When it comes to which defensive player has the most diverse responsibilities on the baseball diamond, a strong argument can be made for the catcher.  They are of course involved in every play by being on the receiving end of each pitch. But that’s just the beginning as they are involved in fielding bunts, throwing out runners and making tags at the plate.  

Not to mention catchers must have such a great feel on the games many intangibles with handling a staff and directing the defense.  They are without a doubt a baseball player who needs multiple skills.

The Dirtbags are fortunate to have many high quality coaches who can speak to a number of positions and topics in the game.  And no shortage exists for those with catching expertise. The assembled panel has been asked to touch on 3 topics this week to push catchers to take those next steps in their development. Starting with the art of calling a game, then the when & how on  running a back pick, and finishing with tips on catching the ever difficult pop up.

This week’s coaches include:

  • Logan Kock … 14u / Dirtbags Middle School Director
  • Ben Conner … 16u (SC)
  • Noah Heatherly … 15u

Question 1.

What are a few tips you can share with catchers on calling a game and selecting pitches?

LOGAN KOCH – 3 tips I would give catchers when calling pitches 

  1. If you don’t feel confident your pitcher can throw a certain pitch for a strike 3-2 then don’t call the pitch 2-2. If you throw a pitch he can’t throw for a strike in a 2-2 count then it makes it obvious what is coming 3-2. Always want to keep hitters guessing late in counts when they have seen a lot of pitches in that at-bat. 
  2. Try and make it through the lineup one time only using 2 pitches. If you can have an off speed pitch hitters haven’t seen when going through the lineup the second time you can still have them guessing and uncomfortable. 
  3. There are such things as beneficial/productive balls. Not every pitch needs to be for a strike. To often you see catchers and pitchers “fall in love” with the fastball to get outs. Nothing wrong with throwing something behind or even counts to disrupt timing or a hitters’ thought process. Doubling up or even tripling up on pitches to disrupt a hitter early in the game can be beneficial later in the game so hitters aren’t on time with one pitch.  

BEN CONNER – Tips for calling pitches would vary based off of a number of things such as: 

  • Who is on the mound?
  • What kind of hitter is at the plate?
  • What’s the score of the game?
  • Are runners on base?
  • How is the P’s offspeed that day? 
  • What kind of approach does the other team have?
  • What is the umpire calling?  

Generally, these are some of the recommendations I have: 

  • Never be afraid to go inside. 
  • Call to the pitchers strengths. 
  • Take advantage of what the umpire is giving. 
  • Don’t get in a pattern. 
  • Work more than east and west in the zone (climbing the ladder can be effective).
  • Throw down shakes to make the hitter overthink when he sees the pitcher shaking his head. 
  • Pitch in twos such as throwing a fastball outer half following with a breaking ball on the same plane. 
  • Develop a plan with the P before the game on what he likes and what is working. 

NOAH HEATHERLY – When it comes to calling a game, the most essential part is knowing your pitching staff. Knowing what pitch your guy commands the best and then knowing what pitch is his best swing and miss pitch. Having this information makes your job a lot easier. Now calling the game is just about seeing what hitters do with certain pitches. It is critical to notice a hitters timing on different pitches and that can often dictate what you throw next. If the hitter is on time and fouls a fastball straight back, consider throwing a change-up because it looks like a fastball out of the hand and we can potentially get a swing and miss or roll over ground ball. This is just one example of reading the hitter to determine what to throw next. I also encourage guys to work ahead with the fastball. Most of the time a pitcher will command a fastball better than anything else and it is a lot easier to pitch to a guy 0-1 than it is 1-0. Finally, if you are ever unsure of what to call, just call your pitchers best pitch. You would rather the hitter have to beat your pitcher when they are throwing their best stuff at them. 

Question 2.

When is it a good time for catchers to throw a back pick & what are some fundamental moves to success?

