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Despite Setbacks, MacKenzie Gore Remains On Normal Timeline For High School Pitchers



MacKenzie Gore has been the subject of much hand-wringing by Padres fans and team officials the last two years.

The 22-year-old lefthander ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball entering 2020, but his delivery fell out of sync during the coronavirus shutdown and he’s gone backward since.

He struggled at the alternate training site in 2020 and made it through just six starts at Triple-A in 2021 before the Padres sent him to their complex in Peoria, Ariz., to rework his delivery. He returned to pitching in live games two months later and showed improvement at the end of the regular season, but he subsequently surrendered 15 hits and eight earned runs in 11.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League with nearly as many walks (six) as strikeouts (eight).

Once expected to be a foundational member of the Padres rotation, Gore instead remains in the minors with an uncertain MLB timeline.

While Gore’s overall trend has certainly been discouraging, it’s hardly uncommon for top pitching prospects to take elongated development paths. In reality, as a 2017 high school draftee, Gore will still be on track even if he doesn’t throw 100 innings in a major league season until 2023.

Of the 507 high school pitchers drafted and signed between 2010-16, just 42 have gone on to pitch 100 innings in a major league season. It took those pitchers an average of six years from the time they were drafted until they crossed the 100-inning threshold in the majors for the first time. The median was six years, as well.

Player

Current Team

Draft Year

100+ IP in MLB

Years

Ian Anderson

Braves

2016

2021

5

Mike Soroka

Braves

2015

2019

4

Chris Paddack

Padres

2015

2019

4

Triston McKenzie

Guardians

2015

2021

6

Kolby Allard

Rangers

2015

2021

6

Jack Flaherty

Cardinals

2014

2018

4

Logan Webb

Giants

2014

2021

7

Dylan Cease

White Sox

2014

2021

7

Mitch Keller

Pirates

2014

2021

7

Brad Keller

Royals

2013

2018

5

Tyler Mahle

Reds

2013

2018

5

Max Fried

Braves

2012

2019

7

Lucas Giolito

White Sox

2012

2018

6

Jose Berrios

Blue Jays

2012

2017

5

Lance McCullers Jr.

Astros

2012

2015

3

Zach Eflin

Phillies

2012

2018

6

Chris Flexen

Mariners

2012

2021

9

Jose Fernandez

Deceased

2011

2013

2

Blake Snell

Padres

2011

2017

6

Michael Fulmer

Tigers

2011

2016

5

Zach Davies

Cubs

2011

2016

5

Dylan Bundy

Twins

2011

2016

5

Joe Musgrove

Padres

2011

2017

6

Archie Bradley

Free Agent

2011

2016

5

Daniel Norris

Free Agent

2011

2017

6

Joe Ross

Nationals

2011

2016

5

Tyler Glasnow

Rays

2011

2018

7

Jake Junis

Royals

2011

2018

7

Adrian Houser

Brewers

2011

2019

8

John Gant

Free Agent

2011

2018

7

Matt Wisler

Rays

2011

2015

4

Robert Gsellman

Free Agent

2011

2017

6

Jorge Lopez

Orioles

2011

2019

8

Sal Romano

Free Agent

2011

2018

7

Noah Syndergaard

Angels

2010

2015

5

Robbie Ray

Mariners

2010

2015

5

Jameson Taillon

Yankees

2010

2016

6

Aaron Sanchez

Free Agent

2010

2016

6

Taijuan Walker

Mets

2010

2015

5

Vince Velasquez

Free Agent

2010

2016

6

Mike Foltynewicz

Free Agent

2010

2016

6

Parker Bridwell

Free Agent

2010

2017

7

Even as additional pitchers from those drafts reach 100 innings for the first time in the coming years, it won’t shorten the average or median timeline—the 2022 season marks six years for the 2016 draftees and seven or more years for earlier draftees.

Taking that long has no bearing on a pitcher’s ability to develop into a frontline starter. The list of high school draftees who took six or more years to throw 100 innings in the majors from the time they were selected includes White Sox all-star Lucas Giolito (six years), 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell (six years), Braves World Series hero Max Fried (seven years) and Rays ace Tyler Glasnow (seven years).

Six years would put Gore on track to pitch 100 innings for the first time in 2023. If Gore is able to regain his previous form in 2022, earn an early callup to the majors and spend a good chunk of the year in the Padres rotation, he would beat the average and join excellent company among pitchers who posted their first 100-inning season only five years after they were drafted.

That list includes reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray, all-stars Jose Berrios and Noah Syndergaard and burgeoning Braves standout Ian Anderson. Even the “worst” pitcher who pitched 100 innings in the majors five years after being drafted, Nationals righthander Joe Ross, has settled into a career as roughly a league-average starter when healthy.

As much as Gore’s pitch mix, command and athleticism excited when he was at his best, expecting him to be a rotation regular any earlier than 2022 was probably unrealistic. It is exceedingly rare for a high school draftee to throw 100 innings in a major league season fewer than five years after he was drafted.

Of those 507 high school pitchers drafted and signed between 2010-16, just six—Jose Fernandez, Lance McCullers Jr., Matt Wisler, Jack Flaherty, Mike Soroka and Chris Paddack—pitched 100 innings in an MLB season less than five years after they were selected.

Year

No.

Majors

100+ IP

Less Than 5 Years

2010

84

24

8

0

2011

72

35

17

2

2012

82

25

6

1

2013

66

17

2

0

2014

61

17

4

1

2015

79

18

4

2

2016

63

11

1

0

Total

507

147

42

6

Notably, those few exceptions are all righthanders. The last high school lefthanders to throw 100 innings in the majors less than five years after being drafted were Madison Bumgarner and Danny Duffy, both drafted in 2007.

Mackenzie Gore (Photo By Matt Thomas San Diego Padres Getty Images)

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Gore still has a lot of work ahead to regain his place as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects. The success rate of high school draftees ever throwing 100 innings in a major league season, even once, is less than 10%. The more than 90% who failed to do it include prospects who were every bit as touted as Gore.

But just because Gore isn’t in the majors yet or is taking longer than hoped for doesn’t mean he’ll never live up to expectations or be a regular member of a rotation. High school pitchers take time, a mantra repeated again and again but often forgotten as soon as one flashes immense potential in the low levels of the minor leagues. The long list of pitchers who stormed through the low minors before hitting roadblocks in the upper minors includes Giolito, Fried and Ray, all of whom still became some of the top starters in the game.

Taking six years to become an established member of a starting rotation is standard for a high school draftee. Taking five is an accelerated track. Anything less than five is extremely rare and should never be the expectation, especially for lefthanders.

Despite Gore’s recent struggles, he’s still on the pace to be expected from a high school pitcher. Even if it’s not until 2023 he establishes himself as a bonafide big league starter, he’ll still be in great company.

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