Date: January 25, 2019
By: Eric Leary
In prioritizing skills for catchers one could find all sorts of lists and opinions as to how skills rank in importance. Guys with big arms & low POP times get a lot of attention because they can shut down the running game. Some gurus lean towards the true receiver that can make average pitching look great with how they capture the ball and handle the staff. And the debates continues about how much this position should carry in offensive production. But a special place exists for those hind catchers who get their knees to the ground and consistently block baseballs with pure blue-collar toughness.
Blocking baseballs that are thrown either by accident or with purpose in the dirt is most definitely a skill. Technique is critical to not only making sure the ball is stopped but is also recoverable in order to minimize offensive advances. Perhaps just as important at physical movements necessary to stop that ball in the dirt, is the mental determination to do the job. In short, catchers have to have the want to. They have to want to block the ball and take it personal if the try fails.
Getting into the physical position to block a baseball begins with a stance that allows the catcher to be athletic. With runners on base or 2 strikes on the batter, the receiver’s toes should point a bit more forward with heels continuing to contact the ground. A slight lift of the rear end as the chest is forward creates an image of sitting on a stool with the thighs parallel to the ground. This stance shouldn’t really change the target offer with the catcher’s mitt. Catcher’s should work to the this stance just as the pitcher moves to deliver as to not have to “hold” it very long.
Getting into position to block the ball from the stance is simple as getting to one’s knees. Try to take the transition to the knees by gaining some ground forward as the feet kick out. This tends to offer advantages over recessing back. Think of it as working through the short hop as an infielder. This attacking approach offers the opportunity to smother the ball down before it can take a directional bounce away. Of course the mitt goes to the the hole between the knees with the throwing hand protected behind it, and the catcher’s butt lifts to get the chest over ball. This ball will hopefully bounce off any surface from the mitt to the chest and project directly back down. Make sure the chin is tucked down to protect the throat as well as keeping the eyes down to hopefully see the blocked ball.
Assuredly, not all baseballs in the dirt that need to be blocked are fastballs straight over the plate. Thus, the catcher has to be ready to not only move laterally to stop wild pitches, but also deal with various breaking balls that tend to rebound in obtuse angles after contacting the dirt. The technique adjustment here is simple to explained, yet difficult to execute. Catchers should try to get the nearest knee to the ball down and around the ball’s point of contact to the ground. As this occurs the defender is angling back to the plate in order to “kill” the ball at home; thus an easier effort to recover and transition to a throwing position.
Once a catcher has the basics of blocking skills gained through a progression of technique more advanced drills can be used to enhance performance, build confidence and even compete. Consider the following drills to put some flair into the work sessions for catchers.
- Three ball … Place 3 baseball on the dirt in a line 12”-18” apart. Have two catchers face one another and position themselves at one end of the line with the same ball between them. The objective will be to dry block each ball in succession while also “racing” against their counterpart. Once catchers are in their stance, a “go” command is the que to block the first ball straight. A quick repositioning back to stance while still square to that ball then leads to blocking the next ball outside the catcher’s frame. Pay attention to angles, technique, and speed. Another stance reset and on to the next ball in the same direction. Once the third ball is blocked the catcher should repeat the process again in the opposite direction. The drill is concluded after the ball that started the drill is blocked again.
- The gauntlet … Using the infield dirt, catchers position themselves at a distance from the coach delivering balls to block. The farther the distance the more balls needed. The objective is for the catcher to get to the coach. Everytime the coach throws a ball the catcher must access his stance and block the ball. Between throws the catcher runs, crawls, or scrambles to the coach. Missed blocks are restarts. The balls are thrown by the coach as rapidly as he wishes to make the drill tougher or easier.
- Fungo blocks … Either as an individual session with just catchers or mixed in with infielders during mass fungos, this drill simply has the catcher block reasonably hit balls off the fungo. This is not a drill to light up a catcher, but instead give them a variety of hops from various depths and compete with their teammates. Catchers should block and recover each ball. If the drill dictates, throws should be made as well.
Remember, if a catcher wants to help his pitching staff and team, he will create confidence by all if he can take care of the pitches that are in the dirt. This takes practice.