With the lack of power hitting options in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system, you would think that any player with power would be considered a top prospect in the system. Last year Quincy Latimore hit 19 homers in high-A, at the age of 21, in 518 at-bats. That was enough to rank him second among Pirates’ farmhands, falling only behind Brandon Moss, who had 22 in AAA. Despite the high home run totals, Latimore only ranked 48th in our top 50 prospects. So why would a guy with some of the best power in the system, if not the best power, be ranked so low?
Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror raised this question in his article about how Latimore deserves more prospect hype. Giger pointed out Latimore’s home run total, his age, and his RBIs. I will say that I am not a fan of RBIs. They’re less of an evaluation of an individual player’s value, and more a reflection of his spot in the lineup, and the team around him. You put Latimore lower in the lineup, and his RBIs drop. You put him in a situation where people aren’t getting on base in front of him, and his RBIs drop. Neither scenario changes his skill level, but they greatly impact his RBIs.
As for the power, I agree that Latimore has great power. The problem is, that’s one of many things he needs to be a strong prospect. There are plenty of things I look at when evaluating a prospect. Power is just one of them. You also need to consider a player’s ability to hit and get on base. Jeff Clement, for example, has power, but he’s not a major league player because he doesn’t do anything but hit for power.
The main reason I don’t rate Latimore high is because all he does is hit for power. He has a bad strikeout rate, at 26.3% in 2010, and his walk rate has been horrible, at 5.2% in 2010. He is a career .256 hitter with a .312 on-base percentage, all in the lower levels. His defense isn’t enough to add to his prospect status. He plays a corner outfield spot, and the ability to find strong defense from a corner outfield spot isn’t as important as a center fielder, or an infielder.
A big thing that also needs to be considered is that he was greatly helped by his home park. He hit for a .296 average at McKechnie Field in 2010, with a .524 slugging percentage. He hit for a .239 average and a .369 slugging percentage on the road. McKechnie is more of a hitter friendly park, while the rest of the Florida State League is pitcher friendly. Latimore ranks somewhere in the middle, and it’s likely near his 2008-2009 numbers, where he hit for an average around .244-.251, and a slugging percentage around .400-.410.
If Latimore doesn’t make it to the majors, he wouldn’t be the only player to hit for power in A-ball at a young age, only to wash out later.
Take Jamie Romak, for example. Romak hit 15 homers in half a season at high-A at the age of 21 in 2007. Like Latimore, Romak struggled with strikeouts, with a 30.6% strikeout rate. Unlike Latimore, Romak actually got on base, with a 15.5% walk rate. Romak hasn’t made it above the AA level, and only has a .211/.301/.376 line in 473 at-bats at the AA level. Then we all remember Brad Eldred, who hit 21 homers in 335 at-bats in high-A at the age of 23. However, he struck out 29% of the time, and walked 9% of the time.
The reason Latimore is ranked so low is because of those low walk totals and high strikeout totals. That’s not something that can just be ignored. They both indicate pitch recognition issues, or a free swinging approach. With Latimore, it’s an issue with his consistency and his approach. I talked to Kyle Stark about this in Spring Training, and this was his response:
“He has some power, makes him dangerous, and then gets outside of that approach and gets away from it,” Stark said. “And then it takes awhile for him to get reined back in. The biggest thing for Quincy is just staying with his approach and just trusting that in every pitch, every at-bat.”
Cory points out that prospect rankings aren’t close to an exact science. The idea that prospect rankings mean nothing, or are far from accurate, is a common thought. However, I find that it usually comes from failing to recognize a key change in a player’s game. I put more stock in prospect evaluations than rankings. Rankings are based on preference. Two people can say the same thing about a prospect, but have them ranked much differently, based on their preference. As for the evaluations, those are usually accurate, since they represent a snap shot of a player’s career at a certain point in time.
Those evaluations and projections aren’t infallible. Since they only represent a snap shot of one time period, they fail to account for any changes a player makes going forward. For example, Neil Walker looked like a utility player heading in to the 2010 season. That was absolutely true, as he wasn’t hitting for average, and wasn’t getting on base. Then, he made the proper adjustments, and suddenly he’s one of the best young second basemen in the majors.
With Latimore, the fact is that right now he has a lot of power, but strikes out too much, and doesn’t walk enough. His power is his only asset, which makes him a John Bowker type if he ever reaches the majors. He is young enough that he could try to fix those problems, draw more walks, and strikeout less. However, that’s difficult to do, and Latimore is heading in the wrong direction in that area. His strikeout rate has gone up in each of his four years as a pro. He’s got the power, but as of right now, that’s all. One tool puts him on our top 50 list, but without anything to add to that, I’d have to disagree with Cory, and say that Latimore is getting the appropriate amount of hype.