Name: Mat Latos
DOB: December 9, 1987
Originally drafted by the Padres out of Coconut Creek High School in Florida in the 11th-round, Latos was signed as a draft-and-follow after attending Broward Community College where he went 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA over 75.1 innings, striking out 102 while walking 17.
With a hefty seven-figure bonus, Latos came in with an electric fastball and high expectations. And as a power pitcher, walking 17 was likely the most positive sign from college.
Signing just days before he was slated to go back into the subsequent draft, Latos career kicked off in the Northwest League with the Eugene Emeralds.
"If I had to make a decision on what he would be right now – I think he might end up being a major league closer," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He might end up being a number one starter. Major league closers are very hard to find. Sometimes guys are better off pitching that one inning and being dominant rather than going six, seven, eight innings and maybe not being as dominant.
"I am not saying he couldn't be. He will start for the next few years and maybe forever. You have a guy that has the type of arm who can throw a 95 MPH fastball and he is still growing, he is not done filling out yet. He may throw 100."
With each passing month, Latos improved. His ERA went down and his strikeouts to innings pitched went up. While the record read 1-4, he was much better than that. In 56.1 innings he struck out 74 and posted a 3.83 ERA.
"He was 19 playing against kids that were 25," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "He was six years younger than them. It was like the seniors playing the seventh graders. And he was not afraid. He was not afraid. He would go 0-2 and buzz one inside on the older guys. They would glare at him and he would be like, ‘Come on brother. I have got something for you right here.'
"He was our most improved pitcher for the year. His record is not reflective of what kind of progress he made. He is a winner and he touched 98 a couple of times."
There were things to learn from in his first professional season:
His fastball, clocked consistently in the mid-90s during his collegiate season, was sporadic with its velocity – floating between 91 and 95 MPH for much of the year. It was something Latos was cognizant of but had no answer other than the innings load early in the year and getting back into a rhythm in Eugene.
He had trouble getting out of the fourth inning due to a high pitch count and that meant he was working from behind through the first half of the season.
"He is still a long ways away as far as efficiency," said Fuson. "I think there was only one time he got into the fifth. He has to work on strike throwing, like they all do."
Latos wasn't particularly happy with this portion of his game and knew he had to be more efficient with his pitches to become the big game pitcher everybody expects. That area of his game improved as the feel for his straight changeup was sharper.
Then there were the positives.
He flashed a dirty changeup to go with his plus-fastball. Its movement dropping out of the zone gave him a pitch that could be used when he was ahead in the count. He also has a very good slider that gets lost in the mix but could become another plus-pitch.
His demeanor on the mound was pure intensity, a far cry from his off-the-field comedy. When he stands on the bump, the focus is limited to him and the batter.
"I was a little concerned about his emotion and how that would be controlled on the mound and would that turn into ball four or strike three? But this guy has a light switch," said Fuson. "He has a switch he turns when he gets on the mound. He competes."
The tall right-hander allowed just five earned runs over his final 28.2 innings, a span of six starts, for a 1.57 ERA. Quite a way to end the year.
When Latos is firing on all cylinders, his fastball will top out at 98 MPH and sit at 94-96. It also has movement tailing away from a right-hander and will even rise in to a lefty. He will throw a two-seamer to right-handed hitters, but favors the four-seam in most circumstances.
"The first batter that he faced, strike one, strike two, threw one up and in can came back strike three and I went, ‘I like this kid,'" Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He did not mess around. He went bang, right after them.
"He throws a very high three-quarters, almost seven-eights with a very good downward plane. He pounds the knees. He was very impressive. The fastball is 94-95. That will open your eyes."
While the knuckle-changeup – what some would refer to as a splitter – has been shelved while he focuses on the straight change it is a deadly pitch that surely won't be lost forever.
The straight change is meant to be a pitch he can throw for strikes while the knuckle-change is a two-strike pitch that generally falls out of the zone. The benefit of keeping the knuckle-change is Latos uses the same arm action as his fastball and by the time it is detected the batter has already committed to swinging.
"He has a slider, two changeups and an idea of what he is doing on the mound," said Rajsich. "You talk to him about pitching – and you might talk to him about other things in life and say, ‘Whoa', but you talk to him about pitching and the chart and way he is pitching – he has a plan. That is very impressive – at 19.
"His slider has good tilt and he can throw it for a strike just as easily as he can bury it down in the zone. He hurls the slider much like the fastball but turns his hand slightly to snap it off."
"He just has great stuff," catcher Luis Martinez said. "He throws that 95 MPH fastball and his off-speed is ridiculous.
"He used to have this forkball that he called a changeup – I don't know why – it is nasty. His slider breaks real well and he can spot it up where he wants."
Latos is an aggressive pitcher who is not afraid to brush back a hitter and claim his stake to the inside part of the plate. He also knows how to finish off a hitter and that part of his game will continue to get better.
"He is a free-spirited kid," Riddoch said. "He showed up a Instructional with a buzz haircut and no necklaces or jewelry on – and everybody was going, ‘who is this?' He is a young 19 and is making a lot of adjustments in his own life, much less pitching.
"They changed his motion in Instructional League so he gets a little bit more direction, which will give him more velocity. He is not a hyperflex situation where the elbows are behind the back. They are all on the front side, the balance side, and that is making a difference.
"He called me and said, ‘Gee, they are fixing my motion a little bit. After I did my workout, I didn't feel any stiffness. I usually feel all stiff and sore the next day.'
"‘Do you see what balance will do for you Matty?'"
He is a student of the game and listens well, despite some concerns to the contrary. There were some who originally thought he would be hard to get through to. There are rumors that he has had bouts of immaturity and it is something he will have to fight through over the next year to truly become the pitcher he can be.
"He busts his butt," Bryk said. "Time will tell what he will be."
"A super summer," said Fuson. "A little better than I thought. For the most part he was in every game he pitched, and we will take that, especially for a 19-year-old kid in a college-oriented league."
"He is the real deal if all the other stuff falls into place," Riddoch said. "That is why I tell them we don't care what your numbers are. You are so used to looking at your numbers and we could care less what they are."
"He has a little personality to him – I kind of like," Rajsich added. "He is a thoroughbred that you don't have to hold back. There are others that you need a cattle prod to get them to go. He is high energy and exciting to watch."
ETA: While the four-year college players are usually the ones getting pushed, Latos' talent will allow him to move quickly. He has plus stuff across the board and needs to focus on pitch sequences, efficiency and maturity. Once that is tackled, he should rise quickly – but he will get a late start to the year after missing nearly a week of spring due to personal reasons that took two of his scheduled outings away. When he returned, he complained of some tenderness, but he should be back in game shape by the end of April.
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