It has become alarmingly in vogue to swing for the fences (link power hitting blog here). Home runs may be sexy, but 10 pitch at-bats which lead to a walk will make managers just as happy. The art of two strike hitting will never lose its value. Even the best hitters in the world find themselves behind in the count from time to time. When they do, they know how to approach the remainder of the at-bat in a way that will lead to a positive outcome.
With that in mind, here are some useful drills which youth baseball coaches can incorporate into practices for all ages and skill levels.
Rear Soft Toss Hitting Drill Quick Hands Drill
One of the key differences between hitting ahead in the count and hitting with two strikes is the approach. Hitting in early counts or ahead in count affords batters the luxury of looking for their pitch. In other words, hitters can guess. If they guess wrong - no harm, no foul. Guessing wrong with two strikes most often leads to a K in the scorecard. This drill will improve youth baseball players’ ability to react to pitches in and out of the zone when protecting the plate.
The batter positions him or herself in front of a fence or hitting net.
The coach or other player takes a knee behind the batter (think where an umpire might be in a live game).
The batter keeps their eyes down, fixated on the imaginary home plate, without being able to see the non-batter.
The non-batter soft tosses the ball into the strike zone.
The batter reacts to the pitch with a shortened swing and makes contact - no matter where the toss is delivered.
Notes: the batter may choose to choke up to improve bat control. The batter should also always swing no matter what to eliminate the variable of plate discipline for this particular drill.
Broomstick and Wiffle Ball - Contact Drill
Taking power out of the equation is a great way to eliminate bad swings in two strike situations. This drill aims to eliminate the variable of power hitting by using wiffle balls or ping pong balls and a broomstick. It also improves players’ ability to see and identify pitches.
The specifics of this drill are completely up to the coach and players. Essentially, it can revolve around any setup where batters are using a broomstick (or other similar equipment) to hit a golf ball sized wiffle ball. These sized wiffle balls are sold in many stores. An alternative would be using ping pong balls. Emphasize contact and reaction over hitting the ball hard.
Two Strike Simulation in Batting Practice
A more straightforward approach to teaching two strike hitting is to simulate a two strike count in batting practice. Have your youth athletes take BP with an 0-2 or 1-2 count. Consider also adding other variables like a runner in scoring position, 0 outs, 2 outs, etc. The overriding point of this drill is to make hitters understand that team offense depends more on just getting hits.
Sometimes putting the ball in play and moving runners is just as good.
In this drill, the pitcher should intentionally throw balls outside of the strike zone. This is great training for young hitters. There is a fine line between protecting the plate and being reckless. Plate discipline, particularly with two strikes, is one of the most overlooked skills in all of baseball.
This is also a great drill for teaching hitters about two strike approach. Some useful teaching cues include:
Choking up on the bat
Shortening the swing
Looking for a fastball and adjusting to the breaking ball
Moving closer to the plate for better coverage
Widening the base of the batting stance
Full Count Team Baseball Training
Real game practice is a great way to end a youth baseball practice. The following drill is a favorite of many players and coaches because it is fun, it teaches team offense, and it brings the team together as a unit.
Split your team up into an offense and a defense. Always field a full defense and use the remainder for your offense.
Every batter begins his or her at-bat with a full count (3-2).
Use a live pitcher or a batting practice coach, but they should be attempting to get the batter out. Of course, use your judgement when a coach is doing the pitching.
The offense “wins” by plating a run.
The defense “wings” by preventing the offense from scoring.
This drill moves relatively quickly considering many at-bats are a single pitch. Change teams around and give it a few rounds if you have the team. Your team will love it, and they might learn a thing or two about playing in key situations!
Improve Your Two Strike Hitting with Hustle Training
Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.