Basic Catching Technique

Basic Catching Technique

A kid with a 90 mph fastball will be good, a kid with a 90 mph fastball and a great catcher will be a star.The importance of a good catcher should not be overlooked

What you’ll learn


  • Why you should spend a lot of time with your catchers

    Teams with good catchers win. Plain and simple.

  • Simplicity is key

    The most simple way to teach and get results

  • The 3 stances of catching

    Spend a lot of time on this one, it’s important.

  • Basic principles of receiving

    Teaching how to catch the ball properly on different pitch locations

  • Catcher's throwing footwork

    Without the proper footwork, everything falls apart.

  • Basic blocking technique

    Where to start & how to practice

  • Catcher's communication

    Catcher’s have to learn to do this correctly, it’s best to start at an early age.

  • Calling a game

    A simple way to learning to call a game.

  • Common flaw reference guide

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  • Verbal cues

    This is an Feature List Item that is part of an Feature List. Notice the connector between the three graphics to show that they are related.

Drill Explanation


Implementation


Make sure you carve out enough time to work individually with your catchers.
The comparison between a team with a high quality catcher behind the plate and a team without, is no real comparison at all. The catcher is the only player who is truly a part of every single play. He is also the only player who can see the entire field of play. As a coach, a great catcher is the best tool to make your job easier.

The best way to teach catching: simplify
The complexity of the job of a catcher is near daunting at times to even a veteran player. There are so many minor details and nuances to learn it can and absolutely will be overwhelming to a new catcher if you allow it to. The best way to teach is to SIMPLIFY. If you can make the very basics of catching become routine with your players you will have succeeded. The following lessons are the groundwork from which catching is based.

The three stances of catching
1. Calling Pitches – feet closer than shoulder width, up on the balls of the feet, glove rests on top of the left knee as an additional screen from potential sign stealing third base coaches. This stance is the only one of the three that allows us to have our feet close together, and zero weight back on the heels of our feet. Because this is not a true ready position, this is the least significant of the three. Try to stress being balanced and comfortable here but the majority of stress should be placed on the other two stances. Giving signs – make the players think of their knees as a projector shining light wherever they direct. With the knees wide your signs will project throughout the entire field. You only need to have your knees separated enough to project the signs to the pitcher. Think 12″ apart and go from there. The best opportunity for teams to steal signs directly from a catcher is generally the first base coach able to peek inside the right knee of the catcher. Close them up until the “projector” only shines its’ light on the pitcher. The second best potential is when young catcher’s place their signs too low towards the ground. Players should clench a fist and place their hand tight to their cup. Using the cup as a reference point it is important to try and hold the hand at a steady level while going through their sign or series of signs. The transition from calling pitches to preparing for the pitch simply comes from a JAB STEP in the correct direction. The correct direction meaning whichever side of the plate (or middle) that the catcher called the pitch to (ie fastball to the right side of the plate, right foot jab steps into position).

2. Receiving/No Runners on base – starting with the jab step in the proper direction. Following the jab step, it is important to stress an equal distribution of weight through both legs. The vast majority of players, young or old, tend to favor one side. Not only will this eventually lead to an imbalance in strength and stress on the knees, but it will cause additional movement and ‘noise’ in the player’s receiving. Because we do not need to be prepared to block or throw from this position, the player should have their weight shifted throughout the entirety of the feet. Unlike in the sign calling position, the players heels should be rested on the ground allowing them to sink their butt nice and low while keeping their chest upright, directed towards the pitcher. If all of the weight is placed too far towards the balls of the feet the player’s weight will drift forward causing them to want to lean/fall forward. Balance is key. It is important to stress comfort and relaxation. This is a position that should be able to be held for a long length of time if needed. When done properly, the player should not fatigue or labor when waiting for the pitch to be delivered. Last keynote is the throwing hand. Think safety. The right heel is fairly safe to rest behind however the best combination of safety and speed will be ‘playing with the back right pocket’. Placing the thumb just on the seam of the right pocket will ensure that the throwing hand is safe but it is also very quickly accessible when needed.

