Most parents and coaches remember the first time their little guy or gal stepped up to the plate. The first-time hitter might have stepped directly onto home plate or might have been ten feet outside the box. Many youth baseball players have a natural ability to hit the ball, far fewer have the natural instincts for a productive plate approach.
For this reason, teaching plate approach is one of the most effective ways to improve a young ballplayer’s hitting ability. Whether the count is 0-0 or the hitter is battling with two strikes, mental approach is every great hitter’s secret weapon.
Youth Baseball Plate Approach for All Situations
Plate approach is a complex subject. We could write thousands of words going over the intricacies. However, there are some high level concepts which hold true for youth baseball players no matter what the situation.
Our favorite plate approach tips include:
Stay loose. Hitters should be in an athletic position, relaxed, but ready to go. Tension is the enemy of the hitter.
Don’t swing for the fences. Youth hitters should never be thinking home run. They should be thinking line drive and solid contact. Power will come.
Know the pitcher’s release point. Watching the pitcher during warm ups and while he or she throws to other batters can teach a hitter a lot. Hitters should locate the release point and see how the ball looks coming out of the hand.
Know the game situation. We will review this in greater detail below, but runners on the bases, the count, outs, and the score all may result in a different plate approach (at the youth level not quite as much).
Confidence, confidence, confidence! If a youth hitter thinks he or she is going to strike out, they probably will. Hitting isn’t just a matter of strategy, but a matter of battling against the pitcher. Youth baseball players should never fear failure, and instead be taught to expect success.
Timing the Pitcher at the Plate
This tip is a bit more advanced, but the logic holds true for all ages. Professional hitters will have access to scouting reports that detail an opponent’s pitch selection, velocity, tendencies, and more. Youth hitters will only have a few moments to look at a pitcher’s stuff before adjusting.
To “time” a pitcher, hitters can watch the opposing pitcher warm up and/or pitch to other batters. Some hitters like to watch the pitcher’s release while they are on deck, taking a swing with the correct timing as the pitch crosses home plate.
The other consideration here is pitch selection. If an opponent has a curveball, changeup, slider, etc, hitters should be aware of this as well. As we will review below, young baseball players should always be looking for a fastball first.
When it comes to plate approach, this means that youth athletes should always be looking for a fastball. It is important to understand that there is a huge difference between looking for a fastball and expecting a fastball.
In the vast majority of cases, hitters should be looking for the fastball and be prepared to adjust to another pitch. It is easier to slow the swing down and hit an offspeed pitch than it is to speed the bat up and “adjust” to a fastball. Looking offspeed and fighting off a fastball most often result in a swing and miss.
This approach may change slightly due to the count or game situation. No matter what the situation, every hitter’s first thought when the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand is fastball.
Situational Awareness at the Plate for Youth Baseball
We have already discussed some common plate approach tactics which hold true in most situations. But what about situational hitting? Here are some common scenarios which might cause hitters to take a slightly different approach at the plate.
Ahead in the count - Hitters who are ahead in the count 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, and so forth have a marked advantage. They know two things: the pitcher must throw strikes to fight back, and they have the luxury of looking at a ball or two. Hitters should pick their favorite pitch and sit on it. If that pitch is thrown, take a rip. If not, wait for the next pitch and make the pitcher work.
Hitting with two strikes - On the flipside, hitting with two strikes is all about protecting the plate and putting the bat on the ball by any means necessary. Hitters should expand their mental strike zone and swing at anything close. This is particularly true at the youth level.
Runners on, no outs, down a run - In this common scenario, the goal should be solid contact and putting the ball in play. A strikeout and a pop-up are the only non-productive outs. Bunting might be an option, but a solid plate approach works just as well.
Improve Your 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.