The first thing that you may notice about MacKenzie Gore is the left-hander’s high leg kick when he pitches. As he swivels in his windup, the 6-2 senior’s right knee reaches improbably high, nearly touching his left shoulder, before he steps into his pitch and uncorks a fastball that has topped out at 96 mph.
It’s an unusual delivery that reminds some of what a left-handed Zack Greinke would look like, but Gore said it’s not patterned after anyone.
“I really don’t know where I got it from,” Gore said. “It’s something that I started in middle school. I was always taught to turn and show the hip pocket. I don’t know why I started it, but I was able to repeat it.”
Gore (7-0) has been dominant this spring for Whiteville, N.C., playing his way into contention for the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Baseball Team.
He teamed with teammate Brooks Baldwin on March 14 for a perfect game in a five-inning 12-0 defeat of Red Springs and in his next start on March 21, had a 15-strikeout five inning perfect game in an 11-0 win at East Columbus (Lake Waccamaw). On March 28, he had 13 strikeouts in a 3-2 defeat of South Columbus (Tabor City). On April 10, in a 7-1 win at St. Paul’s, he had 15 strikeouts in six innings, allowing his first walk of the season. On April 28, he had 14 strikeouts in a 4-0 defeat of South Columbus. Last week, in a 19-0 win at Fairmont, he had 12 strikeouts with one hit allowed in five innings and went 4-for-4 with two home runs at the plate.
“He’s been really good all year,” Whiteville coach Brett Harwood said. “He’s been consistent and hasn’t wavered from his first start to his last start. The biggest thing to me is he’s maintained through the season and has been really consistent.”
Whiteville is home to only 5,600 people, but it has a strong baseball tradition, with 11 players drafted since 1983, including three who made it to the majors. In the mid-80s, two players from the Whiteville High, pitcher Tommy Greene and outfielder Pat Lennon, were selected in the first round in back-to-back years and they went on to the majors. Current Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Wright went to Whiteville. The Wolfpack have won seven state baseball titles, and have been in the state championship in Gore’s first three years of high school, winning the 1A his freshman and sophomore years and finishing as the 1A runner-up last season.
Harwood said he knew when Gore was in the seventh grade that Gore could be a standout. As a freshman, Gore was named the MVP of the state championship game. He said he was kept humble by the team’s veteran players.
“Turner Brown (now a shortstop at East Carolina) took me under his wing and showed me how to do things to prepare,” Gore said. “By the end of the year, I was able to do what I needed to do and perform.”
Gore was again named the MVP as the Wolfpack won the state title in 2015. That summer, he committed to East Carolina. Last season, the Wolfpack were the state runner-ups. Now, it’s Gore’s turn to be the mentor to the team’s younger players as they pursue another state title.
“I’ve played a lot of big games,” Gore said. “We’ve won two state championship and I played in one last year. I have to show them what to do and let them know they have to win.”
A likely first-round draftee, the attention on Gore rose when he pitched in various all-star games last summer and shined for the EvoShield Canes travel ball team. It’s not unusual for 20 to 30 scouts to be at each of Whiteville’s games.
“All of our kids have handled (the attention on Gore) well,” Harwood said. “Any time you have scouts out here, you have to feel good about it. It doesn’t happen every year and and we embrace it. When he’s pitching, the kids play a little harder.”
Gore said he’s able to keep his focus between the lines.
“You have to enjoy (the attention), because if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be miserable,” he said. “I don’t even look at the scouts. We had a freshman shortstop commit to Clemson this week, so that’s a lot cooler than having scouts come to watch me.”
The reason everyone is so high on Gore is he has a solid curve, slider and change-up to go with his fastball.
“This year, I gained about 15 pounds and got a lot stronger,” Gore said. “This spring, I’ve been able to throw all my pitches for strikes, hit my spots with my fastball more consistently and throw off-speed any time in the count and have a better feeling for all of them.”
He said he doesn’t even know his pitching stats, but if a National League team drafts him, he’ll enjoy his plate appearances.
“I do know my hitting stats, because they don’t hide those from me,” Gore said. “I’m hitting .485 with six (homers). I’ve been swinging it pretty good.”