LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — With Fernando Tatis’s graduation to the big leagues, MacKenzie Gore is poised to become the consensus top prospect in the Padres organization. The left-handed pitcher battled issues with blisters a year ago and scuffled to a 2-5 record with a 4.45 ERA, although his peripheral statistics were much more encouraging.
This season, the talented 20-year-old opens the season in Lake Elsinore where the early results are encouraging. Gore threw five shutout innings in his season debut against Inland Empire, earning the victory while notching eight strikeouts.
Gore headlines a talented Storm rotation that features Luis Patiño, Mason Thompson and likely Anderson Espinoza and Osvaldo Hernandez in the not-too-distant future. Gore’s progress might be the biggest storyline to watch in the Padres’ system this year. The southpaw from North Carolina, sat down with us just before the season to reflect on his 2018 season and what lies ahead.
MadFriars: Looking back at your numbers in Fort Wayne last year, fans might not think they were spectacular. But digging deeper, you actually had — in my opinion — a really solid year. In reflection, how do you think you pitched last year?
MacKenzie Gore: I’m a guy that’s pretty brutally honest with myself and I thought last year was terrible, result-wise. I think I won maybe won one game [he won two in Fort Wayne]. I was not at my potential.
I was injured for the whole year, so it was tough. The stuff wasn’t there, the command wasn’t there. But it was good; I learned a lot from it and I’m excited and ready to go this year.
When you talk about command, is there one pitch that you feel like wasn’t there? Part of the book on you when you were drafted was that you could command four pitches. Was your command not up to your standards across the board?
MacKenzie Gore: Across the board. It was something that I took to the offseason and I worked on it a lot and I feel like I am in a good spot right now.
What are some of the things that you did to refine your command? Is it working on repeating your delivery?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, repeating your delivery is really important. So that’s really the thing to get you better with command. A lot of it is focus, too. Aim small, miss small — things like that. But first, you’ve got to learn how to repeat your delivery and then you can take it from there.
I am always interested in the mental side of things; what do you do get yourself in a good spot mentally since baseball is really hard. How do you prepare to face guys that are much older than you?
MacKenzie Gore: I think the biggest thing is that you have to have confidence on the field but to have confidence you’ve got to feel like you prepare better than anyone else on the field. So I am going to outwork everybody on the field and I am going to be the most confident guy on the field because the most confident people are the most prepared. So, that’s how I look at it.
What are some of the things that you do to prepare? Is it studying hitters or just working at your craft in-between starts?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, so it’s a little bit of everything. You study the hitters for the next start, then you’ve got to work on your craft every day. If you work on your craft, then you feel like you do something that helps you, then that’s what you want to do.
Last year, you had some lingering blister issues; how frustrating is it to have an injury like that. Obviously, it’s not as serious as an arm injury but do you feel like it’s something that is going to affect you going forward?
MacKenzie Gore: So, it’s a lot better than having an arm injury (laughs). But it was tough. You can’t play. It’s not fun and we do this because we like to play — we don’t like to watch. I learned from it — it was a blessing in disguise.
I talked to Chris Paddack last year about doing things to get better when you can’t pitch. What are some of the things that you did to stay positive when you were injured?
MacKenzie Gore: I think early it was hard to be positive. But you kind of just have to be happy where you are by doing things that you need to. Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, so you kind of have to look at the big picture and just take it one day at a time.
What are some of those things that you had to do to stay positive? Was there an older teammate or other people on the coaching staff that was in your ear telling you things that you needed to work on?
MacKenzie Gore: I think it was something I had to get through myself. You know, friends and teammates, and family were all trying to help but it was something that I kind of had to learn the hard way. I had to grow up a little bit — you have to grow up in this game.
I was drafted out of high school — the young buck –all this hype around me and I kind of got hit in the mouth. But I had to learn how to bounce back and it was good. You feel like you’re on an island but it was good for me.
Looking back at last year, you only threw 80 pitches or more in six of your sixteen starts; everything else was kind of abbreviated. Do the shorter outings frustrate you or do you focus on what you can control?
MacKenzie Gore: Kind of the control part. But I’m the kind of guy where I want the ball and I want it at the end of the game, too. It’s tough — the two and three inning starts — but you go out there and you try and do as good as you can in those two or three innings but that’s not what I want to be. I want to be a guy who throws lots of innings and I want to be a guy that every fifth or sixth day, you’re going to get a good start and that I’ll compete.
Are you looking forward to pitching in a six-man rotation, where perhaps you’ll get the opportunity to pitch deeper into games this season?
MacKenzie Gore: Oh yeah, of course. I think starting pitchers’ jobs are to go 100 pitches — that’s what they get paid for. I’m not really into these three or four innings stints as a starter because the bullpen can’t throw every night; they need a break.
Like you said, we get a week off and then when our name is called, we go give them 100 pitches and take a seat.
When you look at the big league roster, one of the things that if I were in your position that would encourage me is that while service time is an issue around baseball, the Padres are taking the best guys on the team, regardless of service time. Does that provide you any extra motivation?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, that’s exciting. But I’m in A-ball still, so I got to get a lot better and I have a lot of work to do. And all those guys who are up there now, they got better every year — all the young guys — so that’s fun.
It shows that if I do what I am supposed to, my time will come eventually.
When I was out in spring training a few weeks ago, I saw a lot of the Rapsodo devices on the field during workouts and games. How much information is that giving you and is it something that you feel like is a useful tool to make yourself better?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, so some people are more into it than others. I like it — I’m not really all caught up in it. I’m kind of old school. But it’s a really good tool; I look at it after my starts when we would use it. There’s a lot of good information on it but just some are more into it than others.
So it takes a look at the spin rate and all that math-type stuff?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, all the math stuff (laughs).
Is it something where maybe you reach back for something or put a little extra effort into to get the number that you’re looking for — kind of like reaching back to light up a radar gun?
MacKenzie Gore: Yeah, I’m not really a big spin-rate guy. Honestly, I like it more for my off-speed so that’s kind of how I use it.
Going back to instructs in October, I know you didn’t pitch but was there anything that you were able to do on the side or just absorb from observing?
MacKenzie Gore: I need to be able to pitch during October and the playoffs one day, so I have a lot of work to do because I wasn’t able to throw so I had a lot to do. It just made me hungry to get ready to go in the off-season
When you look at the names that have been here the last few seasons, guys like Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, and Cal Quantrill all moved up to Double-A mid-season. Is that something that you noticed and if so, do you think about going down the same path that they did?
MacKenzie Gore: Nah, I haven’t really paid that much attention to that. I’m in Lake Elsinore today so I am going to try and win us a baseball game Friday [and he did].
Besides the obvious, how are you looking to get better in 2019?
MacKenzie Gore: There’s not a lot of goals set. I just want to go and dominate every day. That’s all I really have set; don’t look ahead. Just kind of be where my feet are and be happy where I am and go get better.
When you start looking ahead, you lose days and if you lose a day, you get left behind. You can’t lose days here. Take one day at a time and good things will happen.