Besides the pitcher, no player in baseball touches the ball more than the catcher. Catching is often cited as the backbone of a solid defense. Youth catchers may face a tougher learning curve than other positional players due to the importance and the complexity of the position. Today, we will review how to select a catcher for your youth baseball team, the fundamentals of catching, some useful drills, and how young catchers can work with pitchers to call a great game.
Who Should Play Catcher in Youth Baseball?
As referenced in the introduction, catchers are instrumental to good team defense in baseball. Not every young player is suited for the position. Here are some high level tangible and intangibles to look for when selecting a catcher for your youth team:
Catchers should be right handed. At the youth level, it is possible for a lefty to catch, but at higher levels left handed throwers are not likely to see the field as a catcher.
A strong arm is a must. A key tool for all catchers is the ability to throw out runners on the basepaths. This type of player may be different than a player who can throw well from the outfield, so try young arms out from behind the plate to evaluate arm talent.
Athleticism and blocking pitches are key. Throwing runners out may make headlines, but the nitty gritty of the catching position is keeping balls from hitting the backstop. It is also important that young players are able to assume the catching stance and move adequately over the course of a game.
The Fundamentals of the Catcher’s Position
Disclaimer: there is no way to cover all of the fundamentals of the catcher position in a single blog post. Working with a coach or trainer is advisable. With that in mind, here are some high level concepts for youth catchers and their coaches to work on:
Assuming and maintaining the proper crouch behind the plate
Presenting a target to the pitcher
Catching pitches in and out of the zone
Blocking balls in the dirt
Throwing to second base
Fielding bunted balls
Fielding pop flies behind home plate
Youth Baseball Catching Drills
Now that we have covered the fundamentals of catching, how can young baseball players develop their skills and improve at the position? It is likely obvious at this point that catching is an extremely demanding position. There are hundreds of drills available which can serve the goals of youth athletes. Here are some of our picks which are effective for catchers of all ages.
Tennis ball drill (soft hands, receiving the pitch) - Catcher’s mitts are unforgiving. They are stiff and full of padding. Catchers must have soft hands to receive pitches with confidence. To learn this, have catchers receive pitched tennis balls with no gloves of any kind. Players will be forced to see the pitch in without “stabbing” at the ball.
Bunt drill (infield fielding) - Youth players may not be stealing bases like the pros, but they will certainly see their fair share of bunts and dribblers hit a few feet past home plate. Practice by rolling balls to the first base line, third base line, and back to the pitcher. It is important that the full infield is present as well to learn communication.
Blocking drill (fielding wild pitches) - Another key fundamental for catchers is keeping the ball in front of them. This is another drill where tennis balls can be used dependant on the age and ability level of the youth athlete(s). Essentially, coaches can throw all manner of wild pitches and teach catchers the proper footwork and body positioning to block the ball and prevent runners from advancing.
The Art of Calling a Game as a Catcher
From a very young age, many pitchers develop an arsenal of pitches. While breaking balls (link to breaking ball article) may be off the menu until later years, pitchers and catchers must be on the same page in terms of pitch selection and location. Some coaches choose to call the game from the dugout. Whether catchers are calling pitches for Nolan Ryan or their 8 year old pitcher with one pitch, the art of calling the game is an artform which can be developed over time.
Young pitchers and catchers should work together in practice to develop a chemistry on the field. Catchers should learn the basic signals to the pitcher, and understand when to cycle through them if they are shaken off. Over time, young catchers can learn when to call for certain pitches, how to read opposing hitters, and other advanced techniques. Catchers of all ages should strive to make their pitcher’s day as productive as possible.
Develop Catching Skills with Hustle Training
Pittsburgh startup Hustle Training is quickly rising to one of the most popular sports drill apps out there. Their website, along with their mobile app puts players and coaches at the top of their game by providing skilled workouts and drills crafted by coaches, trainers, and professional athletes, and informative articles to take your team to the next level.