 LOGAN KOCH – The best time to throw behind runners is when the inning is getting out of hand. Aggressive base runners will be aggressive the whole game. Just because he can be thrown behind in the first doesn’t mean you should. Don’t throw behind a runner just to throw. Always have a purpose. I used to call a pitch I knew hitters wouldn’t swing at to set up a back pick but if you are going to do that you need to be certain there is a chance of an out. 

BEN CONNER – A good time to throw behind a runner is:

  • When the runner is being lazy. 
  • A pitcher is struggling to get outs. 
  • Base runners are being too aggressive 
  • When a pitcher struggles holding runners (showing that the catcher will throw behind the runner makes the runner shorten his lead allowing the C a better chance at throwing him out). 
  • After a failed bunt attempt.

The fundamental moves of success to throw behind a runner are:

  • Making sure to throw on a good pitch (a pitch where he can take his momentum towards the bag he’s throwing towards). 
  • Pre-setting his body without compromising his receiving (this allows him to cheat a bit to be able to deliver the ball quicker). 
  • Lastly, make sure the man receiving knows what’s going on and will be there to receive the throw.

NOAH HEATHERLY – I love aggressive catchers. If you have the opportunity to back pick and feel you can do it confidently, let it fly! A back pick is the type of play that can completely swing the momentum in a game, help your pitcher get out of a jam, or just get you back in the dugout to swing it. When deciding whether or not to back pick you do need to consider a few things. The first being, what is the situation of the game? If you are in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh with a man on first and third, it might not be the best time to throw. If you are early in the game and want to try to steal an out, I say go for it. A few fundamental moves to throwing to 1st base in particular are to make sure that you get body turned completely to first base, by doing this you lower the chances of throwing the ball away. You want to get your hips and shoulders turned to the bag, drive off your back leg, and let it fly. Back picking is very similar to throwing down to second base. You just have to make sure your body is in the right position and square to the target and then just put the throw on the bag.

Question 3.

How can catchers best position themselves on pop ups to execute the catch?

LOGAN KOCH – Pop ups that are behind the plate will always make their way back to the field because of the way the baseball is spinning. When looking up you always want the ball to be slightly in front of you so you don’t over run it and end up falling backwards trying to catch the ball. Create your angle off the bat and always keep the ball at a good angle in front of you. Also, when going to field a pop up always turn away from the hitter. Very rarely is a hitter going to hit a pop up behind them. Turning away from a hitter puts you in a good angle to the ball right off the bat.

BEN CONNER – Catcher’s pop ups are no easy task because the ball is spinning so hard and a mitt isn’t made to catch a fly ball. In order to make sure to be in the best position, he must read the trajectory of the ball off the bat. He needs to take his mask and hold it until he is in position under the ball. Once in position, he will throw the mask out of the way. The C’s back needs to be facing the infield and keeping the ball in front of him because the ball will be spinning back towards him. Don’t put the mitt up until it’s time to make the catch and when he does, catch the ball with two hands to secure it. This process is implemented only if the catcher has time to get under it. Sometimes a catcher simply has to be an athlete and get to the ball without time to get his back to the infield or his mask off. 

NOAH HEATHERLY – When catching pop ups, you have to remain calm and under control. When the ball goes up, you need to pull your mask off and hold it in your throwing hand. You then turn your back to the field of play and find the ball. Once you have located the ball you can then throw your mask as far away as possible as not to step on it and trip yourself up, then you can begin to position yourself behind the ball, similar to an outfielder. When the ball is popped up it typically has a lot of spin. This spin will cause the ball to travel back toward the field of play. When you have positioned yourself behind the ball to compensate for this spin, you then need stay in an athletic position and take slow, under control steps to get in position to make the catch. Once you are in position you need to keep your feet moving and watch the ball into the mitt. Keep in mind, the spin on the baseball can make the catch difficult, so I would recommend always using two hands to secure the catch.

As always, the Dirtbags want to thank these coaches for sharing their extensive knowledge of the game for all to benefit. They pour so much into the not only the players on their teams but are also willing to provide such valuable insight for the betterment of the game.  Check back next week when Instructional Friday will be talking about HITTING.