Name: Mat Latos
DOB: December 9, 1987
Selected as a draft-and-follow in 2006 out of Broward Community College, Latos signed on May of the following season – beating the deadline for the now defunct draft-and-follow process.
The former 11th round pick began his career with Eugene in the Northwest League. He went 1-4 with a 3.83 ERA across 16 games, including 13 starts. In 56.1 innings, the right-hander struck out 74, allowing 58 hits and 22 walks.
Moved to full season ball in 2008, Latos went 0-3 with a 3.28 ERA across seven games, including five starts, with the Fort Wayne Wizards. Suffering a rib injury early in the year, Latos was on the road to recovery when he tore an oblique.
"He's got a great arm, a good breaking ball and, for the most part, when he did throw it, a pretty good changeup," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He just threw a lot of fastballs, a lot of sliders, and just really overmatched the guys."
The right-hander would return in late July and pitch in five games with the AZL Padres. He went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA across 4 innings, striking out 23 – including 17 over his final nine innings. He threw five no-hit innings in his final outing before moving back up to Eugene.
"Matty has a great arm," AZL Padres pitching coach Bronswell Patrick said. "I think Matty is starting to learn that he can't just blow that fastball by everybody, because everybody knows he's got a good fastball. He made the adjustment. He started using the slider. He started using this changeup. Even when he was behind in the count, he started using his changeup behind in the count, which made him very successful because guys couldn't just sit on that fastball because he was using his other pitches."
Latos made three starts with the Emeralds, going 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA. He allowed two earned runs on 13 hits in 17.1 innings while fanning 23.
"He's more mature on the mound than he was last year, has a better idea of what's going on around him on the field and is taking more of a leadership role and taking charge a little bit more," former Eugene and current Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "I think he was overmatched for (the Northwest) league. I think he needed to be challenged a little bit more."
For the season, Latos held the opposition to 10 hits in 62 at-bats with runners in scoring position – a .161 average. He also wound up with 69 strikeouts in 56 innings across three leagues.
The Florida native sports a mid-90s fastball that reaches 98 mph. His velocity was more consistent this year than last, settling in at 94-95 mpg with some cutting action.
"He's got as good an arm as anybody in the organization; great body frame, athletic and all that," Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley said. "Got a power arm, power fastball. He's got to command it better at higher levels. He pitched some good games for us, unfortunately he got hurt.
"Obviously, he's got a plus fastball; 94-95 would make it better as he gets older and stronger. His curveball/slider is, I think they've shortened that up a little bit. He didn't throw it a lot with us, but I think it's gotten a little bit better. It's not swervy, it's kind of tight, got some depth to it.
The fastball sets the tone early and often, as Latos uses the pitch to get ahead by moving it in and out, up and down. He can elevate the pitch towards the eyes to get hitters changing levels and pinpoints the darts on the outer and inner half.
His changeup has grown in confidence since shelving his split-finger pitch. It is now the offering he uses more often to throw hitters off-balance.
His slip has solid dropping action and is a pitch he can bury in the dirt to get strikeouts or toss for a strike. With his fastball sitting mid-90s, the changeup comes in and throws off a hitter's timing. It creates a playground of ground ball outs and weak hits, especially when hitters are caught on their front foot leaking forward in anticipation of the heat.
"The thing that he has to understand is that at some point in time if you decide not to throw a changeup, at some point in time, you're going to have to start throwing it," Dascenzo said. "You might as well start throwing it now, get used to it and get comfortable with it. It's not really just going out there and pitching five, six, seven innings and blowing people away with two pitches because, at some point in time, you're going to need to mix all three of them in there, if you're going to be a starter. I know he understands it, I know that he knows that's what he needs to do. It was unfortunate that he got hurt."
"I think his changeup's gotten better," Bradley said. "If he can learn to throw those three pitches over the plate consistently and pitch down in the zone better, and then elevate when he needs to, I think he'll do fine."
Latos' slider was less consistent in year two and the confidence in the pitch wavered. While it has solid tilting action, it was not as tightly wound as the previous year and had more loop.
Because he was unable to consistently stay on top of the slider, it became a tough pitch to control. He would yank it too far outside, not giving him a chance to catch the outside corner. Hitters were able to recognize the pitch because he pulled it short and they shied away from swinging outside of the zone.
"He really picked it up," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He had a bunch of different pitches that he was throwing and we just tried to minimize it down to the three, the fastball, slider and changeup. He's come along real well."
The Coconut Creek high school alumnus has become better at pitch sequencing and a lot stems from the precision he has with his fastball. When he gets the heater over for a strike, the world of possibilities opens wide.
"I think that made Matty real special, and I think he's starting to learn that, ‘Hey, if I can throw my other stuff when I'm behind in the count and then use my fastball,'" Patrick said. "That was something pretty special. He learned that. He caught onto that and started to pitch that way. It showed. It showed down here probably his last three outings down here, and it showed up there in Eugene, because he pitched well there, too."
"His slider and change have gotten better," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "It's all about the learning process and he's starting to get it."
Questions regarding his maturity have crept up in the past but were swept aside by his goofy persona off the field. On the field, he is all business and works hard to improve.
"(He has improved) because of maturity and the mound presence," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "His on the field stuff is just 10 times better – totally under control. He'd lose his control and his personality and all that stuff last year because he was young. And that's going to be a continual thing that he's going to face because where he's come from and all the stuff that he's gone through, like anyone of us with dysfunctional things in our lives and paradigms that we've had to overcome that we've been led to believe that's as good as we can be, and he's overcome a lot of those already.
"But he has a long way to go. But he is not a number five, four, three, or a two starter in the big leagues: he's an impact, number one pitcher-type pitcher. Just got to get it all together. Twice as good this year than the last. That's all I look at – ‘are they getting better?'"
This year, however, those questions arose again. There were rumblings that he arrived late to workouts and showed a blasé attitude. While he showed appreciation to the training staff for assisting in his recovery, there was also talk of him missing some treatments.
"It is straight up maturity," Padres director of minor league operations Mike Wickham said. "We haven't had any off-the-field issues where he is in trouble. He is a colorful guy where his personality is out there. He is a young kid – it is more about maturity than being a bad guy. There have been bumps in the road – more related to rehab than anything.
"One thing we can do is sit Mat down and say, ‘This is how pro ball works. You have certain responsibilities that we uphold. You need to be here on time, be at rehab on time, be at the bullpen on time.' It was a molding process. I am optimistic he will come out and do a great job."
"Obviously he's got the body that every pitcher craves to have," Bradley said. "He's 6-foot-4, 210-215 pounds; he's got a great physique to be a pitcher. Gosh, you can't make them, or mold them any better than that."
Conclusion: There is no doubting the talent level that Latos possesses. He has the arm to compete at the highest level as a number one starter. His head, however, needs to follow. The top pitchers in baseball may know they are great but also respect the rules and regulations placed on them.
Maturity will be a big key for Latos moving forward. There have been plenty of pitchers with talent who saw their careers end prematurely due to the size of their ego. Latos must push that aside and focus on his improvement while staying with the guidelines the Padres set forth. If he accomplishes the task, the sky is the limit.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards