Two Down!

March 1, 2017

 

The most diverse position in baseball is the catcher. Not only do they have their own personal body mechanics and position to learn but, to be effective, they must know their pitchers, memorize a full set of batters each game and understand how to direct the fielders for every play scenario. 

 

On top of all that, they are your on-field coach. It’s a tough spot to be in. Not only are they leaders on the field but they are also equals. When it comes to their superiors, coaches and umpires, they must be able to effectively communicate with each while avoiding getting caught between them. 

 

It takes a special temperament to catch and, more importantly, it takes good coaching to help them learn the position. Mechanically speaking, unless you’ve played the position you may not be aware of the wear and tear on the body and best ways to train against injury. Add to that a layer of game strategy and mental endurance training and you’re just getting to the heart of coaching a catcher.  

 

Today we’re taking you through the main set-ups for each duty of catching, along with mechanics training, vocal cue training and drills to ensure that coach and catcher are both prepared to practice smart. 

 

The most difficult thing about training catchers is that fact that it is not only the most complex position on the field but that so few people have ever played the position themselves. 

 

If you are new to catching, or coaching catchers, this is a video you need to watch. It goes over all the positions a catcher sees and talks mechanics of every one. 

 

If you’re new to coaching this set of drills will help you work through the basics you need to be teaching your catchers. The three drills in the video are: throwing footwork, knee throwing drill and throwing to the pitcher. 

 

Primary and secondary stance

 

Before we get to the stance drills here are the body mechanics behind each stance and when to use them. The video also goes over how to practice alone. 

 

Catchers need repetition to work on mechanics. Here is a great one-on-one drill for coaches to work quality alone time with their catchers. 

 

Popping Out of the Crouch

 

One of the keys for catching is popping up for the throw. Here are three quick-feet drills players can practice solo to get their mechanics down. 

 

Repetition is important but limit the reps to ten at a time to protect your catcher’s form while giving them a quality practice set. 

 

Transfer and Throw

 

When there are runners on base it’s important to get the ball out of the pocket and in the air in a fluid motion. This video goes over the mechanics of the transfer and throw. It’s important to practice these drills to all the spots around the plate in order to simulate game time experiences.

 

Throw to Second

 

Whenever you’re trying to catch the steal remember a few things. First, a 30% success rate is excellent. It’s a tough throw to make and you’re going to get beat. To improve your chances of gaining ground keep in mind this progression: Transfer. Footwork. Throw. 

 

This video goes over the body mechanic, step-by-step, with explanations. It’s a great how-to for self-training catchers as well as coaches with no personal catching experience. 

 

 

Once you’ve got the footwork down, here’s a quick one-two on what your arms need to be doing to execute properly.

 

Blocking

 

There is nothing natural about blocking a 92-mile-an-hour fastball that’s going to hit you in the chin or off your chest. It’s a state of mind. Teach your catchers to take pride in blocking and to take it personally when a ball gets by them. 

 

Work your catchers on a rotation. Rather than throwing a bunch in a row to the same guy, have them go one in and rotate. This keeps their form up and gives them time to mentally reset between each block. 

 

Doing multiple blocks in a row can create bad habits because the work is exhausting. By rotating, catchers stay fresher longer ensuring quality drill time. 

 

This also allows you to add a competitive element to the drill. A missed block and you’re out. No one wants to sit so they're more aware and, in turn, more likely to succeed. Work these elements into your drill and your players will not only stay fresh but be incentivized. 

 

Block Mechanics

 

If you’ve got new catchers on your staff, make sure they have a quick look at this video. It goes over the proper body mechanics for blocking. 

 

Coaches, your catchers should be landing on their knees with the glove between the knees. Their bare hand sits behind the mitt and their chin is tucked into their chest. By keeping the head aligned with the ball their facemask keeps their neck covered from injury.

 

If you have a new catcher one way to warm them up to blocking, while improving their form, is to get them geared up and in the crouched position behind home plate. Keeping their hands behind their back, stand 25 feet away and toss whiffle balls low and in the dirt. This is a soft way to teach dropping to the knees and blocking with the body. Once they are naturally inclined to take the hit, and their mechanics are solid, switch over to real softballs or baseballs.   

 

Four ways to practice blocking from a single bucket of balls:

 

 

 

Fielding the Bunt

 

Mechanics are key so we’re starting you off, once again, with the physical aspects of fielding the bunt from all three positions. 

 

 

Bunting Drill 

 

With the catcher in full gear and in position, stand behind them and roll balls toward third, home or first. Have the catcher field and toss to first for the out.  

 

Catching Backhand

 

Here’s a quick drill for catching backhanded

 

Throw to the pitcher

Practice like every pitch matters. This will not only keep the catcher’s mind alert in a game but it can also keep them healthy longer. Send them out in full gear, always. 

 

As you catch the pen, it is easy to throw off both knees. This is not only lazy it messes with your body mechanics. Make sure you always have one knee down and in proper throwing position. Squaring up to the pitcher, even on a toss back, is going to cause repeat motion injury over time. 

