Breakout Watch: Mat Latos

By Editorial Staff

Whenever I read something about the Padres’ projected starting rotation, it always says something like “Chris Young, Jon Garland, and Kevin Correia are locks. Clayton Richard is almost certainly the fourth starter. Beyond that, it’s an open competition between Mat Latos, Sean Gallagher, Wade LeBlanc, and others.”

While it’s very possible that’s what the situation actually is, I think it should be more like “Chris Young, Jon Garland, Kevin Correia, and Mat Latos are locks, leaving a host of others to compete for the fifth slot.”

Starting Latos in the minors would be ridiculous given his 2009 performance.

Latos went 4-5 with a 4.62 ERA last season in 10 starts, impressive given that he never saw Triple-A and opened the year in Fort Wayne, of all places.

His True ERA, by my calculations, was 4.42, so he was actually a little better than he appeared.

Pitch-wise, Latos showed off a mid-90’s heater, high-80’s slider, and low-80’s curve. All three pitchers ranked well above average in Pitch Type Linear Weights. Only his changeup lagged behind, and improving it will be key for the 21-year-old righthander.

Latos threw more pitches in the strike zone than most (52.6%), making his relatively high walk rate look a bit fluky (we are dealing with just a 10-start sample, after all). He also got more swings and misses than most (22.1%), making his medium strikeout rate look fluky as well. I would expect improvements in both in 2010.

That’s enough to make the youngster a sleeper in fantasy baseball, as he could easily get 10 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA while racking up high K numbers.

There’s little reason to keep Latos in the minors, particularly for someone like Richard, who’s best equipped to be a LOOGY at the major league level.