3. Ready Position – Used anytime a catcher needs to be ready to spring into action (ex. with any men on base, 2 strikes or 3 balls). This is our blocking and throwing position. Once again, it begins with the jab step. The jab step should be slightly further than when going into the typical receiving position. The jab step should take the inside of your feet just outside of shoulder width. A good key to use is if the player can jump as high as they can from that position they are in good shape. It is important here to stress the fact that the butt should still be low enough to allow the chest to remain facing the pitcher. What tends to happen is players lift their butt higher than necessary thus forcing the chest down towards the ground, causing the back to a position almost parallel with the ground. This causes many issues including a strained line of sight for the catcher, the appearance of a much smaller target for the pitcher and a ton of added motion to all of the processes of receiving, blocking and throwing. Once again it is important to have an equal distribution of weight in the legs. Imbalances will cause a player to be dominant blocking/moving in one direction but weak to the other. The throwing hand should be palm facing the ground with a loose fist behind the glove. The top knuckles of the throwing hand will rest lightly against the back of the pocket of the glove. This will allow for a much quicker transfer as well as an easier transition into the blocking position.

Basic principles of receiving
Proper receiving is the king of catching. Even if your catcher has below average arm strength and may struggle to block, a great receiving catcher is still serviceable. Proper receiving is critical to ensure that an already faulty umpire will do his best job calling strikes when they are thrown. One crucial concept: young players tend to want to over rotate their glove hand while catching, forcing the elbow high into a weak position. The key to a strong glove hand is trying to keep the glove side elbow below the glove. The second the elbow raises above the level of the glove – we are no longer able to sustain the impact of the ball in the glove without a big give. Often due to gravity; that give is the classic limp glove hand that touches the dirt on the pitch that everyone is used to seeing. However if the elbow stays below the glove hand, it should be much easier to anticipate the force of the baseball and properly stick the ball at it’s finishing location.

Just think of how you would catch a basketball thrown at you. If you keep your elbows below the ball in a strong position you can give with the ball a bit and catch it in front of the body. On the other end of the spectrum, if you were to flair your elbows all the way out and try to catch the same basketball chances are the force would be too much to muscle, your hands would give with the ball and you would likely catch it in the face. The main factor to assist us in keeping the elbow low is with the glove side thumb.

Imagine the left thumb is the hour hand on a manual clock. From left of center on the body the strongest point will be with the thumb directed straight towards the sky in the 12:00 position.

As the glove tracks across the body to the right side of the plate the thumb should go no lower than directing at what would be the 3:00 position.

The second the thumb goes past the 3 o’clock position, to say 4 or 5 for example, the elbow will immediately track higher than the glove, thus creating a weak receiving position. Allowing the thumb to dip below the 3 o’clock position also places the thumb in a very vulnerable position which is where players will generally get “thumbed” by the pitch.

Regarding the body, the quieter and less movement the better. It is important to stress that the slightest amount of movement possible will be the best. Added movement and noise from the catcher’s body will simply translate as missed location and confusion to an umpire. Players should be soft and still and allow the glove to do the majority of the work.

Catcher’s throwing footwork
Once again we are thinking simplicity. The terminology for the footwork will be as simple as possible: 1, 2, 3. The first step is always with the right foot, directed towards the line of the incoming baseball – this is 1. It is important to stress the ‘gaining of ground’. The first step takes you in the direction of the target, ensuring that you will ‘gain ground’ in the proper direction creating momentum to assist the baseball. This is short and quick, the faster the right foot touches down, the faster the rest will follow.

The second step (2) is the left foot tracking forward, right in line with the back foot. The players feet should be as close to square as possible. A wide open stance will create a large tail in the flight of the baseball and a closed stance will result in your player fighting to throw across his body. Both misalignments will create serious accuracy issues as well.

Number 3 is simply the follow through of the right foot. The main issues with the follow through generally revolve around the player’s shift in weight falling too far to either side. Continue to stress the fact that all of the momentum and follow through should carry straight through – towards the target once again. The momentum generated from ‘gaining ground’ should transfer directly in line with the target (think of the pitcher’s follow through to home plate). The tendency of younger players will generally be to stand up straight when going through the footwork. Continue to stress staying low.

