INSTRUCTIONAL FRIDAY – 3 ANSWERS ON CATCHING
DATE – 5/10/19
The ability to play catcher at a high level is difficult to master when one considers all of the skills necessary. The dexterity to receive, the strength to throw and the athleticism to block provide such a broad range that many times catchers may show high marks in one area, yet just be alright in another. Being able to display the total package in terms of catching often requires demonstrated enhancements to one or more of the defensive toolkit.
This is where sound instruction met with a unquenchable work ethic provides the opportunity to elevate the overall status of a hind catcher. Areas of needed improvement perhaps create a focus for the catcher that wants to raise his standards to improved status. Yet, players must recognize to continue the work in areas where excellence already exists in order to meet the demands of the position as standards are raised; the result of playing at higher levels.
Finding the instruction and the cues to implementation is where coaching enters the equation. Thus, Dirtbags Baseball is providing some insight and direction from 3 of its coaches who have played and coached the catching position at a higher levels. The focus will be on three specific catcher skills: receiving, throwing, and blocking.
The coaches joining the conversation today are the following Dirtbags mentors:
- Ben Conner – 16u
- Conner Durden – 14u
- Ben Casillo – 15u
What is a top tip you have for catchers in regards to receiving the ball effectively?
My top tip for catchers when receiving would be to catch the bottom outside of the ball allowing the ball to come to you and not extending to get it, catching the ball with a flexed arm and relaxed hand. Stopping the movement of the pitch as soon as it hits the mitt.
When it comes to receiving, my biggest focal point is first beating the ball to the spot. Having a timing mechanism with your glove hand will help you do so. Another tip is to always keep your thumb under the ball. This ensures good presentation for the umpire and will really help when it comes to receiving the low fastball or breaking ball.
Two things that go hand in hand:
1) Make sure that you are getting your left eye behind every ball that you catch.
Focusing on this will help ensure that you are receiving each pitch within the frame of
your body, and presenting more pitches as strikes to the umpire.
2) Keep your wrist loose before each pitch. A simple quarter turn down with your glove
will allow your wrist to be loose, and thus quicker and better able to beat the pitch to
the spot. This allows you to be in control, catch the ball instead of letting it catch you.
What are a few of your essentials when teaching a catcher footwork when throwing?
The essentials for footwork when throwing is letting the pitch dictate your line. What I mean by line is the direction in which your feet move in sort of a T motion gaining some momentum towards 2B. Allowing your right foot to ideally end up stepping directly under where your chin was in your stance. You have to know your pitcher and know what pitch you called with an idea of what the makeup of the pitch will look like in order to be the quickest with your feet. In doing this, the right hip has to follow the line of where the pitch comes in, motivating your feet adn body around to square position to 2B. The right hip starts to turn in towards the pitch as it’s on the way to “cheat” with the feet so they’re almost set or are set as the pitch is being received.
First off, being in line with your feet and remaining linear to second base is extremely important. What helps with getting linear is a good jab step/replacement step with the right foot. If that foot can get under your body athletically and linearly, then the rest of the body will follow suit. Quickness with the feet and depending on your age, the amount of ground you gain are also important. The more mature a catcher becomes and the more arm strength he has, the less ground he has to gain which in turn will help with the quickness of his feet.
I love to teach the throwing process as a series of smaller steps:
- 1st step with the right foot gaining ground towards 2b
- Stay low so as to maintain your power & potential energy that was built up in their initial squat
- Exchange the ball in glove to throwing hand, making sure your shoulders are pointed toward 2b
- Follow through on your throw with a towel instead of a ball or an empty hand to save your arm.
- Do each step until you feel you have mastered it, then add the next step. Once you have each part down, put it together in real speed & then replace the towel with a ball and practice actually making the throws.
It’s hard to truly focus on footwork if the only time you work on it is when you’re making full throws to a base. Focusing on each step individually, will allow for you to truly make each step feel natural & allow you to master your craft.
What is your best blocking drill for catchers that both enhances the skill and the mentality necessary to stop the ball in the dirt?
The best drill for blocking that enhances skill and mentality would be getting in your 2 stance (runners on base stance) adn pre-setting your hands down. Getting your right hand behind the mitt and making sure the glove is spread open as possible down in the dirt slightly in front of you. The C starts in this position and then drops behind his hands. This prevents kicking teh legs back behind them when blocking and creates the mindset of glove first. This also prevents the C from jumping forward and gaining too much ground. We can alter this drill through pre-setting the hands to the right and to the left as well as the middle. Once the hands are preset throw the catcher a block to the direction his hands are set. Don’t move the hands and let the body catch the ball with the belly button as the knees go down to block.
My all-time favorite blocking drill has to be the hockey goalie drill. The catcher sets up in his secondary stance and the coach stands approximately 25 feet away. The coach can throw the ball anywhere, with any spin, and the catcher’s goal is just don’t let any ball get behind you. This drill is not the best for technical blocking, due to the pace and absence of time to reset but the mentality of this drill is as gritty as it can get. It really emphasizes the “get it done” side of blocking. Meaning it doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as the ball is in front of you after the pitch. It’s a tough drill, but definitely my favorite. And it’s fun to watch.
Tennis balls single handedly taught me how to block pitches. Often, the mentality of not wanting to block pitches stems from a fear of getting hurt & hit by the ball. Tennis balls will allow the player to get comfortable reading the downward trajectory of the ball and give them a fearless approach to blocking. Additionally, make sure you are varying reps where the catcher needs to block & reps where they still need to receive the pitch as a strike. This variation will mimic a game like situation, and prevent the catcher from forming a habit of just dropping & blocking for the sake of a drill. One other advantage of using tennis balls is that they will bounce further, so you can better teach catchers that in addition to blocking a pitch, being able to deaden the ball so that it doesn’t bounce as far away, is a huge part of being an elite defensive catcher.
Thanks to our coaches for … sure these tips and insights will … join us next week when we move to the mound and talk some pitching.