San Diego Padres: Can MacKenzie Gore make an impact in 2022?

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 16: A general view of the pitching mound during a San Diego Padres intrasquad game for their summer workouts at PETCO Park on July 16, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 16: A general view of the pitching mound during a San Diego Padres intrasquad game for their summer workouts at PETCO Park on July 16, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

As recently as 2020, MacKenzie Gore, taken by the San Diego Padres with the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, was Major League Baseball’s top pitching prospect.

What is not to like? Gore throws a fastball in the mid-90s and has a complete repertoire of pitches that make him an ideal frontline starting pitcher. He combines a biting curveball, slider, and changeup with his fastball to overpower opposing hitters.

However, Gore’s MLB debut has been delayed by his inability to throw strikes consistently. But, with the guidance of new Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla, Gore may have a chance to make an impact on the mound in 2022.

Was San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller overlooking MacKenzie Gore’s potential?

For the last two seasons, Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been pursuing and obtaining the top available starting pitching (Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove) talent on the trade market. Each deal was consummated without Preller considering promoting Gore to the Major League roster. No one questioned his approach as the Friars were in a hunt for a postseason berth.

But Gore’s name did come into light late last season. The Padres were besieged with injuries to their starting rotation. The front office was desperate to find reinforcements, so Preller signed Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez off baseball’s scrap heap pile.

Once again, whispers began on “Why not promote Gore?” Then, several media reports surfaced that the young pitcher had not pitched in a minor league game since June. Gore had six starts with San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, and the results were disastrous. Gore pitched to a 5.85 ERA with a 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The fall of MacKenzie Gore

To call this a regression would be an understatement. Everything came apart at the seams (no pun intended) for Gore. The red flags included velocity down, command that was non-existent, and pitching mechanics that were a mess. His once-vaunted repertoire of pitches was in shambles.

His fastball was special because of its spin rate. Batters found it extremely difficult to identify and catch up to the velocity before the ball hit the catcher’s glove. In 2021, Gore’s fastball stayed on the same plane and was very hittable.

Gore’s curveball was the perfect pitch to freeze a batter in the box. He recorded outs on a combination of weak-hitting ground outs or the batter chasing the ball out of the strike zone. Suddenly, Gore lost all command and feel of his deadly secondary pitch.

The Padres front office felt it would be in everyone’s best interest if Gore went to the club’s complex in Arizona to get a complete overhaul on his pitching mechanics. A change was necessary as Gore’s recipe for success was compromised.

Changes are necessary for MacKenzie Gore, the top pitching prospect for the San Diego Padres

The team’s minor league pitching coordinators determined that Gore’s problems centered on his arm slot as the shape of his pitches lost their effectiveness. The drop in delivery point also aided in Gore’s control troubles.

The next step was resuming Gore’s season, and that began at San Diego’s Double-A affiliate, the San Antonio Missions. His season concluded with outings in the Arizona Fall League. Altogether, Gore threw a combined 30.1 innings with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks. Overall, the feel was that his mechanics were getting more aligned to throw strikes. Gore threw his fastball up to 98 mph. Everyone agreed that his pitching delivery was a “work in progress” rather than a finished product.

Gore’s struggles did not prevent the Padres from adding him to their 40-man Major League roster, protecting them from having another organization pluck Gore in the Rule 5 draft.

The once-promising prospect is undergoing a complete change to his delivery. Gore has shown to be willing to make the necessary changes to his pitching flaws. He is learning the art of pitching. It is a lesson every young pitcher must go through in their development.

The addition of Niebla to the equation will help immensely. He has a proven track record to assist young pitchers in regaining their confidence on the mound. Niebla will emphasize to Gore to trust his new delivery and repeat it with every pitch thrown.

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The Padres will remain patient with Gore as there is no reason to give up on the young pitcher. He does not turn 23 until next month, so there is ample time for Gore to regain his form on the mound … and make an impact in 2022.