Prep Baseball Report

Top 10 Stories of 2014: No. 4 Jake Latz Named Illinois Player of the Year

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

Jake LatzJake Latz enjoyed one of the most dominant pitching seasons in recent history. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-hander from Lemont HS went undefeated, allowed only two earned runs all season, and struck out nearly two batters an inning.

Along the way, he led Lemont to the Class 3A state championship, in which he pitched a three-hit masterpiece, and, subsequently, to the No. 1-ranked team in the state to end the season.

Not bad for a pitcher who didn’t make his first start until April 9, when he defeated defending 4A champion Mount Carmel in the Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament. Since throwing four shutout innings with nine strikeouts to beat the Caravan, Latz got stronger and stronger, seemingly shutting out one ranked opponent after another.

“I just wasn’t feeling ready to start the year,” said Latz about his delayed start. “I didn’t want to enter the season not as prepared as I should. I wanted to get to a point where I was ready and not build up during the season.”

His decision, albeit tough, worked out for both Latz and Lemont. In the end, when Lemont was celebrating its thrilling 2-1 victory over Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin at Silver Cross Field, Latz had solidified his status as the 2014 Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year.

Latz becomes the first pitcher-only to earn Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year honors since we began the award in 2005. All other recipients were either two-way standouts or position players (see past recipients below).

Exactly how dominant was Latz this season? See for yourself:

The LSU recruit finished his three-year varsity career with a 10-0 record, one save and a 0.23 ERA. And he did so against top-level competition. His record included wins over top 25-ranked opponents Mount Carmel, Sandburg, Lincoln-Way West (twice), Brother Rice and Sacred Heart-Griffin.

In 62.1 innings, Latz struck out 114 and walked only 12. He allowed only two earned runs and 29 hits all season, and finished with a 0.66 WHIP.

Lemont coach Brian Storako said he would often find himself amazed by what Latz was doing on the mound.

“He would throw a 91-mph fastball on the inside corner then a nasty curveball, and then follow that up with a change up on the outer half ... that gave the batter no chance. I think he only gave up 28 hits, which probably less than half were hard hit balls.  It was remarkable what he did this year.” 

In the playoffs, Latz was even tougher. In three playoff victories, he struck out 33 to only four walks.

In the state championship game, Latz threw a three-hitter, which included a bad-hop single and a misplayed ball in the outfield. He struck out 11, walked three and allowed no earned runs behind an 89-92 mph fastball, his trademark curveball that was arguably the best pitch in the state, and a fading changeup. He pounded the strike zone with all three pitches, and seemingly could dial up his fastball in the later innings when he wanted it. For example, when SHG reached third base for the first time in the sixth inning, Latz struck out his third batter of the inning on a 92-mph fastball on the black. In the final three innings, Latz struck out seven.

“That was just Jake being Jake,” said Storako after the championship game. “That was Jake all season for us.”

In early April, Latz earned Porsche Exchange Player of the Week honors after he handed Lincoln-Way West its first loss of the season with a 13-strikeout, one-walk, four-hit performance. He also threw a one-hitter with nine punchouts against Lincoln-Way East. In a three-start stretch, a base-runner had advanced to second base only three times, and did not yield an earned run.

“I think the big difference for me was the mental side,” said Latz. “In the past, I used to get made when a call didn’t go my way. This year I worked hard on not letting that stuff affect me. Just forget about it and move on to the next pitch. … I always wanted to be in the frame of mind of dominating.”

Storako also saw a significant change in Latz’s preparation this season.

“The biggest difference was the work he put in off of the field to get him ready to pitch during games,” said Storako. “The hard work in between starts gave him the confidence and mental toughness to succeed when he stepped on the mound.  He has always had the tools but he became more of a pitcher this year that used all of his pitches instead of just a guy that throws hard.”

Latz’s overall dominance didn’t go unnoticed by pro scouts, either. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Blue Jays. Latz’s teammate, switch-hitting catcher Mike Papierski, was also drafted by the Blue Jays in the 16th round.  Latz is currently at LSU taking summer school, and unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks, he will be pitching for the Tigers the next three or four years.

“My senior year was a dream situation,” said Latz. “We never stopped believing. I really couldn’t ask for anything better. It was pretty special.”

Previous Illinois Players of the Year

2014: Jake Latz, LHP, Lemont HS

2013: Ryne Roper, SS/RHP, Harrisburg HS

2012: Zack Weigel, OF/LHP, Oak Park-River Forest HS

2011: Sam Travis, 3B, Providence Catholic HS

2010: Shane Conlon, LHP/1B, Naperville Central HS

2009: Nick Tindall, C, O'Fallon HS

2008: Jake Odorizzi, RHP/SS, Highland HS

2007: Jake Smolinski, SS/RHP, Rockford Boylan HS

2006: Connor Powers, 1B. Benet Academy HS

2005: Michael Bowden, RHP/3B, Waubonsie Valley HS

Complete List of Top Ten News Stories of 2014

No. 10 – South Elgin’s Improbable Third-Place Run

No. 9 - St. Rita's 26 Game Winning Streak

No. 8 – Illinois 2016 Prospects Transfer to IMG Academy in Florida

No. 7 - Pleasant Plains Captures Class 2A State Title

No. 6 - Joliet Catholic Captures Summer State Championship with Perfect Record

No. 5 - Jake Godfrey Decommits; Chooses LSU

No. 4 - Jake Latz Named Illinois Player of the Year with Dominating Senior Season

1.11.15 IL/WI USS Slide