The first indicator of how successful a draft this could be for the Padres will come before it even begins with the team’s ability to sign Matt Latos, a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher drafted last year in the 11th round. Latos is what is known as a draft-and-follow selection, which means that the Padres will have until seven days before the 2007 draft to sign him.
“I think he projects as a late first round or at the least a first round supplemental pick. But right now the draft is very fluid because of a lack of quality right-handed college pitchers, so he could go higher,” said Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus.
At Broward Community College this year, pitching in one of the better junior college leagues in the country, Latos, 19, went 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA. In 75.1 innings he struck out 102 batters against 58 hits and only 17 walks, allowing only 17 earned runs.
We had a chance to discuss Latos' performance with his coach, Bob Deutschman, who finished his fifth year coaching the Seahawks and was previously at Florida Atlantic University as the pitching coach.
We can see from the stats that Matt had a very good year, what was the most impressive thing about him that we won’t see in the stats?
Bob Deutschman: Even though it is in the stats I think issuing only 17 walks in 75 innings was the most impressive especially when you consider that this is a power pitcher who is bringing it to the plate in the mid-90's. Usually at this age you see someone that is much more of a thrower and I think that is what separates Matt from the rest is his command to go along with his velocity.
The league that your team plays in is very well respected. How does Latos compare with other pitchers that you have seen in the Junior College ranks?
Bob Deutschman: Honestly he’s the best that I’ve ever seen at this level. You take a guy that is 6-foot-6 and can dunk a basketball anyway you want it, throw in a consistent mid-90's velocity, change and power slider, he’s a big leaguer.
When we talked to Matt in late February he said that he was sitting at between 95-97 with his fastball did that hold up for most of the season?
Bob Deutschman: It did and we are also talking about that his velocity holding up into the 7th and 8th innings.
How did he even lose 3 games this year?
Bob Deutschman: Well one was against St. Pete’s that has a program which is comparable to many Division one schools and that was a 3-2 loss with all three runs unearned. The other two were against Palm Beach, which for some reason handled him pretty well. But in his last 23 innings with us he didn’t allow a run, with one of the games being a no-hitter.
When we spoke to him he was pleased with his change and slider, how did they look this year? The reason we ask is that we have read some reports that some scouts aren’t that impressed with his secondary pitches?
Bob Deutschman: I can tell you that the Padres are [laughing]. There really isn’t any 18 years old that is going to flash a plus change or slider every time, but Matt can do it three out of five times, which is very advanced for someone his age. He has very good discipline with his fastball and a feel for finishing which speaks to his competitive instincts.
There was some speculation last year that the reason that Matt fell in the draft was not only his commitment to Oklahoma but also some questions about his temperament on the field? Did you see any negative reactions, which there has been speculation in the media about?
Bob Deutschman: In the seventy-five innings he pitched for me I didn’t see him lose his composure once on the mound, in fact he was pretty stoic. Our pitching coach did a great job with him this year and some very good players surrounded him. On the field his demeanor was nothing but professional.
From your opinion, not speaking for the school, Matt or anyone else, do you think he will go pro or return to college?
Bob Deutschman: He’s signing. For him to come back he would have to turn down more money than both of us are going to make in our careers. This is just my opinion, and I don’t speak for Matt or anyone but myself, but I think the Padres will approach him as they would a first round talent. I think that the two sides will come to an agreement. That is the indication that I have received from both parties.
A few people that we have talked too have projected Matt as either a late first round pick or a supplemental first round pick. Also, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Padres general manager Kevin Towers said both sides are still “a ways apart”.
Bob Deutschman: They are a little far apart in the negotiations right now, but that is expected at this stage. I would be very surprised if he doesn’t end up in San Diego. I don’t think Matt or his people believe he is going to advance ten or fifteen spots up in the draft and in the end I just don’t see the Padres letting him go. It would be a roll of the dice by both sides and every discussion I’ve had with him and his agent is very positive about being in San Diego.