MLB

MLB Prospect Watch: Why Padres top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore has had his debut delayed

The San Diego Padres have spent the past couple years pursuing and acquiring starting pitching. Within the past calendar year, they’ve traded for Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove. They almost added either Max Scherzer or José Berríos to that group at the deadline. Heck, come this winter they’ll probably take a run at another above-average starter, and, based on A.J. Preller’s track record, they might just catch one.

It’s a sensible approach, mind you. The Padres have a real chance to win a World Series, be it this fall or an upcoming one. That reality alone makes it tough to stomach fielding a starting five that has been weakened by injury and/or underperformance. There’s an unspoken dynamic behind San Diego’s recent rotation moves, and it has less to do with who is in the Padres rotation and more to do with who is not: young left-hander MacKenzie Gore.

Gore was held as one of the game’s top prospects entering the 2020 season. He had a broad arsenal and more than enough athleticism to repeat a delivery that often elicited references to Clayton Kershaw. It seemed probable, if not likely that he would make his big-league debut before the season ended. Instead, Gore still hasn’t reached the Show — and it doesn’t seem realistic to expect him to do so any earlier than next season.

Gore’s ascent has been slowed by a few factors, including a blister that sidelined him for several weeks earlier this year. Rumors of him developing the yips — a sudden inability to throw strikes — have swelled within the industry dating back to last year. Gore, who entered the year ranked as baseball’s No. 7 prospect, hasn’t pitched in a regular-season contest since June, but it was clear in the six starts he made for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, that something was amiss: he compiled a 5.85 ERA and a 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, anchored by a career-worst walk rate. The Padres subsequently sent Gore down to the complex level to work on his mechanics. 

“When you throw a fastball in the mid-90s, there’s nothing wrong with your arm,” El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez told reporters in June. “It’s a matter of learning how to pitch and all that. And I think [Gore] is in that process, that stage of his career. Him and Ryan Weathers, they are different. They learn and they aren’t afraid to fail. They learn from every outing and we can see that MacKenzie Gore in the near future will be successful not only in Triple-A but in the big leagues. This is part of the development and the Padres are very aware of that.”

The Padres can only hope that Rodriguez is proven correct in due time. Gore’s struggles have left them in an awkward situation for now. There’s no reason to give up on him — he won’t turn 23 until next year and his past promise should be enough for them to add him to the 40-player roster and protect him from this winter’s Rule 5 draft — but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be able to return to form, as well as when that might happen. 

As a result, the Padres will likely continue their pursuit of external rotation help this winter, all the while wishing for the best for Gore as he attempts to get back in sync.



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