By Jon Mahoney, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com
Coconut Creek (Coconut Creek, Fla.) senior pitcher Mat Latos loves to draw. In particular, he's fascinated with airbrushing and hopes to work on tattoos in the future.
"Drawing kind of relaxes me," he says.
His hobby is fitting considering Latos (pronounced lay-tos) is so masterful on the mound that he turns pitching into his own personal art form. He's so unbelievably good, in fact, that opposing batters must be waiting for Ashton Kutcher to run out and say they've been "Pun'k." After all, not many high schoolers have his pitching arsenal.
Blessed with a 98 mph fastball, a wicked slider and a devastating changeup, Latos can make even the best hitters look foolish. Add in a Roger Clemens-like demeanor on the hill, and you're talking about a hurler who's tougher to crack than The Da Vinci Code. No wonder the 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander is rated the nation's No. 5 high school baseball prospect in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com.
Coconut Creek fifth-year head coach Roger Davidson knew he had something special the first time he saw Latos as a freshman. Davidson was so impressed that he penciled in Latos as his No. 1 starter -- a job he has kept all along.
And despite being the ace pitcher for a team that plays in the state's highest classification, Latos didn't wilt under the pressure. He finished his first season a respectable 3-4 with a 3.68 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 26 walks in 39.2 innings.
"For a kid as a freshman to pitch at the 6A level and pitch with confidence was pretty impressive," says Davidson.
Latos followed up his debut campaign with an even better sophomore season, going 5-2 with a miniscule 1.23 ERA to go with 89 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 68 innings. The tremendous improvement in Latos' numbers was the result of better location and increased speed on his fastball. Latos consistently threw 88-89 mph as a freshman and improved that to 93 mph as a sophomore. At the same time, he walked five fewer batters in 28.1 more innings than his freshman year.
Despite those improvements, Latos knew he could be an even better pitcher. But in order to do that, he felt he needed to take his training and nutrition more seriously. Latos, who admits he didn't really work out his first two seasons, started a training regimen in which he ran each day and lifted weights twice a week. And in terms of nutrition, he limited his carb intake.
"Everybody told me I could be the best pitcher in the nation," says Latos, 18, who's currently ranked the No. 3 pitcher in the country by SchoolSports.com. "So my junior year, I just set out to do it."
Latos' junior season certainly proved his hard work had paid off. His fastball hit the high 90s and he showed impeccable control of all his pitches.
"Mat throws it hard and works on locating, which makes him even more effective," says Davidson. "Most kids like to muscle it up and try to put too much on their pitches. He works on everything he throws."
Thanks to that work, Latos posted a 7-4 record with a 0.76 ERA last year and led Coconut Creek to the Region 3-6A quarterfinals, where the Cougars lost to Plantation, 2-0. In 83 innings as a junior, Latos fanned 128 batters, walked just 17 and allowed only 45 hits. Of his 13 starts, 11 were complete games. As a result of his stellar season, he was named an Aflac All-American and was selected All-Broward County by both The Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.