the San Diego Padres don’t have star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., but they do have a solid record after the first three weeks of the Major League Baseball season. What’s more is the Padres have two rookies with recognizable names, in lefty MacKenzie Gore and shortstop CJ Abramswho are the subjects of this week’s Prospect Watch.
Gore, 23, has started three times and has compiled a 1.76 ERA (205 Cincinnati Reds, so he hasn’t faced steep competition. Nevertheless, Gore has gone through the wringer in recent years, including a rumored bout with the yips that delayed his arrival and inspired uncertainty that caused him to be left off some prospect lists (ours included), so it’s been heartening to see him enjoy some early success at the highest level.) and a 3.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio while averaging just over five innings per pop. It’s worth noting that two of those three appearances came against the lowly
Gore has relied upon his fastball thus far, throwing it more than 60 percent of the time. He’s sat in the mid-90s with it, touching as high as 98.5 mph. In reality, his heater plays faster than those numbers indicate thanks to his nearly seven feet of extension – that is, the distance from the rubber to his release point. His release point from him, or, at least, his high arm slot, matters in another sense, too, as it creates a flat plane to the top of the zone that disorients batters. Factor in the pitch’s natural rise (and slight arm-side movement), and Gore’s fastball is safely above average.
When Gore has required a change in speeds, he’s turned to a pair of breaking balls, in his signature curveball and slider. (Some of his pitches from him have also deviated into a third cluster that’s in-between the two.) We’ll start with the curveball since it, along with his delivery from him, used to earn him comparisons to Clayton Kershaw.
Gore’s curve still bears some similarities to Kershaw’s. For our money, though, the most sensible comparison is to patrick sandoval, a different Los Angeles-based lefty with a similarly vertical-based curve. That’s because both Gore and Sandoval throw their curves about seven miles per hour harder than Kershaw does these days. Anyway, you don’t care about any of that; just know that it’s a pretty pitch.
For as aesthetically pleasing as Gore’s curveball is — and a 12-to-6 curveball is one of the truest beauties of the sport — his slider has been a more effective pitch in-games. We’re overgeneralizing here, but the goal of any given pitch is to get a strike or to get an out. Gore’s curve isn’t consistently getting strikes, either looking or swinging, and it isn’t encouraging hitters to swing and put it into play. He’s doing better in those respects with the slider, so we have no choice but to give it the nod for the time being.
An idealized future version of Gore would have him dropping his curve in the zone more consistently, thereby stealing strikes and setting up plus counts for him to wreak havoc in by using elevated fastballs or buried sliders. Whether or not he ascends to that level anytime soon is to be seen, but there’s no sense betting against him after what he’s prevailed against over the last couple years.
Abrams’ initial exposure to The Show hasn’t been as kind. He’s struggled through his first 13 games, batting .132/.233/.237 (44 OPS+) with too many chases and whiffs and too few well-struck balls for anyone’s comfort. (Heck, he entered Thursday with more pop-ups than line drives.) Abrams’ woes from him, though frustrating for Padres fans hoping for instant production to aid a playoff chase, are understandable. He’s only 21 years old, and he missed most of last season after fracturing his leg and tearing his MCL in a collision with a teammate. Even now, including his big-league stint from him, he has fewer than 60 career games at or above the Double-A level.
The Padres still felt good enough about Abrams — and/or bad enough about Ha Seong Kim — to roll the dice with him as part of their attempt to replace Tatis. Whatever the exact motivation and their confidence level behind that move, his introduction of him to the majors has offered the occasional bright spot.
Abrams has looked the part at shortstop defensively, to the extent that you can understand why scouts have speculated that when he was ready San Diego would move Tatis to the outfield. He’s also shown off his impressive speed here and there, going one-for-two on steals (the caught stealing saw him beat the throw easily only to get tagged on an overslide) and turning this grounder into a hustle double:
The larger context behind Abrams’ scuffles makes it hard to read too much into his start. Besides, this is someone who evaluators believed could develop into a well-above-average hitter entering the spring thanks to his feel for the barrel and the zone and to his budding power potential. It’s tempting to overanalyze given the sample size — and, frankly, the poor results — but resist the urge, resist the urge.