Prep Baseball Report

The Rise Of MacKenzie Gore

By Nathan Rode
National Supervisor

MacKenzie GoreIn terms of the 2017 MLB Draft, LHP MacKenzie Gore (Whiteville HS, NC) was a riser, a prospect with helium that climbed the rankings as the season wore on. For Gore, and those that know him best, it was simply the next step.

“After last summer, my goal was to be the best player in the country and I knew I wasn’t at that point,” he said. “So I had a lot of work to do and that’s what got me going in the offseason.”

The work was put in. The stuff came out. Gore’s entire arsenal took a step forward and with that came everything else—the scouts, the stats and the accolades. While leading Whiteville to its fourth state championship in six years, Gore dominated opposing hitters and put up numbers reserved for video games. He went 11-0 with a 0.19 ERA in 74.1 innings, striking out 158 and walking just five. Also a force in the Wolfpack lineup, Gore hit more home runs (seven) himself than he allowed walks, and hit .478.

His ability and upside made him the third overall pick by the San Diego Padres. The numbers make him the Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year.

Whether it’s live at the field or on video, there is one thing about Gore that doesn’t go unnoticed when someone sees him for the first time.

“The first thing you notice is the organic leg kick, the uniqueness of his delivery,” Nick Brannon, area scout for the Padres, said.

“I always remember him having that leg kick,” said Brett Harwood, head coach at Whiteville. “I don’t think anybody can take credit for the leg kick.”

Gore’s delivery is unorthodox, pronounced and deceptive. He employs an extremely high leg kick and brings his hands above his hands at his balance point. His athleticism and strength allows him to repeat the delivery without losing anything on his stuff.

“I remember, we had a fall workout and I see this kid and I see this leg kick,” Fielding Hammond said. “I certainly wouldn’t teach anything like that, but the ball came out of his hand so easy I thought, I’m not touching that.”

Hammond started as Whiteville’s pitching coach when Gore was a freshman. Then, he was a fastball-changeup pitcher. The curveball was still a work-in-progress and the slider wasn’t even a thought. As good as the stuff was, and would become, the mental side always stood out for anyone watching Gore.

“You could tell at an early age that he was competitive, whether it be at our camp with a home run derby or watching him play—he was a couple years younger than my oldest son—he always competed with those kids,” Harwood said.

Each year, Gore saw marked improvements in his stuff. His fastball went from the low 80s to the mid 80s and it wasn’t long before he broke 90 mph. His curveball started to get sharper. He also made an early verbal commitment to East Carolina. By the summer before his senior year, he had added a slider. All the while, Gore didn’t lose sight of what he thought was most important and what eventually made him stand apart from others.

“I’ve always been pitch first and velocity will come,” Gore said. “A lot of people today, it’s velocity and then we’ll teach you how to pitch. I want to learn how to pitch and then the velocity will come as I get older.”

Whiteville always shuts down its pitchers after the summer and Gore did the same, focusing his efforts on getting stronger. Scouts had taken notice to the skinny kid—some that saw him as an underclassman and others on the showcase circuit—and by the end of the offseason, the work he put in was apparent.

“I met with him in December and you could tell he put on some weight,” Brannon said. “It was pretty noticeable from the time I saw him in August. He was a little bit taller, but you could tell he put on about 10 or 15 pounds.

“It’s a testament to the kid, going out and doing the work, wanting to be the guy.”

With some scouts on hand, Gore faced Topsail HS (NC) in a scrimmage that may have been a defining moment, at least for the spring.

“You go and watch his first outing, preseason, they’re playing Topsail,” Brannon said. “Immediately, it was 92-95. There was a definite velo jump. The changeup looked good. The breaking ball looked like the curveball came around a little bit. The slider was good. You could just tell he put in his work. It was just like a process and you saw the kid get better.”

Gore quickly stepped into a new category. After the summer, he was certainly a top prospect, among the top 25 high schoolers in the country, but there was still a chance he could make it to East Carolina. Now, he was a first-round prospect and high-level scouts started showing up to his games—general managers, special assistants. It didn’t faze him, nor did it surprise his coaches.

“I look at it as his next step,” Harwood said. “And I think there’s more there.”

“I go last summer and I’m watching him, he’s just pitching and the stuff has jumped up a notch,” Hammond said. “I went and watched him at LakePoint and the slider was just unhittable. And he was 89-92 and I’m like, he’s going to be a first rounder. I didn’t know No. 3, but I said he’s going to be a first-round pick.”

Hammond has dated Gore’s older sister for three years now and he got an early peek at the southpaw’s dedication to his craft, one of the first times he was at the family’s house. Gore’s room is the only room upstairs and Hammond heard thumping coming from above.

“I’m like, ‘Meredith, what is he doing?’”

“Oh, he’s practicing his windup,” she said. “He’s in the mirror, practicing his windup.”

The low-90s fastball. The feel for his offspeed stuff. The command. All of that stands out for scouts and factored into him being the third overall pick, but Gore’s desire to get better and the approach he takes on the field is the separator.

“You watch him work and he’s a serious guy,” Brannon said. “He’s serious about his trade. He wants to be good. He competes in all aspects. He was really competing with his bullpen, really talking to his coaches about, ‘Hey man, did that look like it was running?’ He was interacting with his catcher. Like advanced stuff from a high school kid. Most kids are like, let me go ahead and rip off these 20-25 pitches. Let me go hit up my Twitter or whatever. He was a pro. He warms up like a pro. He threw his bullpen like a pro.”

Gore trusts the process and the next step for him is unlocking his full potential on the mound. Part of that will come from putting away the bat. He hit in the middle of the order for Whiteville and when he wasn’t on the mound, he played the field and he played it hard.

“I’m all over the place out there on the field,” Gore said. “Playing different positions, I’m diving, stealing bases. I play the game hard. There were times on the mound I was a little gassed and I’m sure that’ll help.”

Gore also wants to become a better leader, something he’s already well on his way to being. At a banquet for Gore, players got up to speak about their teammate. It’s supposed to be a roast. Instead, most were emotional.

“We’ve won four state championships the last six years,” Harwood said. “All those teams were good and had really good players, but I think for a program that makes a run like that there’s usually one player that really you just have to have that makes you great and makes your program great and he’s been that guy. And it’s not just been on the field, it’s been off the field. He made every kid around him, whether they were playing or had a role on the bench, he made every teammate feel like a part of it.”

Gore is confident, but humble. He wanted to be the best and he put himself in the conversation. Draft night was exciting, but he’s not done.

“It’s kind of like all the work builds up to this and now you kind of start over,” he said. “You’re at the bottom again and you’ve gotta work your way up. All the work I did in high school and when I was young has paid off. I was on the top. Now I’m about to be back on the bottom and just have to work harder than I ever have before.”



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