From the day he was drafted in 2017, we were told MacKenzie Gore would be Major League Baseball's next dominant left-hander. Five years later, after a long and winding road, the 23-year-old has finally arrived. And, if anything, he's better than we were promised.
When the San Diego Padres selected Gore with the third pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, he was compared favorably to Clayton Kershaw. The Whiteville, North Carolina, kid was athletic, had a quirky exaggerated leg kick, a mid-90s fastball and three other potential plus-pitches. MLB.com's Jim Callis thought Gore should have been the top pick, over both Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene.
After a few rookie league outings in his draft year, Gore hit full-season ball in 2018 and things didn't go as planned. A blister issue dogged his entire first season in A-ball with the Fort Wayne TinCaps. He finished with a 2-5 record, a 4.45 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 16 starts. He was young for the Midwest League but it was a disappointing showing.
In 2019, Gore showed what all the hype was about. He made the jump to the High-A California League where he dominated with the Lake Elsinore Storm. He went 7-1 with a 1.02 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, an opponents batting average of .137 and 110 strikeouts against 20 walks in 79.1 innings. That performance earned him a brief call-up to Double-A, a spot in the 2019 All-Star Futures Game and he was named MLB Pipeline's pitcher of the year. He was widely regarded as the sport's top pitching prospect. Everything was set up for Gore to potentially debut in the big leagues in 2020. Then it all went wrong.
During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Gore was sent to the Padres' alternate site to train. By all reports, he struggled mightily with his command and couldn't put it together. Many believed his issues could be related to the strange nature of the 2020 season and the roadblock to development many players faced. It seemed to be an anomaly ... until 2021 showed that something was really off.
In 12 appearances over four levels in 2021, Gore continued to struggle to find the plate. He went 1-2 with a 3.93 ERA and a WHIP of 1.47. He walked 28 batters in 50.1 innings while also giving up 46 hits. In six Triple-A starts he went 0-2 with a 5.85 ERA and an insanely high WHIP of 1.80. Things got so bad, MLB Pipeline dropped him from being their sixth-best prospect in baseball all the way to 86th. His stock was dropping like a rock.
Gore entered spring training in 2022 with an invite to big-league camp and a chance to turn his career around. And that's exactly what he did. Working with new Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla has clearly done the trick. He looked like his old self in March, showing improved control and four quality pitches. He was also regularly touching 97 with his fastball. It looked as if he was going to break camp with the Padres, but he was sent down late in spring training. It didn't take long for that to change as he was called up for his Major League debut on April 15.
Since that time Gore hasn't just been the best rookie pitcher in baseball, he's been one of the best period. He's been brilliant and is only getting better.
Through nine appearances (eight starts), Gore has posted a sparkling ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of 1.06. He's struck out 57 batters in 48 innings while walking 17. In those nine appearances he's only allowed eight earned runs and 34 hits, and he has yet to allow more than three runs in an outing. In fact, he's allowed one or no runs in seven of his appearances and has only surrendered one home run all season. Lest you think he might be getting lucky, his FIP (1.10) and xFIP (1.49) are even better than his ERA. To put it more simply: he's absolutely dominating major league hitters as a rookie.
On Saturday, Gore was stellar against the Milwaukee Brewers. In six innings he allowed three hits and no runs while striking out 10 and walking three. He got the win as part of a combined shutout for the Padres, and it was very clear he wasn't at his sharpest. That followed an outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates from May 29 where he twirled seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out nine while walking two. He just continues to get better.
While Gore can't yet qualify, he would be leading the National League in ERA, ranks 18th in strikeouts, and his 10.7 strikeouts per nine would rank third in the NL. Among all Major League pitchers he ranks ninth in fWAR (1.7). You can make a very strong case that he's an All-Star at this point.
Gore has been working mostly behind his fastball, which he can move all over the zone. He has an absolutely nasty slider and a devastating curve, but has also begun featuring his changeup more and more. All three of his secondary pitches could wind up being "plus" offerings.
Yes, Gore can get himself into patterns of throwing too many pitches and nibbling too much, leading to walks. But his control is vastly improved over the past two years and his confidence is only growing. Oh, and did I mention he's only 23? That's the scary part: he's only going to get better.
We've waited a long time for MacKenzie Gore to land in the big leagues after his odyssey through the minor leagues. He has finally arrived this season and, if anything, he's begun surpassing the hype.