Baseball is one of the more “individual” of team sports. Consider that batters receive no assistance in the box, pitchers are all alone on the mound, and even many defensive plays only require a single defender. However, teamwork and defensive alignment both play huge roles in the effectiveness of a team’s defense in youth baseball. Youth managers have to consider many factors when selecting the best defensive lineup for their players and for their team.
Great team defense in baseball begins with putting players into positions where they are most likely to succeed. Many youth athletes do not have a go-to position yet, but there are several factors which can help coaches and parents place youth athletes into advantageous positions.
Catcher - Perhaps the most specialized position outside of pitcher, catchers are involved on every defensive pitch. Conventional wisdom is that catchers should be right handed, but it is possible to succeed as a lefty in youth leagues. Athleticism, good hands, and a big arm are all helpful for this defensive spot.
Pitcher - Without a doubt the most unique defensive position in baseball, pitchers are almost playing a different sport. Some young baseball players have a natural proclivity for pitching, while others may not. There is no specific size or skill set which makes a good pitcher besides the ability to pitch!
Outfield Positions - Center fielders are often the fastest players on the team. In youth baseball, right field tends to see the least “action”, and managers may choose to put their weaker fielders in right field, then left field.
First base - This is the only infield position which suits right handed and left handed players equally well. For this reason, many lefties naturally gravitate towards first. Taller players may also feel comfortable in this position while using their reach to catch thrown balls to the base.
Second base - This position requires a large range, quickness, and good hands. A lot of balls are hit to the middle infield, and this should be a reliable fielder. Second basemen are also often responsible for relay throws, turning double plays at second, and much more.
Shortstop - Generally this is the best fiedler on the team, particularly in youth baseball. Shortstops should have the range of second basemen, the arm of a third baseman, and the athleticism to do everything in between. This position traditionally receives the most batted balls of any other.
Third base - Third base is referred to as the “hot corner” for good reason. There is no position in baseball which must react more frequently to sharply hit balls from close range. Additionally, third basemen must make the long throw to first, so a strong arm is essential for success.
While finding a good fit for young baseball players is important, so is allowing them to get repetitions in many different positions. Players will naturally fall into their comfort zone as they get older. It is a great idea to allow players from a very young age to experiment with different defensive positions to find out what suits them best. As an extension of previous sections, here is another way to pick multiple positions for each player.
Weaker arms fit better at second base, first base, and potential corner outfield positions.
The primary concern when selecting a pitching rotation for youth baseball is protecting the young arms. There may only be three or four “true pitchers” on your team, but it is going to take more arms than that to make it through your season or tournament. Young players must be kept on a pitch count to protect their health in the long term. Major league baseball has a very helpful guide for managing the innings and appearances of pitchers aged 7-22.
The primary factors to keep in mind are pitch count per game, days of rest between appearances, and overall pitches throughout the season. For example: pitchers aged 7-8 are given a max pitch count of 50 pitches per game, where 15-16 year olds are allowed up to 95.
A young pitcher will almost never admit to being tired or sore. Often times, they won’t even feel sore, but may be overworking their arm nonetheless. One last consideration for youth coaches is that players often play on multiple teams. Work with parents and players to make sure that all of the innings a pitcher has thrown are being accounted for.
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