MacKenzie Gore’s Arizona Fall League season might as well be delivered on a thin slide of glass. It’s going to be viewed under all available microscopes.
The Padres' No. 4 prospect headed to the showcase circuit after a bumpy two years in which he focused on command at last year’s alternate training site and headed to the organization’s Arizona complex this summer for additional work on the consistency of his delivery.
That last move came after the 22-year-old left-hander posted a 5.85 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP with 12 walks in 20 innings at Triple-A El Paso. He showed flashes of his old self in brief appearances at High-A Fort Wayne and Double-A San Antonio, but the Fall League represents Gore’s biggest chance to show he can still be one of the game’s top pitching prospects.
“Very interesting,” Gore said of his last two years. “I’ve been tested. But I’ve been learned a lot about myself. I think I’m in a good spot. I feel great. I’m definitely going to be better because of it.”
The 6-foot-2 hurler’s signature leg kick remains a feature, but he emphasizes that his hands -- typically raised high around his head -- “aren’t as crazy, so it looks a little different.” The goal has been to create an improved tempo that enables Gore to hit his spots more consistently with a mix of four strong offerings in his mid-90s fastball, plus slider, above-average curve and plus change.
“Just a lot more rhythm in my delivery,” he said. “There’s still a lot work that can be done, and I can definitely be better. But just a lot more rhythm and getting into a lot better positions.”
Early results have been, well, mixed. Gore looked like his old dominant self -- the one who posted a 1.69 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 101 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2019 -- in his AFL debut on Oct. 13, allowing two earned runs on six hits and a walk in five innings while touching 98.2 mph on the gun. His next start a week later was a step back. Gore walked five of the 11 Glendale batters he faced and was lifted after only 1 1/3 frames, having thrown 54 pitches (26 for strikes).
The Padres have always admitted they’re looking at the long run with the 2017 third overall pick. They’re willing to live with some growing pains now, if the struggles help Gore iron out any issues that keep him from reaching his considerable ceiling.
“I was tested,” Gore said. “I learned about how tough I was going to be. I’ve had a lot of success early on in my career, and I got hit in the mouth. I’m a lot better now because of it.”
Padres hitters in the AFL
CJ Abrams, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 6): The 21-year-old shortstop was set to be one of the biggest names at this year’s Fall League and another close follow after a fractured left tibia and a sprained left MCL ended his Double-A season in July. He participated in instructional league play but injured his left shoulder while playing there. Abrams has been working out at the Peoria backfields and hasn’t been removed from the Javelinas roster, a sign of a possible AFL return. When healthy, he is an 80-grade runner with an impressive hit tool from the left side and good defensive ability at shortstop.
Eguy Rosario, INF (No. 15): Rosario is small at 5-foot-9 but shows decent speed and some hit-tool potential from the right side. He amassed a slash line of .281/.360/.455 with 12 homers and 30 steals at age 21 at Double-A. He saw time at shortstop and second base this summer but has played the hot corner -- where his arm could be an asset -- in the autumn.
Matt Batten, INF: The 2017 32nd-rounder and pride of Quinnipiac is a classic utility player with experience at every position but catcher. (That includes pitcher after he made five appearances on the mound in 2021.) Batten has filled in at first base in Peoria, but could move around as needed the rest of the way. He hit .300/.370/.391 with six homers and 27 steals in 117 games at Triple-A in 2021.
Chandler Seagle, C: The 2017 30th-rounder out of Appalachian State has his best skills on the defensive side. He threw out 28 of 57 attempted basestealers (49.1 percent) this season with Double-A San Antonio and sports a career caught-stealing rate of 48.1 percent. He is light with the bat, however, after hitting just .190/.257/.266 with one homer in 53 games for the Missions.
Padres pitchers in the AFL
Matt Waldron, RHP (No. 30): The 25-year-old has a chance to be one of the most fun pitchers of the Fall League. Waldron took to throwing a knuckleball this summer, his first in the organization after coming over in last year’s trade with Cleveland involving Mike Clevinger. He was effective enough with the knuckler (sitting around 80 mph) to post a 4.25 ERA and strike out 103 batters in 103 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. He missed about a month with shoulder issues and will make up for that lost time with Peoria.
Tom Cosgrove, LHP: The 2017 12th-rounder underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and returned this season to move to the bullpen at Double-A. The results were promising. He posted a 2.36 ERA with 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 2/3 innings. Cosgrove will throw in the low- to mid-90s with his heater and can spin a promising curveball with lots of break.
Jose Quezada, RHP: Standing at only 5-foot-9, Quezada still brings a decent amount of velocity, sitting around the 94- to 95-mph mark this fall. He also mixes in an upper-80s changeup and a low-80s slider that help get some whiffs. He struck out 66 batters in 50 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season while sporting a 4.80 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. His 18 saves led the farm system.
Jesse Scholtens, RHP: The 2016 ninth-rounder has been eligible, unprotected and unpicked in each of the past two Rule 5 Drafts and will use the AFL to prove his 40-man (or Rule 5) worthiness this time around. Scholtens spent all of 2021 with Triple-A El Paso and finished with a 5.05 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings at the Minors’ top level.