Prospect Smackdown: Matt Latos vs. Jordan Walden
The Prospect Smackdown Feature returns, as we take a look at two potentially outstanding young pitchers who will be making their A-ball debuts this year, Matt Latos of San Diego and Jordan Walden of the LA Angels.
Background and Intangibles
Latos: Matt Latos was drafted in the 11th round by the Padres in 2006, out of high school in Coconut Creek, Florida. He would have gone much higher in the draft, but concerns about his bonus demands and personality issues knocked him down. He went to Broward Community College, then signed as a draft-and-follow for $1.25 million. Latos had a reputation for immature behavior as an amateur, and some scouts worried that he didn't have the emotional equipment to be a major league pitcher. This is said to be much less of a concern now, as he adapted well to pro ball.
Walden: Walden was drafted in the 12th round by the Angels in 2006, out of high school in Mansfield, Texas. At one point he was considered a certain first-round pick, but a mysterious loss of velocity during his senior year scared teams off. He went to Grayson County Community College, got his fastball back, and signed for $1 million as a draft-and-follow. His pro debut was very successful, and scouts praise his work ethic and intensity on the mound.
Advantage: Both Latos and Walden were first-round talents who fell in the draft, then went to junior college and restored their stock, so in that sense their backgrounds are very similar. Which is the bigger problem, Latos' makeup issues or Walden's vanishing fastball? Obviously at this point we don't know yet, so I will call that a wash since both problems reportedly disappeared enough last year for them to earn big bonuses and do well in pro ball.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Latos: Latos was born December 9, 1987, and is listed at 6-5, 210 pounds. He has had no major arm issues to this point. A strapping athlete, his fastball hits 92-93 easily and tops out at 96-97 MPH. He has a hard regular curveball, a knucklecurve, and a changeup. His secondary pitches show promise but are still rather raw. His command also wobbles at times, due to mechanical inconsistency, though this improved once he entered pro ball. He has the physical attributes to be a dominating starting pitcher.
Walden: Walden was born November 16, 1987, and is listed at 6-5, 220 pounds. His fastball was just 85-87 MPH in 2006, for no apparent reason, but bumped back up into the 95-97 MPH range last year, and he hit 100 MPH on at least one occasion. His slider is very good, sometimes, but his changeup is mediocre at this point. He's a solid athlete, though perhaps not quite as athletic as Latos overall. Like Latos, he has the physical attributes of a dominating pitcher but is still learning his craft.
Advantage: Walden had more peak velocity last year, but Latos is no slouch, didn't have the weird velocity dip in '06, and is probably a bit more athletic. They were born less than a month apart, so age isn't an issue. Both of them have the tools to dominate. They are the same height, Walden is ten pounds heavier and has a stockier build. Looks even overall to me.
Performance and Polish
Latos: Latos went 1-4, 3.83 in his pro debut, with a 74/22 K/BB ratio in 56 innings for Eugene in the Northwest League, allowing a .266 average against. He needs polish on his secondary pitches to go with his fastball. His GO/AO ratio was 1.11 and he gave up one homer.
Walden: Walden went 1-1, 3.08 in his pro debut, with a 63/17 K/BB ratio in 64 innings for Orem in the Pioneer League, allowing a .209 average against. He needs polish on his secondary pitches to go with the fastball. His GO/AO ratio was 1.86 and he gave up three homers.
Advantage: Exact comparison is complicated by the difference in the league. Walden's raw stats are better than Latos', however he was at a slightly lower level of competition. Latos had a better K/IP ratio, however his control wasn't as good as Walden's. Walden got more grounders, but again the level of competition was a bit weaker. Overall it's very close. I'm going to have to call it even, Walden's slight stat edges balanced by the competition factor.
Latos: Physically, Latos projects as a possible number one or two starter if his secondary pitches get more consistent and if he can handle the role emotionally.
Walden Physically, Walden projects as a possible number one or two starter if his secondary pitches get more consistent and if he doesn't blow out his arm.
You can see why I picked these guys. They are even in almost every way. Similar strengths, similar weaknesses. I gave them both Grade B ratings in the book. Basically it boils down to this: what bothers you more: the questions about Latos' makeup in 2006, or the weird loss of Walden's velocity in 2006?
In the book I rated Walden just a tad higher, 43rd overall on the pitching prospect list compared to Latos at 46. But I'm not sure that's right. What do you think?