Grady Fuson, the San Diego Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, apparently knew what he was talking about when he tabbed Mat Latos as the organization's top pitching prospect earlier this year.
Latos continued his brilliant season Thursday night, striking out seven over five perfect innings as the San Antonio Missions rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in front of 4,747 fans at Arvest Ballpark.
"I felt really good. Everything was going downhill and my changeup was working really well for me," said Latos. "My slider came along after the first inning. I had good stuff, if not great stuff, today."
Fuson anointed Latos just prior to the 21-year-old right-hander's promotion from Class A Fort Wayne in May. San Diego's 11th-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft hasn't disappointed at Double-A, going 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA through nine starts after posting a 3-0 mark with an 0.36 ERA in four appearances for the TinCaps.
"Trust me I'm excited about hearing it, but I don't pitch because of that," Latos said of Fuson's praises. "They can rate me the last prospect in the organization. It's a great achievement, but at the end of the day, I still have a job that needs to get done. I'm just like everyone else in Double-A right now."
The Virginia native, who tossed seven one-hit frames against Springfield to pick up his first win with San Antonio on May 29, was at his best again Thursday.
After capping the opening frame by fanning rehabbing Royals third baseman Alex Gordon, Latos struck out the side in the second and breezed thereafter, throwing 42 of 58 pitches for strikes.
With the Padres monitoring Latos' progress closely, the decision to pull him early was precautionary as the former Baseball America Short-Season All-Star has already logged 72 1/3 innings this year.
Last season, the Broward Community College product was limited to 56 frames at three levels due to an oblique injury.
"I was told that because I was injured and didn't throw many innings last year, that they don't want me to go too much over 100 innings," Latos revealed.
After departing, Latos remained in the dugout as Scott Rice tossed a hitless sixth. Brandon Gomes worked a 1-2-3 seventh, but Latos had already retreated to the clubhouse when David Lough broke up the Missions' bid for just the fourth perfect game in Texas League history with a two-out double in the eighth.
Latos, who is expected to pitch in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game in St. Louis, is doing his best to remain locked in the moment, rather than looking ahead to what is shaping up as a bright future.
"I'm taking it step by step, day to day," he said. "I'll wake up tomorrow and it will be a brand new day. You can't look too far ahead of yourself because then you start to bury yourself. I don't want to fall off my gameplan. I just want to work harder tomorrow than I did today."