Staying low to the ground will no only reinforce receiving the baseball low enough for a strike to be called but it will also activate the muscles in the lower half and core where the majority of our throwing strength resides. The flight of the baseball is the same. The thought should be ‘low and hard’ – as opposed to trying to fly the ball in the air the entire way to the base. The fastest and easiest throw for a middle infielder to handle and apply a tag with will always be one, long hop into the tag zone. A throw that six hops the base on line still gives you a chance at a play. A ball sailed upward into the sky will be slower, more challenging to handle and potential to find its’ way into the outfield allowing the runner to advance an additional base. This is even more important on a turf field. Anytime you have a nice flat surface like turf creates, challenge your players to long hop the base.

Basic blocking technique
Every free base allowed by missed blocks simply furthers the other teams ability to score. Even more important is the fact that we need our pitching staff to be comfortable throwing the baseball from the catcher’s knee-line, down. Pitches over the plate but low in the dirt will draw a lot of swing and misses, extremely useful only if our catchers are able to block.

One of the biggest keys is anticipation. Very rarely will a player block a baseball if he is not anticipating the chance that they may have to block. All off-speed should be anticipated as a potential block. It is much harder to block fastballs than off-speed pitches mainly because it is not a natural tendency to anticipate a fast ball in the dirt unless it is called specifically. Pitcher’s tendencies should be a large factor in a blocking mindset as well. Try to start to compile a brain trust of pitcher’s misses and bad tendencies. Some pitcher’s miss up everytime with their fastball while another may bury it in the dirt. Knowing these regularities will aid in a players anticipation ten fold.

From the ready position, the first thing to activate when a catcher blocks is the hands. Always stress lead with the hands.

As the glove turns over into position, the throwing hand (which is already behind the glove) flips to an underhand position directly behind the glove. Both hands move together into the line of the incoming pitch, creating a blockade for the hole created between the legs of a catcher. If the player leads with his hands properly the knees and body will simply follow the hands into the blocking position.

The thought should still be light and quiet, trying to be soft in our approach to the baseball. It may seem impossible to drop to your knees and block a ball with your chest in a ‘soft’ demeanor but the softer it is the more forgiving the blocking process will be. In the blocking position the knees should be good and wide providing balance. There should be a slight lean out over top of the baseball thus directing the ball downward towards the ground in front of the catcher. It is important to not try and be too far ‘over top’ of the baseball. Many young catchers try to get such an extreme angle that they turn themselves into a much smaller target. One of the keys to blocking is utilizing a large surface area. This surface area is the wall you create with your mask, chest, forearms, glove and the rest of the body. The larger the surface area created, the better the chance that a baseball will be blocked properly.

The players eyes should follow the baseball the entire way – out of the hand, in flight, into the dirt, into the body. If this is done properly the players eyes will follow the ball all they way into their blocking surface thus ensuring that the players’ chin will finish down, into their collar bone. This ensures that the potential of being hit in the throat is minimized.

The Reasoning


Something to Remember
Not every player is cut out to be a catcher. It is a down right dirty, rough and tough job behind the plate. It is extremely important as a coach to be able to identify whether or not a player is cut out to be a catcher. He must have many attributes which simply do not come standard with many players. For starters: shoot for one of your best athletes, and best work ethics. Leading by example is a massive part to being able to influence your team in the winning direction. Lazy, timid, shy, scared types are not the right fit. The catching position is also the most contagious position. With all eyes on the catcher for every single pitch it is alternatively shocking the negative effect the wrong player will have on his team. Instead of leading by example the contagion will hit your players and pitcher like a ton of bricks. Find a good talent with a good attitude and try them out. You cannot have enough catchers.

Catcher’s communication
The catcher is the only player who has the entire field of play in view. Because of this, they are the only player who has a clear view of every play and moving part in an action packed field. Having a vocal catcher who is able to assist his team in decision making will diminish much of the uncertainty and self conscious play associated with young fielders.

