Player development is rarely linear and there are a multitude of paths a prospect can take from the Draft to the Majors.
MacKenzie Gore, the third overall pick from the 2017 Draft, appeared to be on the fast track to San Diego back in 2017, but ran into some speed bumps along the way. His path may not have been the smoothest or gone the way many expected, but the end result was the same.
Gore, the Padres’ top pitching prospect, has arrived. The lefty will be called up to make his debut on Friday night against the Braves.
It’s easy to see why scouts and executives fell in love with Gore, who operates with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and a trio of above-average secondary offerings in a mid-80s slider, curveball and a plus changeup with late sink.
He helped lead Whiteville (N.C.) High to three state titles and won Gatorade National Player of the Year honors as a high school senior. After signing for $6.7 million, Gore began his career with Class A Fort Wayne and emerged as baseball’s top pitching prospect in 2019 when he was named MLB Pipeline’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Gore worked his way up to Double-A that year and finished the season as the Minor League leader in ERA (1.69) and WHIP (0.83) with 135 strikeouts (compared to 28 walks) over 101 innings. As a professional, Gore had experienced nothing but massive success and it seemed his Major League debut was imminent.
Then came the cancelled 2020 Minor League season. At some point during that year Gore lost his mechanics, and subsequently his command. He spent time trying to regain his form at the Padres alternate training site but was never truly able to get back on track. Those struggles persisted in ’21, when he began the year with Triple-A El Paso and results wavered.
After getting sent back to the Padres’ Arizona complex to iron out his mechanical flaws, Gore finished the year in the Arizona Fall League.
While the Gore that pitched in the AFL wasn’t the same dominant pitcher who thrived in 2019, he showed flashes of his old self and it looked like he may have been on the verge of figuring something out.
Turns out, he was.
Gore turned heads with an impressive showing in Spring Training and then dominated in his 2022 debut with Triple-A El Paso. The 23-year-old struck out seven and yielded just five hits as he twirled five scoreless innings. However, the most important number from that start may be the zero in the walk column.
One start certainly isn’t enough to make any declarations, but after Gore’s BB/9 went from 2.49 in 2019 to 5.01 in 2021, his ability to throw 43 of his 63 pitches for strikes is certainly notable.
The road has been long and unconventional, but Gore is still just 23 years old and has the potential to be a frontline starter.
His elite repertoire of pitches is as impressive as it’s ever been, especially if he’s truly rediscovered his command. While his floor may have come into question over the past two years, his ceiling has always been high and he now has an additional tool in his toolbox -- the ability to adjust and grind through adversity. Perhaps that was always there, but it hadn’t been tested or developed.
The work Gore has put in and the fortitude he’s shown over the past two years are likely to serve him well in the Majors and will not only help him continue his climb toward his ceiling but could also keep him there once he reaches it.