A closer look at Mat Latos

Reds' GM Walt Jocketty played weekend warrior just before Christmas, dropping barely-24-year-old pitcher Mat Latos in our stockings - and, OK, a very nice slate of prospect in Padres' fans sandals too - with a surprise trade on Saturday. Evaluating the trade has been pretty divisive in the national media, with reactions ranging from this Jim Bowden doozy:

The most lopsided trade I've witnessed in recent memory as the Padres swindle the Reds in the 5-player trade that lands Mat Latos in Cinci

It's worth bearing in mind, aside from the Horseshoe Casino-sized chip he may have on his shoulder from his time in Cincinnati, he later erroneously said hat Boxberger could be a "#3 starter" and Tweeted this bizarre koan:

Padres just Tebowed the Padres

Ken Rosenthal, meanwhile, called the Reds' move "shrewd" and saw the package as commensurate with the talent they acquired. FanGraphs agrees that the trade is mutually-beneficial and a major boost for the Reds in the short term. Here at Red Reporter the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. In the poll, 73% of readers - which may represent as many as tens of distinct human beings- approve of the trade outright.

Latos now has been photoshopped into a Reds' uniform, the new first step in any traded players' path to becoming foot soldiers in their new franchise. There's also a video up on Reds.com with Latos' and Jocketty's reactions to the trade. A press conference hasn't been scheduled yet, but it will likely happen early next week.

Latos is not only pretty well guaranteed to be the Reds' biggest move of the offseason, he will also arguably be the best pitching talent acquired by any team this winter. Latos is set up to be a integral part of the Reds' plans to run the Votto-full, Pujols-free Central for at least a season or two, so is the optimism justified?

As a prospect

Latos was drafted in the 11th round of the 2006 amateur draft, but played a year of ball at Broward Community College in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, before signing with San Diego. He was expected by some to go in the first half of the first round, but his draft stock took a hit in part because of concerns of attitude and coachability. Even the most unorthodox scout of the roughly fifty that witnessed him peg an opposing third base coach in the chest as a high school senior gave him low marks for makeup. After tumbling out of the first round, he may have sunk further do to sign-ability considerations.

Latos was a first round caliber talent who happened to also be a brash 18-year-old kid. He got his first taste of professional ball in the Padres' minor league system in 2007, during his Age 19 season. With a stutter-step from A ball to the Arizona League, Latos' rise was meteoric. His combativeness continued to surface as a professional while he mowed down hitters in the lower minors. It may not have helped him get on an even keel that he missed a good chunk of 2008 with a strained oblique and sore shoulder.

He posted an 11.1 K-rate across Rookie, A- and A+ ball in 2008, en route to a sparkling minor league line: 2.49 ERA, 1.061 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 10.3 K/9. If the Padres had maturity concerns about Latos, it didn't keep them from skipping him over AAA and bringing him to the majors for good at age 21

Major league career

Latos made his debut on July 19, 2009. He threw just over 50 innings that year as a 21-year-old, turning in a credible, if mostly forgettable, 1/4 of a season. There would be no shuttling back and forth for Latos. He stuck after 2009 and followed up with what would have been a Rookie of the Year performance, had he not barely missed qualifying based on his 2009 innings. Latos finished 8th in Cy Young voting, with a sub-3.00 ERA, 2.4 walks-per-nine and a mouth-watering 9.2 k-rate.

Latos started the 2011 on the DL, shoulder soreness resurfacing. With Johnny Cueto, Scott Rolen and Aroldis Chapman fighting similar injuries - or at least persistent soreness - it's a little disconcerting to know Latos has a potentially nagging injury in the same region. It seems to have affected him in early 2011, though he was brilliant in August and September, throwing at least 7 innings and 8 Ks per game over his final five starts. I'm guessing that, along with the medical due diligence, the Reds are confident that he's in a rude health based on his strong finish - which included a quality start against the Reds last August.

Scouting

Latos is getting praised roundly right now, at least by the Reds and other trade apologists, for having four quality pitches. He threw five pitches at least 6.4% of the time in 2011, with a fastball that averaged 93 mph and topped out around 96-97. His slider is his most-frequent secondary pitch, which he's thrown about once every four offerings in his major league career.

It's a big stretch to say he has four above-average out pitches, but his fastball and slider are definitely plus. His "stuff" is regarded by scouts as first class and his command has improved to match his minor league line after some initial wildness in 2009. Just 24 this month, there's a lot of room to grow - on and off-the-field - and his other pitches, especially his changeup, may be getting more polish.

Where he fits in the Reds' rotation

Aside from a healthy Cueto, One-t Mat was better in a "sophmore slump" than any current Reds' starter last season. Depending on how Cueto feels/looks in the spring, Latos will probably be the #2 starter when Opening Day rolls around.

Good/bad

In pure talent and upside, Latos doesn't have many peers among established major leaguers. FanGraphs puts it best:

There aren't that many pitchers in the sport who can miss bats with the frequency that Latos has established while also pounding the strike zone with regularity. Guys who can live in the zone and still avoid contact are generally the best pitchers in the game. This is the one skillset you want in a pitcher more than any other.

Any trade detractor is quick to bring up the PETCO effect, which depresses Latos' park-neutral stats. Flyball rate aside, just because a pitcher is a member of the Padres, does not mean they are automatically a mirage of a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Latos' home/away splits help vindicate him.

The biggest concerns are his health (specifically, his shoulder), his flyball rate (above 40% in the majors) and his attitude. On that last one, it's pure speculation to say he'd be a negative in the clubhouse, but I'm not sure what effect 'tude really has on the performance of a player who has already developed. Not only might the change of scenery and Dusty Efffect be beneficial, but the mound presence and confidence in a young pitcher could be a boon to a staff that has seen some control problems and yips in recent years.

MLB career stats

ERA+ K-rate BB-rate FIP xFIP SIERA FB-rate
108 8.65 2.83 3.28 3.51 3.48 41.3%


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