Stress the idea that a catcher is communicating with his team on every single play. The second a catcher stands quiet behind the plate, uncertainty arises and gives a very good opportunity for errors both physical and mental. When calling which base the ball should be thrown to we want a clean, concise voice directing our fielders. The best and simplest practice to use with a catcher is referring to the base three times, with only the number (ie 1, 1, 1; 2, 2, 2; 3, 3, 3 etc.). This communication is the best way to avoid any confusion and misunderstanding when hearing the catchers voice. On cut off situations it is the same terminology. If you want a cut off to be utilized with a throw to the base it is still simply the number three times. If nothing is said, the cut off man should allow the baseball to go through to the base unimpeded. Many kids tend to use the terms ‘Cut’ or ‘Relay’ in series with the base number. This simply adds uncertainty and confusion to both the catcher’s mind as well as additional unneeded noise for the cutoff man who is trying to approach, handle and quickly transfer the baseball while listening to a catchers’ commands. Every single play calls for a catcher to communicate. Whether it be a ground ball, fly ball, foul ball etc, etc. Stress the importance of communication. Use the idea that every other player is blind – without the catchers’ direction they have no real idea of where the play should be directed. The more communication the better. Loud, clear, confident catchers lead. Quiet, self conscious catchers will transfer that uncertainty into their players.

Calling a game
The throwing hand should be clenched in a fist and placed TIGHT to the catcher’s cup (make them wear a cup please). The fingers create the signs from the same position tight to the cup. Confusion will arise if there is too much movement in the throwing hand. Still and clear signs ensure the proper pitch will be thrown. Regarding numbers: obviously younger players have a much smaller arsenal of pitches but the tradition should be 1 – fastball, 2 – curveball/breaking pitch, 3 – slider/secondary breaking pitch, 4 wiggled – changeup. These will vary pitcher to pitcher but it is important to establish the same signs for all of your pitchers to avoid confusion. Following the sign the catcher should jab step into position according to the desired location of the pitch.

THE MASKS STRENGTH
The last note extremely important for young catchers is the concept of a catching mask’s strength. Many players will tend to turn their head out of instinct when the ball is approaching them. Catcher’s masks, whether hockey style or skull-cap and mask are made to take impact straight on. When hit from the side (which will happen if the head is turned) it will be much more likely to be hurt by the pitch exposing not only the weak spots of the mask but also exposing the catcher’s throat as well. The last key to blocking is CONFIDENCE. Try and stress the importance of being confident in yourself as a catcher. The mindset should be “try and get the ball past me”.

REFERENCE PICTURES

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Verbal Cues


PROJECTOR – referring to the space between the knees that acts like a projector light – you only want your pitcher to be able to see that light

JAB STEP – the short transition step a catcher takes with either foot to go from their calling pitches stance to their receiving stance

PLAYING WITH THE BACK POCKET – placement of the throwing hand thumb on the seam of the right pocket will ensure that the throwing hand is safe but it is also very quickly accessible when needed

12 O’CLOCK TO 3 O’CLOCK (RECEIVING) – referring to the placement of the thumb when receiving from the view of the catcher

GOING NEGATIVE (RECEIVING) – referring to the thumb going anywhere below 3 o’clock when receiving. We never want to go negative if the pitch is a strike

GETTING THUMBED – an injury that occurs from going negative

GAIN GROUND – referring to the first step when throwing runners out. We need catchers to gain ground toward the incoming baseball

LOW AND HARD – referring to the flight of the throw from a catcher, we never want the throw to be loopy or sailed. It’s always better to be low and try to long hop it to fielder trying to apply the tag

LONG HOP – a long hop is a hop that has already reached it’s apex and is coming down towards the fielder trying to receive the throw. The opposite of this is the in-between hop that fielders often make errors on

TAG ZONE – referring to the are on the side of the base that the runner is sliding into approximately from the fielders waist down to the ground

LEAD WITH THE HANDS – referring to how a catcher to initiate movement when trying to block a ball

TOO FAR OVER TOP – referring to the catchers posture when in the blocking position. If the catcher is too far over top then their body’s surface area will decrease making them less effective when blocking

Verbal Cues Printable PDF