Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Our latest Q&A is with Whiteville (N.C.) HS left-hander MacKenzie Gore, the top pure high school pitcher available this year. Gore, a 6-foot-2, 180-lb. 18-year old, won his third North Carolina state championship recently and was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year after posting a 9-0 record with an 0.22 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.
Gore has been thought of as a potential No. 1 overall pick, though the Twins seem likely to go with either Louisville’s Brendan McKay or Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright with that pick. projections vary a bit, with some reports noting he has a chance to be a top-10 pick. Baseball America, MLB.com and ESPN’s latest mocks all project Gore to the Padres with the third overall pick, behind McKay and Hunter Greene. Be sure to check out Gore’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved the game?
“When I was about 10 or 11. Before that, I didn’t really have much interest in it. That’s when I started having the success.”
Growing up, which team was your favorite? Favorite player?
“I didn’t really have a favorite team, I just kinda watched all of baseball. My favorite players are Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, just the top pitchers.”
Your hometown of Whiteville is a town of only 5,400 people, but it has a rich tradition of baseball success, with three top draft picks in the 1980s. What was it like growing up there?
“It’s great. The support here, it doesn’t get any better than high school.”
You won three state championships in four years at Whiteville, losing in the finals your junior year. How has life been having all that success?
“It’s been good, and it’s helped me a lot too. I’ve played in four state championships, so I’ve pitched in big games by whole career. It’s helped me grow up and mature, especially with the mental side of baseball.”
You were the only senior on this year’s team and led the squad to a state championship. What was that leadership role like for you?
“It taught me a lot. Last year, I wasn’t a good enough leader. This year my goal was to be a better leader and win the state championship.”
Why do you say you weren’t a good enough leader?
“We lost. We weren’t mentally ready the next day and lost two days in a row.”
You were just named Gatorade National Player of the Year and were surprised at your home field with Kerry Wood delivering the trophy. Were you surprised by that presentation?
“Oh, yeah. Big-time. They hid it good from me. I don’t know how they did it but they did.”
What did you know about Kerry Wood before that day?
“I knew he was nasty. I really didn’t know it was him at first.”
Was there a turning point moment for you when you really realized you could turn pro and potentially be a first-round pick?
“I think last summer when the velocity started jumping a little bit. I’ve always felt that I was talented enough. I’ve had goals, last fall, to be the best player in the country. Last summer when I started throwing a little harder, it started coming to reality.”
What led to that uptick in velocity for you?
“The weight room. Just getting older and stronger.”
You’re one of three projectable, high-ceiling prep lefties available this year with you, D.L. Hall and Trevor Rogers. If you were a team, why would you select a projectable, high-ceiling guy?
“They’ve got a chance to be very good one day. A guy like Kershaw or Bumgarner, those are all those kind of guys coming out of high school. They’ve had a lot of success in the minor leagues.”
You’re an East Carolina commit. What led to that decision?
“The coaching staff. I love Coach [Cliff] Godwin and all those guys. They’re the best in the country and that’s why I committed there.”
What factors will play into your decision in a couple weeks when you have to either go pro or end up enrolling at ECU?
“I’ll just do whatever is best for me.”
What is your biggest strength as a player?
“Competitiveness. Nobody on the field wants to win more than me.”
What facet of your game do you hope to work on the most at the next level?
“Just everything. Being able to be more consistent with all my pitches when I’m down in the count. Just getting better every day and putting some weight on.”
A lot of high-ceiling guys have a big fastball but haven’t seen their other pitches develop into plus pitches at this point. You’re the opposite, with four solid pitches in your fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. How did those pitches develop over time?
“When I was young... now it’s more, ‘just getting velocity and we’ll teach them how to pitch later’. I’ve always been taught to pitch first and velocity will come as I get older. That’s helped me a lot, because I’ve always worked on hitting spots and the secondary pitches growing up.”
You’ve been asked this a ton, but who’s your major-league comp?
“Bumgarner. Gets the ball in the biggest games. The competiveness that he has, that’s kind of my game.”
You’re both North Carolina guys, both lefties from the state. Have you spoken to him throughout this process at all?
“Yeah, we’ve talked. I got a chance to talk to him this fall in person. He gave me some good advice, but nothing crazy. We talked a little bit about baseball but more of just a normal person conversation.”
You’re at a crazy time in your life, with the state championship, prom, graduation and the draft all in the matter of a few weeks. What has that whirlwind been like? Have you seen your life change socially?
“No, I’ve always been known around town. All the attention has been great and I’ve enjoyed it. I’m just trying to make sure I haven’t changed any or gotten big-headed. Just enjoying it and taking it in because it doesn’t happen much. It’s probably the only time this will happen.”
The one concern scouts seem to have with your style is that your mechanics could lead to an injury down the line. What is your plan in the pros to avoid that happening?
“Just to prepare and stay flexible. I’ll do whatever they want and trust their process, doing whatever they want me to do.”
Do you have any expectations as to where you’ll fall on draft night? Any goals?
“No, not really. I’ll be honest, the way I feel about it, if I don’t get picked... it’s gonna be awesome if I do get picked, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. I’d be going to play at East Carolina. I’m in a win-win situation right now, just enjoying every minute of it.”