Padres Draft-and-follow: Matt Latos interview

The new five-year collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Union last winter will bring some changes to baseball. One of the biggest will be the way draft is run.

In an effort to end the prolonged holdouts and scenes of teams racing to sign players before they attend their first college class, major league teams will now have until August 15 to sign their draft picks, with the exception of college seniors.

This rule will benefit both major league baseball by not allowing player's agents to drag out the negotiation process and college teams will have some sort of certainty regarding who will or will not be on their squad for the upcoming year instead of finding out the day before school begins that several of their top recruits have signed professional contracts.

This new rule will also end the selection of draft-and-follow players, which allowed teams to use a late round draft pick on a high school or junior college talent to potentially get a much better player with an additional year of development before next year's draft. If a player chooses to attend a four-year school, they are not eligible to be drafted until after their junior year, but they can be selected in either year of junior college.

This rule will eliminate a loophole that the Padres had been able to exploit, signing some of their more successful prospects, such as Jared Wells, Kyle Blanks, and, more recently, pitchers Aaron Breit and Drew Miller, both of whom ended up in the 2007 Madfriars.com Top Twenty Prospects.

The biggest fish that the Padres will have an opportunity to sign before the 2007 draft is their 11th-round selection from last year, right-handed pitcher Matt Latos out of Coconut Grove High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Latos nearly defines the word "upside" with a tall frame that unleashes laser fastballs in the high-90s.

Currently, Latos is playing with the Broward Community College Seahawks, who were ranked as the preseason number one junior college baseball team in the county. He is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA and has struck out 28 batters in 21 innings, only allowing three walks and 17 hits.

The Padres have until a week before the 2007 draft to sign him, and its not going to be cheap. With Latos' ability, potential, and improvement from last year, he should command first or second-round money, which could be in the million to multi-million dollar range.

The signing of Latos, in addition to the Padres eight extra picks in this years draft, could significantly improve the Padres' talent level in their system. We caught up with Latos before one of his workouts to find out a little more about him and his plans.

Your height and weight listings vary on quite a few publications and Internet sites. What is your current height and weight?

Matt Latos: I'm 6-foot-6, 220-pounds.

Last year there were reports that your fastball was touching 96 MPH and sitting in the low-90s. How has it been this year?

Matt Latos: It's been pretty good. This year, I've been sitting at 95 to 97 MPH and topping out at 99.

In Baseball America's draft notes from the 2006 draft, they stated that you throw as secondary pitches a curveball and a slider, with your curveball "at times being a two-plane pitch with excellent depth." How have both of those pitches been progressing for you?

Matt Latos: Well, I haven't really thrown a curveball since my junior year of high school because it was hurting my elbow. My other two pitches are a slider and a change, which I‘m very confident in.

The change seems to be the most difficult pitch for young guys to master since it goes against a natural inclination to really wind up and let loose.

Matt Latos: The change has been my out pitch this year, so I feel pretty good throwing it. My coaches took away my slider last summer to force me to throw the change as my other pitch, so that has really helped my development.

Going into last year, you were one of the top high school pitchers in the nation, but you fell in the draft because most people thought you were going to the University of Oklahoma. The Padres drafted you in the 11th round and ended up going to Broward Community College, not Oklahoma. What happened?

Matt Latos: I ended up not being too sure that I wanted to fully commit to a four-year school. Broward was right down the corner from where I live and I know the coaches very well. The program in unbelievable, the coaches are great especially my manager Coach Duetchman and my pitching coach Felipe Suarez. The team won the state championship and I think this year we have a good opportunity to do it again.

One big advantage of choosing a community college is that you're eligible to either go back for another year of junior college or to a four-year school or go to the pros. That must have played some role in your thinking.

Matt Latos: Exactly. There just seemed to be so many more options open to me with this path.

How hard did the Padres try to sign you?

Matt Latos: There really wasn't that much of a negotiation. They came by our house once and they told me what their offer was, I told them what I wanted and we kind of left it at that. I'd rather them see me pitch for one more year and understand that I'm worth more than they believe. I have no problem proving myself and the competition on the JC level is going to help me get ready for the next level even faster.

So which way are you leaning, going back to school or starting your pro career?

Matt Latos: I want to start my pro career as soon as possible, but the offer has got to be right. I'm really enjoying the whole college experience and either going back to Broward or to Oklahoma would be fine with me, but my goal is to pitch in the major leagues.


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