Yesterday Mat Latos made his Padre debut again the Colorado Rockies, going 4 innings while giving up 2 earned runs, on 3 hits and a walk, and striking out 4. He threw 75 pitches in pounding the zone with 51 strikes and was lifted due to pitch count restrictions.
While he didn't electrify the crowd with the game results, Latos exhibited some of the skills that have so many in the Padre organization excited. Touted as the best Padre pitching prospect since Jake Peavy came through the system, Latos' stuff didn't disappoint.
However, that's where the Peavy comparison have to end, at least for the time being. Listed at 6' 6", Latos stands taller than that on the mound, throwing from a somewhat rigid tall-and-fall base. His fastball relies on velocity (of which it has plenty -- on Sunday his fastball ranged from 91 m.p.h. to 98 m.p.h., and was regularly around 95-96) and location, as it doesn't have much movement. Padres' VP of Scouting and Player Development, Grady Fuson, has said that Latos has one of the most electric arms he's ever seen, and upon watching the Gameday replay, Friar Forum has to agree.
His minor league numbers, all <200 innings worth, describe a guy with excellent control and the ability to miss bats (combined minor league numbers: 142 K to 37 BB in 112 IP, allowing just 5 HR during that time. Of course, all of his games were at or below AA ball), but it's worth noting that he posted those numbers while significantly younger than the competition.
What Friar Forum likes about Latos: in one word, his stuff. When you take a guy that pounds the strike zone (hitting his location within the zone), can miss bats while not giving up the longball, and put him in Petco Park (PF = 79.7, with an average MLB ballpark = 100) and you're going to find a guy to build a rotation around. His fastball tops out at 98 m.p.h., with a mid-80's slider and a changeup that is still in need of serious development. FF also appreciates the Padres' organization handling him carefully, as he's only thrown 50-60 IP each of the last two minor league seasons.
What FF doesn't like about Latos: the rumors of his fiery temperament. This is a two-edged sword: we appreciate a guy who has the will to win, but also have concerns regarding his demeanor. On the mound, it's all too easy to build an anger cycle that negatively affects performance, and a guy like Latos (and, yes, Jake Peavy as well) may be more prone to that than other pitchers. If he can harness it like Peavy (usually) does, it could be a benefit. If he is unable to control himself he will have difficulty controlling his pitches. And, again, there are the usual caveats of TINSTAAP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). A guy with mechanics like his (smooth opening motion sliding into a violent finish with a somewhat weak front side) may be more prone to injury; his height may be a disadvantage (some posit that a larger pitcher has difficult repeating deliveries, something that plagued Randy Johnson a bit early in his career). Also, his offspeed stuff doesn't complement his fastball; at 21 years of age, however, FF is willing to acknowledge that he has time to work on it.
So what can be gleaned from Latos' 75 pitch outing? Aside from the fact that the Padres will handle his development very carefully (he was on a strict pitch count limit), we got to see Latos' excellent location -- the only big mistake was a fastball that Ian Stewart pound 430 feet for a solo HR. He wasn't afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball -- out of the 75 pitches, about 60 were fastballs -- and he was able to generate strikeouts from that pitch. He struggled a bit putting hitters away, and his offspeed stuff wasn't sharp. But this is a guy who has thrown all of 50 innings above high-A ball, has a powerful fastball, and is still just 21 years old.
Finally, Padres seem to be handling the kid with kid gloves, in the minors as well as the majors. After all, if a guy is throwing lots of innings in the minors, it stresses his arm as much as at higher levels (see the article referenced in the above TINSTAAP link). With the Padres effectively playin for 2010 and beyond, they might as well give Latos an opportunity to introduce himself to major league hitters. If only because they'll be seeing more of him than they'd like very soon.