During batting practice before most games, you can find Jeff McNeil and some of his Double-A Binghamton teammates engaged in friendly late-round home run competitions. But the Mets infielder hasn't just been doing this for fun, he's used these sessions to refine his power stroke and become one of the hottest hitters in a star-laden Eastern League.
Four days after collecting his first career cycle, McNeil went yard in his third consecutive game while collecting a career-high four hits and four RBIs to help power the Rumble Ponies in an 11-1 romp over the Fisher Cats at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. He singled three times and finished 4-for-6 in Binghamton's 21-hit attack Thursday night.
Video: McNeil homers in third straight
"[McNeil is] just one of those guys that always finds a way to get the barrel to the ball," Rumble Ponies hitting coach Valentino Pascucci. "We'll talk a lot about what the pitcher has and what they throw in certain situations, especially what their out pitches are. He's always asking questions about that. We look over it and he always goes in with a plan.
"He always finds a way to get the barrel to it, but he does it in a good way by getting the barrel out in front and has the contact point out in front. He's been able to drive balls and get some big hits because of that."
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The 26-year-old sported a .279 average in April, but has gone 23-for-59 at the plate in May to raise his season average to .333 with a 1.141 OPS. McNeil, who had just nine career homers before the season, is tied with Trenton's Jhalan Jackson for third on the circuit with 10 roundtrippers. The 26-year-old has gone deep in four of his past five contests, tallied three consecutive multi-hit performances while extending his hitting streak to 16 games.
Pascucci noted McNeil has a willingness to keep refining his approach each day and ensure success against live pitching.
"We'll do a couple of rounds of situational stuff and then you give him a free round or two to hit balls," the coach said. "He tries to get the barrel out in front. He tries to challenge Peter Alonso on our team -- obviously another guy with power. ... They're challenging guys, having fun in batting practice and he's one of the guys that tries to hit home runs. He's actually working on that stuff and getting the contact point out in front so he can drive it."
Batting in the second spot in the first inning, the 2013 12th-round pick grounded out to first base, but came back two frames later and smacked a single up the middle off right-hander Francisco Rios.
Following Levi Michael's bunt single to begin the fifth, McNeil jumped on the first pitch from Rios and deposited it over the right-center field wall.
Video: McNeil's fourth hit of the game for Binghamton
"It was a combination of a few things. We had seen that pitcher Rios a couple of times and we had some good notes on him," Pascucci said. "[McNeil] went up there with a plan, went there hunting one pitch and he got it and didn't miss it. It was part of his preparation and part of sticking with his plan. He usually finds a way to execute that plan."
The Long Beach State product came through with runners on again in the sixth, driving a single to right to plate Matt Oberste and John Mora. McNeil led off the eighth with an infield single before finishing his night with a ninth-inning strikeout.
Supplementing the California native's night, Kevin Taylor slugged his first two homers of the season, drove in three runs and scored three times. Over 15 games in May, the left fielder is hitting .362/.455/.574 with six extra-base hits and eight RBIs. But what has stood out to Pascucci is Taylor's keen eye as he's collected seven walks while striking out three times this month.
"Taylor is one of those guys that'll give you a quality at-bat pretty much every time," Pascucci said. "He's another guy that doesn't chase a lot of pitches out of the zone. He's actually been working on that same thing, getting contact out in front, because he's really good about going the other way. He sees the ball well, he's got good hands to drive it.
"We talked about picking some counts and attacking a fastball in front of the plate, and if you swing and miss at a changeup or something like that, not to worry about it so much. No one likes to swing and miss, but he really doesn't like doing it."
Video: Taylor's second roundtripper for the Rumble Ponies
Each member of the Binghamton lineup collected at least one base knock. Alonso, the Mets' fourth-ranked prospect, finished with two hits and No. 17 Jhoan Urena went 3-for-4 with a walk. Tim Tebow struck out in each of his first four at-bats, but salvaged his night with a base hit in his final appearance in the ninth.
Nabil Crismatt (5-1) didn't allow a hit through 5 1/3 frames before top-ranked Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. beat out an infield single with one out in the sixth. The right-hander eventually yielded one run on three hits and three walks while fanning seven over six innings.