 

Practice like every pitch matters. This will not only keep the catcher’s mind alert in a game but it can also keep them healthy longer. Send them out in full gear, always. 

 

As you catch the pen, it is easy to throw off both knees. This is not only lazy, it messes with your body mechanics. Make sure you always have one knee down and in proper throwing position. Squaring up to the pitcher, even on a toss back, is going to cause repeat motion injury over time. 

 

Catching a pop up 

 

Training the catcher on a pop up is very similar to some of the mechanics we saw in outfielder drills. The key differences, of course, are starting position and getting to the ball.  

 

This video sequence goes over not only the physics of the pop up, and what to look for from the crouch, but also provides three different drills.

 

 

Some additional tips from the pros.

 

 

Blocking the Plate

 

This video goes over the basics for kids. Naturally professional rules allow for collision but the body mechanics and leadership directions are otherwise the same. Importantly, the video covers throws from all parts of the field. 

 

Preparing for the collision

 

Here are your positioning and safety tips from a former MLB player.

 

A quick how-to on what to do when turtle position becomes necessary. 

 

 

Vision Diversion Drill

 

In a game behind the plate there are any number of things that can block a catcher’s vision. Dust from the dirt either off a player’s cleat during their batting swing, or from a pitch on the ground, can get in their eyes. So too can the sun. Train your catchers to practice the pirate drill to help them with balance and eye muscle training. Being limited to one eye changes your equilibrium so it is important that catchers are prepared for the change, especially coming out of the crouch. 

 

 

Efficiency is Key to Coaching Catchers

 

All the defensive work a catcher needs to put in is absolutely vital to his success. It can also cut into his offensive development, or put too much wear and tear on his body, if not kept in check. 

 

Once you know who your starter will be, limit their time in the bullpen during practice. Keep it to 15-30 minutes and let the rest of the squad get their rotations in as well. 

 

Make sure that a catcher’s time behind the plate is productive. They are there to learn, not simply act as your practice backstop. Save them for live defensive drills and use a coach, manager or developing player to backstop the rest of practice. 

 

Remember, a catcher plays offense too. They shouldn’t miss a moment of batting practice. This time is also important to help foster the bonding and alone time necessary for them to become effective leaders to their teammates. It is also a great opportunity for them to receive feedback from their co-workers, creating a balance in the dynamic between players. 

 

Catchers need development time and there are plenty of drills to get the job done so rotate the skillsets and give them some undivided attention. These are your on-field coaches. Guide them in the job. Quality repetitions, not number of drills performed, is key. The most relevant point is to practice each drill as a game time simulation. The more true to life the practice, the better results under game pressures. 

 

Leadership Training

 

To succeed behind the plate a catcher has to call pitches, cue the defense, keep a good rapport with the umpires and follow the coach’s game strategy. Oh yeah, and catching the ball about 300 times a game. Catchers have a wide range of responsibilities that require intelligence, tact, baseball sense, and above all, leadership. 

 

A big part of being an effective catcher are the intangible aspects, likability, trust, emotional stability and a natural aptitude for the game. It also includes a physical endurance that is mentally exhausting.  

 

It is critical that a catcher develop control of the game. Let veteran pitchers guide a catcher, get them in the habit of calling pitches. 

 

If your catcher is not a vocal person, get creative. Help them establish a system for calling defensive plays with signals. Encourage their involvement in strategic decision-making. Players need to build faith in the catcher’s ability to call the play in real time. When you work together on the same plan, the message is consistent and, therefore, better received.  

 

What A Pitcher Needs

 

Pitchers need a mentally stable partner that keeps their confidence up and makes them feel comfortable throughout the game. Every pitcher throws and thinks differently. A good catcher will adjust their strategies to the other half of their battery. 

 

Umpire Relations

 

When it comes to blue, it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that matters. A catcher needs to be diplomatic. Teach your catcher to start out the game asking, ‘Blue, am I giving you enough room to see the ball?’ and  ‘Blue, let me know if I’m getting in your way or moving too quickly, because I want to help you out.’ 

 

A key element to good umpire relations is making blue feel protected. In the bullpen have your catcher practice like it’s a game. There’s always an umpire behind them and that person is this going to make a call on the pitch. Their job is to make it easy for the umpire to do their job by blocking every ball so that the umpires are always protected. 

 

Coaches, a really important factor in the catcher/umpire relationship is don’t make your catcher monkey in the middle. The umpire and catcher have a natural, cooperative relationship back there and they’re going to take care of each other. If you don’t like a call, take it up with blue. Don’t ask your catcher to verify the ump is wrong. If you get tossed, someone still needs to be on their good side running your game. 

 

Bonus Material

 

Breaking in your catcher’s mitt

 

Being a catcher takes a lot of training both mentally and physically. We’ve included a catcher’s guide so you can practice off the field as well. 

 

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