Ross Atkins was busy on Thursday, adding two players to the Toronto Blue Jays’ depth on minor league deals with the biggest name being Mat Latos.
Latos, 29, comes into 2017 with eight years of major league experience after being an 11th round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2006. Latos debuted in 2009 but really came into his own in 2010 when he started a four-year run of making 30+ starts with excellent stats. Latos was 51-35 in 127 games from 2010 to 2013 with the Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, throwing almost 800 innings with a 3.27 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings and accumulating 16 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs).
In 2014, Latos was coming back from offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow and tore cartilage in his left knee, getting surgery during spring training and returning to the major leagues in mid-June. Latos had solid numbers coming back in 2014 but became more of a journeyman in 2015, struggling with knee pain throughout the year. He was traded to the Dodgers in July and was designated for assignment and released towards the end of the season. He signed with the Angels and pitched the last week of the season with them.
Latos was a free agent and signed a one-year deal with the Chicago White Sox for 2016. While he was excellent in April, he struggled after that and was released by the White Sox in June. He signed a minor league deal with Washington at the end of June and worked his way back to the majors in September, throwing 9 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs.
Latos is clearly a depth signing for the Blue Jays and there are a couple of opt-outs along the way for him. It’s reported that Latos will have an opt out at the end of spring training as well as another one at some point throughout the year (usually in early June). If he makes the majors, he’ll earn $1.5 million as a base salary with up to $500,000 in incentives available.
The Blue Jays also signed another minor league catcher to add more depth to the club. Rafael Lopez is 29 and a former 16th round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2011 draft. The Philadelphian has played in 15 ML games over two seasons without doing much with the bat (just two hits in 18 at bats). In 175 games at the Triple-A level, Lopez has a decent .259/.333/.322 slash line and it appears that all of the power he showed in Double-A (12 home runs and 35 doubles over 140 games) went away as he moved up. Lopez threw out 29% of the runners who tried to steal against him last year and has a cumulative 31% caught stealing percentage over his career at all levels.
Lopez likely fits in catching in Double-A or Triple-A for the Blue Jays and their signings are starting to create a bit of a log jam with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Alex Monsalve, Juan Graterol, Mike Ohlman and Reese McGuire joining the Blue Jays’ organization this offseason. While the loss of Jorge Saez in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and the release of A.J. Jimenez leave significant holes in the depth chart, there is now more than enough talent to fill catching slots in the top two levels of the minor leagues. The Blue Jays also are expected to have Mike Reeves, Max Pentecost and Michael De La Cruz looking to move up in the system.
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