. We're going to need them."
It's up to Gore and Patiño to be ready.