By Evan Klugerman (BA, Director of Hitting at RPP) and Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)
As we discussed in a prior article titled “4 Ways the RoboUmps Will Affect the Catcher Position“, with the introduction of all the new tech, Major League Baseball is in a constant state of fluidity. Although such changes may not directly impact younger ball players immediately, it’s only a matter of time before they trickle down, and the catching position is no exception. Below are 4 major topics and adjustments that the next generation of catchers will need to prepare for, in this new world of tech-driven baseball.
- Larger but More Explosive Body Frame
- Future of Blocking and Throwing
- Adjustments to Stance and Set-up
- Hitting for Power
The purpose of this blog is to understand possible technical adjustments that younger catchers may need to focus on and how you should tailor your developmental process from both a technical and physical standpoint to best prepare for it.
1. Larger but More Explosive Body Frame
Technical – From a low position, catchers must be able to move left and right to block a ball that is coming at them at high velocities. At the same time, they need to set their feet to make a throw, as well as creating a bigger target to keep the ball in front of them. In addition, as the foundation of the transfer becomes more innate, the developmental process of a catcher should focus on his ability to do it in a timely manner (often described as a catcher’s pop time).
Simply put, the faster the catcher gets the ball to second the higher probability a runner will be thrown out. College coaches and MLB scouts lean heavily on this metric; however, it is only one piece of the puzzle. The combination of mobility and stability will put your body in the best position to be able to not only block but also transfer quicker out of the shoot.
Physical: Stiffness / Elasticity – On the physical side, this includes developing the right amount of strength and size to be stable down low, while at the same time maintaining mobility and flexibility up top in order to keep elastic/speed properties in check.
(Med Ball – Pop Time)
(Plyo Chest Pass)
2. Future of Blocking and Throwing
Technical – In the prior article (referred to in the first paragraph), we reviewed how the catching position favors three main components: blocking, throwing, and hitting. When addressing the first two on our list, the modern-day catcher needs to have a foundation that puts the athlete in an appropriate position to not only be athletic (quick) but also stable (strong). In terms of athleticism, the ability to catch and throw is magnified here.
Physical: Ankle Mobility / Stability – Working on improving ankle mobility is definitely on the menu when it comes to giving a catcher the ability to “sway”. This is the ability to move in the frontal plane while squatting as referred to earlier and is KEY for improving a catcher’s ability to frame pitches. This becomes even more important in the earlier years when receiving pitches delivered by pitchers with less than optimal location and command.
(Med Ball Sway)
As far as ankle stability goes, the immediate benefits are endless but the ability to create a still and steady target to throw to is paramount.
(Band Row w/ Perturbations)
3. Adjustments to Stance and Set up
Technical – Although in the new world of robo-umps, the idea of pitch framing may no longer be a focal point, the catcher still needs to be able to receive the baseball, that will never change. Catchers receive the baseball via two traditional stances, a Primary and a Secondary Stance.
The table below depicts the differences in responsibilities regarding each stance, where the primary stance is associated with a more relaxed position when compared to the secondary stance, which implements the defensive aspect of the position — blocking and throwing.
Beginning with the primary stance, since there are no defensive responsibilities other than to simply catch the ball and field the position, this stance should prioritize comfort and longevity. Given innings accumulate over the duration of the season, the “new school” phenomenon of catching on one knee will become the new norm for the sole purpose of keeping weight off the legs.
Although catching from one knee helps catchers receive low strikes at a higher clip, that is no longer the case with an automated strike zone. The way we receive the baseball does not affect the outcome of the pitch; if a catcher can prevent the umpire from being hit and field his position, any given stance will suffice.
With runners on the base-path being active, the secondary stance must put the catcher in the best position to keep the ball in front of him and have the ability to catch and throw. The image below illustrates a secondary stance that gives catchers the ability to do both – block and throw. By having the feet slightly turned, this gives the catcher a quicker route to set his feet and clear his hips to throw the ball to the respective base. Having his upper half angle more to the pitcher gives the pitcher a bigger target to throw to, at the same time aiding catchers to keep blocked balls in front of him, if need be.
Physical: Hip Mobility/Stability – As mentioned earlier, in order for a catcher to be successful both receiving and throwing the ball, they must first be comfortable down in a squatting position. Continuously being in a squatting position day-after-day for hours can really do a number on the hip flexors and adductors by shortening them, leading to poor hip mobility and making it hard to get up and into position to quickly and accurately throw the ball.
This drill works on hip mobility in all planes of motion and has been a mainstay in our programs. (Thanks to Dr. Andreo Spina)
(Deep Squat Pallof Press)
4. Hitting for Power
Technical – As far as hitting goes, hitting with power rules the school for catchers in modern-day baseball.
Along with other athletes on the baseball field, catchers specifically will have to tailor their craft to their offensive attributes. Given baseball has favored the long ball, such athletes need to not only design their swing to do so but also create a physical foundation that mirrors that. With how offensively dominant the position is, the ability to get on base, drive the baseball, and produce runs will separate the good catchers from the elite catchers. With power numbers on the rise, the ability to hit for power will be the foundation of a catcher.
Physical: Creating Great Decel / Force Transfer – There are many physical factors that go into creating maximum power at the plate, but none have a higher correlation to exit velo than deceleration/producing and transferring force from the front leg block. Remember, it’s not always about being the strongest athlete, but the athlete who can apply and transfer that strength quickly. For this to happen, a good set of brakes are in order. This first drill, the good ol’ SLDL helps strengthen the co-contractors.
While this second one (courtesy of Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch) helps apply that strength quickly.
(Med Ball Pulse w/ Stick)
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