BRADENTON — Call Quincy Latimore a power hitter and he starts laughing.
“I’m really just staying with my approach up the middle,” the Bradenton Marauders outfielder said, “and really just staying close and quick to the ball.”
Latimore lifted a grand slam over McKechnie Field’s left-field wall during Friday’s game against the St. Lucie Mets — his third home run in 29 at-bats with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ high Single-A affiliate.
Entering his third year of pro baseball, Latimore had 17 home runs in nearly 900 career at-bats. This sudden surge of power, said Latimore, 21, is attributed to his maturation as a ballplayer.
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“I’m finally understanding myself and just thinking about the process,” he said, “and it’s starting to pan out for me — finally.”
Latimore singled up the middle during his first at-bat Friday and was looking to do the same thing later when he walked to the plate with the bases loaded.
The pitch was in on his hands, however, and Latimore was able to turn on it and drive it.
“I see more strength and quickness in his hands,” said Marauders catcher Tony Sanchez, who played with Latimore last year in West Virginia, home to the Pirates’ low-A team. “I can see his hand speed, and I can see his bat speed, and it’s all so natural, and it’s so smooth.”
Sanchez has benefitted from Latimore’s hot start in more ways than one. Latimore bats fifth, providing ample protection for Sanchez, Bradenton’s clean-up hitter who entered Saturday’s game with the Mets hitting .370.
When Latimore hits, Sanchez takes mental notes on how well Latimore drives sliders. Such an approach worked for Sanchez on Saturday, when he connected for his first home run.
“I got a slider, and I finally drove it,” he said. “And the first thing I thought when it went over the wall was, ‘Wow, I can do it like Quincy can.’”
What Latimore really wants out of this season — aside from a promotion to Double-A Altoona — is consistency. In the past, he’s followed up a good month at the plate with a bad one, and vice versa. The problem was he was trying too hard instead of shortening his swing and driving the ball up the middle.
That approach has worked thus far. Latimore began Saturday among the Florida State League’s leaders in homers, RBIs (11), average (.379), slugging percentage (.690), hits (11) and runs (seven).
Not bad for a self-described slow starter.
“It’s just staying through the middle of the field, driving it, and if it goes out of the park, it goes out of the park,” Latimore said. “When you’re nice and smooth and relaxed, it seems like that’s when you hit it the best.”
It’s early, but the Marauders are winning and Latimore is hitting. He couldn’t imagine a better start to his first season in high Single-A.
“It’s the best start I’ve ever had,” he said.
n The Marauders suffered their first home loss Saturday, falling 10-7 to the St. Lucie Mets at McKechnie Field.