Coming into the 2019 season, there was no doubting MacKenzie Gore’s potential.
The 20-year-old lefthander, two years removed from his selection as the third overall draft pick, possessed the mix of outstanding physical and athletic ability, velocity, and pitch-making abilities to stand out as a potential star.
And yet, Gore was also coming off a season interrupted and shortened by blisters and minor finger maladies, and there was some lingering concern about whether he’d be able to find a sustainable solution to unlock his potential.
He did. In so doing, Gore delivered one of the best pitching seasons the Padres’ minor league system has seen in decades, securing his place as the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game and making the race for the 2019 Pitcher of the Year an easy call.
The North Carolina native, who won’t turn 21 until shortly after he arrives for his first big league spring training in February, made a joke of the California League. In 15 starts spaced over three months, Gore struck out 110 while allowing 58 batters to reach base safely in 79.1 innings.
“I learned a lot about myself mentally last offseason,” said Gore. “This year, I thought I did a really good job with [taking] one day at a time during the season. I didn’t look too far ahead and didn’t look back. I thought I executed it really well.”
That execution showed out immediately. In the second game of the Storm season, Gore turned in five shutout innings, striking out eight. He came back six days later, blanking the same Inland Empire team for five more frames in the Elsinore home opener.
After an “off” outing that was still on his mind three months later, Gore didn’t allow more than one run in any of his next 12 starts for the Storm.
By the time he left the Storm for the Futures Game, he’d amassed a 1.02 ERA with a 5.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. No Cal League pitcher who threw 75 innings or more had better a strikeout rate, opponent’s average, or FIP. His WHIP was nearly 50 percent better than the number two pitcher on the circuit.
And through it all, his finger remained a non-issue.
“I did have to stay on top of things, do certain things in between starts so it wouldn’t happen again,” said Gore. “But it did stay healthy all year. They gave me all kinds of ideas and things to try, then once we figured out what worked for me, it was on me to stay on top of it.”
Gore finally made in his much-anticipated debut for the Double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles on July 13. While his increased workload sapped a bit from his velocity as the game went on, he delivered more of the same by blanking Texas’s affiliate for 5.1 innings.
The one blemish on his year came in his home debut for Amarillo as Northwest Arkansas got him for three of the seven homers he surrendered on the year.
“When you look at numbers, you’re going to think ‘this guy got hit around a little at Double-A.’ But I had that one start,” said Gore. “I think I had three starts on the road and didn’t give up a run.
“It was going to happen. I wasn’t going to get through a whole year and not have one, that’s just baseball. There’s a few things you have to sharpen up once you get up to that level, but if you execute, good things are going to happen.”
Having worked well past his 2018 load of 60.2 official innings, Gore was shut down in early August. He was allowed one final cameo in the last week of the season, a start in which he recorded all five outs by strikeout to push his Double-A count to 25 Ks in 21.2 innings.
As the Sod Poodles advanced through the playoffs and claimed the Texas League championship, Gore was left to observe from the bench. Through it all, the fiery competitor was a vocal cheerleader for the squad.
“That was awesome. It was a lot of fun,” said Gore.” The last game was great and it was great to be on the team and be with the guys and a lot of fun to celebrate”
Gore headed into the 2019 offseason in a very different position than where he was 12 months ago. Coming off a fully healthy year, he still has work to do. But his ultimate goal is now much more clearly in sight.
“I had a good year. I was proud of myself the way I bounced back after the year I had the year before,” said Gore.” There were definitely things I could have been better at – there’s a whole bunch of things I’m going to get better at.”
That’s a tantalizing thought for a Padres organization that has had no qualms about moving pitchers to the big league roster quickly.
“If you’re ready to pitch in the big leagues and they think you can help them win, they’re going to put you up there,” said Gore. “I need to do what I need to do this offseason and come in ready to go in camp. If I do, then good things are going to happen.”