With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at pitcher Jake Latz.
Jake Latz, 25 year old lefthanded pitcher, was part of what looks like a surprisingly productive 2017 draft class for the Rangers, including as it does not just top three picks Bubba Thompson, Chris Seise and Hans Crouse, but also Latz, John King, Ricky Vanasco, Nick Snyder, and Ryan Dorow. Latz’s was the team’s fifth rounder out of Kent State, even though technically he never actually played for Kent State — after foregoing a reported $1 million bonus from Toronto after being picked in the 11th round in 2014, he went to LSU, redshirted due to a stress fracture in his elbow, threw 8 innings the next season, then sat out a season due to transfer rules.
Texas took Latz in the fifth round in 2017, despite his scant body of work in college, and after middling results in short season ball in 2017 and 2018, he broke out in 2019, putting up a 1.62 ERA in 13 starts between Hickory and Down East. Latz spent 2020 at the Alternate Training Site and got good reviews, but was not added to the 40 man roster that offseason.
Fortunately, Latz went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, and started the year with AA Frisco. He had a couple of disaster outings that blew up his ERA, but generally got good reviews while missing bats, striking out 11.9 per 9 while walking 4 per 9. He earned a promotion to Round Rock, which was where he was toiling when the Rangers’ COVID-19 outbreak in mid-August struck, opening the door for Latz to make his major league debut.
With the team needing pitchers to fill in while roughly half the normal pitching staff was on the COVID i.l., Latz was brought up on August 25, 2021, to make a spot start against the Cleveland Indians. He threw strikes (57 of 84 pitches), didn’t walk anyone, and allowed just 5 hits in 4.2 IP against 4 Ks. Unfortunately, three of the five hits were home runs — a solo shot by Oscar Mercado in the bottom of the second, and then solo homers by Yu Chang and Austin Hedges in the fifth, although it is worth noting the Chang homer was kind of fluky, a ball with a 42 degree launch angle that had an expected batting average of .050 that Statcast had a 341 feet, but that had just enough juice to get out. When Hedges bomb was followed by a two out single by Myles Straw, Latz was lifted from the game, ultimately getting the loss in a 7-2 defeat.
Latz returned to Round Rock after that, made five more starts for the Express, and finished the year with a 3.55 ERA for Round Rock, with 35 Ks against 16 walks in 33 IP.
Latz, like Ryan Dorow, who we wrote about previously, was brought up due to a COVID outbreak, and thus did not have to be added to the 40 man roster. That means he’s not on the 40 man roster now, and if he isn’t added by November 19, he will be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft for a second time. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to think either Latz or Cole Ragans will be protected, but not both...of course, the Rule 5 Draft is likely not happening when normally scheduled in the first week of December anyway, and who knows if it will even happen this year, what with the new CBA negotiations going on.
In any case, Latz fits a profile the Rangers seem to have had a lot of in the last few years, a pitcher with an injury history who they found in the later rounds, who has good stuff but also has questions about his future role. Latz’s command is such that he may not be a viable major league starting pitcher — at least, in more than a swingman role — and he may be a better fit as a multi-inning reliever. The Rangers, it feels like, have a ton of “best profiles as a multi-inning reliever” guys, and it makes me wonder once again if they wouldn’t be best served going to a Tampa model for their rotation, surrounding two or three legitimate starting pitchers with a collection of guys who can give them two or three innings.
In any case, Latz had a nice 2021 season in the minors, got his feet wet and made his major league debut, and assuming he isn’t plucked away in the Rule 5 Draft or sent out as part of a trade, I’d expect to see him in the Round Rock rotation in 2022, with a good chance of being summoned to Arlington at some point during the season.