Baseball talent can sometimes be difficult to spot. Whereas basketball talent might include pure shooting or being 6’10, there are so many ways to be productive on the diamond. This is especially true at the youth level where players are developing physically, mentally, and emotionally on a daily basis.
So how does one identify talent in youth baseball? There are a number or tried and true methods to evaluate baseball players which certainly hold true in youth athletics. It is also important to understand exactly what talent is and how it can shape a young player’s career.
With that in mind, here are a few considerations to keep in mind when scouting youth baseball players.
How Important is Talent in Youth Sports?
Talent is defined as “a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude”. Ask ten different youth baseball coaches this question and you are likely to receive ten different answers. The fact is, there is no one answer to such a question.
Ask ten major league baseball players whether then consider themselves a result of talent or hard work, and we can almost guarantee all ten will tell you that hard work is more important. To be an elite player, it takes both.
To be a great youth athlete, it might only take one of the two. That is why we do believe identifying talent in youth baseball is extremely important. A young athlete with natural baseball gifts should be encouraged to work hard and not coast.
This goes along with the philosophy that youth athletics is about developing young players and young human beings. Talent might not be the most important thing in youth athletics, but it is important to identify and understand your players’ abilities.
Tryouts and/or the First Day of Youth Baseball Practice
“Talent” at the youth level can sometimes be confused with physical superiority. Many youth baseball evaluations will be to either determine rosters or simply for coaches to place players into appropriate team roles. Here are a few basic ways to structure practice or tryouts to identify youth baseball talent.
Batting practice: every player should get at least ten swings to show what they can do. Comfort, vision, stance, and the swing should all be evaluated.
Infield fielding drills: again, all players should have at least 10 or so opportunities to field a ground ball and make a simple infield throw.
Baserunning drills or timed sprints: this can be made into a game or can be as simple as timing your athlete’s 40 yard dash. We do not believe it is important to declare a winner, but instead to take note of who your faster players are.
Pitching and catching: The defensive side of baseball begins with the pitcher and catcher. They are also the hardest to scout talent-wise. Each player should have a chance to throw a few pitches and those who are interested in catching should get a few reps as well.
Baseball Player Evaluation 101
Position player evaluation in baseball can be as simple or complex as you would like to make it. At the youth level, we try to identify talent based on potential rather than the player’s effectiveness at the given moment. With this in mind, position players should be evaluated on their natural abilities to perform these five actions, frequently known as the five tools of baseball:
Hitting for average: the heart and soul of offensive baseball is getting on base. Talented baseball players should hit for average and also have the ability to draw walks when necessary.
Hitting for power: of course nothing beats a big fly. Home run power at the youth level is more about solid contact than physical ability, so evaluation of power should come from the player’s natural proclivity towards hitting sharp line drives.
Fielding ability: the ability to field in youth baseball requires athleticism, soft hands, and good on-field awareness.
Arm strength: a hard thrower is generally a talented player. Coaching a harder throw is possible, but this is generally a god-given ability.
Base running (speed): speed is also generally an issue of talent. Speed kills on the basepaths just as it does on the gridiron.
Evaluating Youth Pitching
Pitching is an art form which develops for many, many years. Even MLB pitchers frequently add or remove pitches from their repertoire as it can take multiple seasons to get comfortable. So how do we evaluate youth arms? Here are a few high level tips:
Mechanics come first: your youth athletes might throw hard, but without proper mechanics, that velocity will never translate to later years and the bigger fields. Mechanics can of course be taught, but natural comfort and balance on the mound is certainly a gift.
Velocity: arm talent is rare. If your youth pitcher has a live arm, make sure to develop that talent without overuse.
Control: there are plenty of triple digit throwers who never make the big leagues due to control issues. Control is again a teachable skill, yet it remains innate in some youth athletes.
A “heavy” fastball: here is where we go into a grey area. Some pitchers just have a heavy pitch. The ball seems like it hits the glove with more oomph. This should not be overlooked as it can be a sign of greater spin rate and/or late movement.
Youth Baseball Fundamentals 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.