Washington Nationals Player Profile: MacKenzie Gore

After a strong rookie campaign, the young Nationals southpaw is hoping to take another step forward this season. What can we expect from MacKenzie Gore this season?
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Ace in the making?

Acquired in the infamous trade with the San Diego Padres involving Juan Soto, MacKenzie Gore is aiming for a productive 2024 season. The former MLB.com top-100 prospect was highly touted throughout his professional career. In 2019, Gore's 1.69 ERA skyrocketed him up experts' rankings, propelling him to one of the premier prospects in baseball. Despite cruising through the Minor Leagues, the left-hander is still trying to find his form in the Majors.

The 2023 season was filled with ups and downs for MacKenzie Gore. It was the first full season for MacKenzie in the Major Leagues. He finished the year with a 7-10 record with a 4.42 ERA in 136.1 innings pitched. Against the Royals in late May, MacKenzie struck out 11 across seven innings pitched, arguably the strongest outing of the season. Gore showed flashes of ace potential. The 25-year-old owns a heavy fastball that can reach 98mph, but arguably his best pitch is the curveball, with both a slider and changeup to mix up hitters.

What holds Gore back is the lack of control. The lefty walked at least three batters in seven of his 27 starts, and at least two in 20 of 27 starts, according to ESPN.com. It is important to note that in the final month of last season, Gore walked four batters in three of five starts. He was breaking down a bit as the season wore on, which is anticipated for his first full season. Gore has just 206.1 career innings pitched in the Majors, so he is still early in his development. The good news is that the Nationals have a chance to mold their ace.

In 15.1 innings pitched during 2024 Spring Training, Gore has 19 strikeouts and six walks. Gore struck out ten in 4.2 innings pitched against the Astros on March 17 but got hit around in the final two innings of that outing. It was a bit of an odd outing as Gore remained in the game through 90 pitches, which is unusually high for a pitcher this time of year.

Watching Gore pitch this Spring, it seems as if he's relying on his fastball a bit more, throwing it up in the zone with some heat. Confidence is huge for pitchers in the Majors, and it looks like Gore is throwing the ball with some swagger.

In order to take the next step in his development, Gore needs to reduce his walks per nine innings. Gore averaged 3.8 BB/9 last season, far too high for a starting pitcher. Gore sees lots of long counts with hitters, driving his pitch count north quickly. MacKenzie had eight starts of 4.2 innings or less last season(27 starts), a result of high pitch counts. If Gore doesn't tighten up his control, he may not be able to reach his full potential. Although the Nats' track record of developing players isn't the best, Gore could be an outlier and is one of the better talents the Nationals have had at this age outside of Stephen Strasburg.

My 2024 season predictions for MacKenzie Gore are as follows: 30 starts, 12-10 record, 3.87 ERA, 165 innings, 184 SO, 77 BB. This type of season would be a huge step in Gore's development and a realistic expectation. Fellow starting pitcher Josiah Gray made a drastic improvement in his sophomore season in a Nationals uniform, so the hope is Gore follows suit. Gray's ERA lowered an entire run, from 5.02 in 2022 to 3.91 in 2023. Gray also was the lone representative for the Nationals at the 2023 MLB All-Star game. Could MacKenzie Gore be next in line for improvement?