By: Brian Hucks-January 10, 2007
There are two things that I believe in reference to the catching position: 1) You cannot win a championship without an outstanding catcher and 2) Outstanding catchers are born, not developed. With that being said, I do believe you can develop a very good high school catcher with the correct information and the right coach.
As high school coaches, we are not afforded the luxury of being able to recruit to fill needs. One of the best pieces of advice I received as a coach came from Coach Steve Boyd in my first year in the profession working as the receiver’s coach at York High School. I was, as most young coaches do, complaining about several players that we were going to war with. Coach Boyd looked me square in the eyes and said, “They are ours, and they are all we have!” I never forgot those words and understood that it is my job to get those players ready to play and contribute! It is our job to take what we have and get those players prepared to play.
The problem we face as high school coaches is that most are limited with regards to the number of coaches we have, and most have never been a catcher. Therefore, most do not know how to develop that position. That is no excuse, however, for you to send your catchers to the bullpen and tell them to block 100 balls and receive 100 balls without supervision. You would not send your infielders out and tell tem to field 100 ground balls while you are working with the catchers!
In this article I will outline what I look for in a catcher, and the drills that will develop a good catcher.
What to look for in a catcher
1. Most important-Baseball IQ. Your catcher is involved in more aspects of the game than any other player on the field. They are responsible for directing traffic, communicating which base to throw to on bunts, lining up cut-off men, communicating which base to throw to on balls in the outfield, talking to pitchers to save your visits, serving as psychologists (because we all know pitchers are head cases), letting the coaches know when the pitcher is out of gas, developing a relationship with the umpire so we may get a few calls later in the game, etc. If your catcher does not understand the game, then he needs to be moved to another position!
2. Athleticism-The days of the big kid playing catcher are over. Catchers do not need to be fast, but they better have great feet. Our catchers will jump rope everyday to improve their feet.
3. Toughness-It takes a special person to be a catcher. Most do not have the “want to” to do what it takes to be a great catcher. It is no fun for most to strap on the gear on those 100-degree days in Columbia. For the good ones it is a badge of honor.
4. “IT” factor-Your catcher must have the “IT” factor. You can’t describe it, but you know if someone has it. I have had catchers that were text book in drills, but during games in key situations there would be a passed ball, or they would try to pick a ball in the dirt instead of blocking it.
5. Great Hands-Good catchers must be great receivers. They make borderline pitches appear to be strikes. A good catcher can get 10-15 calls a game based on how they receive the ball. Conversely, a bad receiver will lose that many calls!
- Great catchers are “make up” guys. They have the intangibles that separate the average players from the great players.
- They also are among the most respected players on the team.
- Several years ago I moved my shortstop to catcher because he had those intangibles and this year I may move my third baseman. That is how important the catching position is!
Philosophy: Find time in practice to have a coach work with your catchers. It is a priority! Don’t send them to the pen to work while you work with the infielders and your other coach works with the outfielders. Bring them in early! I have had to do this many years when I was short staffed! If practice starts at 4:00, make your catchers be there at 3:40 so they can get their work in. Then use them to hit fungos while you are working with the infielders, or let them get some extra swings in the cages because I know you pull them out of the cages to catch pens! You know who you are!
Blocking-They don’t need to get beaten up everyday to prove how tough they are. We block Incrediballs. Don’t use the balls that you have had for 10 years and have been out in the rain and dry rotted! If you can’t afford Incrediballs, talk to your tennis coach and get the tennis balls they throw out! I have about 500 tennis balls that were going to be thrown out!
By far the most poorly coached aspect I see in most high school catchers. I am hesitant to share this because I gain such an advantage from catchers who do not do this well. This is first thing I do with my catchers every year regardless of how many years they have caught for me. There are three stances:
Signal Stance–Very few teach this and I have stolen more signs from catchers because they are lazy or poorly coached!
1) Point your left knee to the SS and your right knee to 2B.
2) Lay your glove on the outside of your left knee and relax it.
3) Chest up–Prevents shadows and allows the proper hand position.
4) Hand position–Give signals directly in front of your cup.
5) Tuck the forearm of your signal hand into your waist so you do not move your elbow when you signal 3 or 4! Also give location without moving your elbow!
6) Square your shoulders and legs to the pitcher. I can’t tell you how many catchers turn to the dugout to get signs and do not square back up to the pitcher when they give signals.
Pet Peeve: Communicate with your pitcher what sequence you will use when a runner gets on second before the game!
Primary Stance–To be used whenever there is nobody on base and less than two strikes on the hitter. Feet shoulder width and feet pigeon toed. Your heels should be on the ground. Knees as close together as you feel comfortable. Rear end is low and your body is square to the pitcher.
Secondary Stance–To be used when runners are on base and any time there is two strikes on the hitter. A lot of catchers rise up in their stance when a breaking ball is coming with two strikes, but will sit down low whenever a fastball is coming. Most coaches will pick up on that. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, but toes will be pointed forward. Upper legs should be parallel to the ground and chest should be over legs with throwing hand behind the glove.
- If the pitcher is throwing to their glove side corner, then the catchers inside knee should be in line with the corner of the plate. This will have their body off the plate, but the ball will cross the corner. If the catcher sets up with his feet splitting the corner, the ball will catch too much of the plate.
- If the pitcher is throwing to the arm side corner, then the catcher should set up with his feet splitting the corner.
- One of the biggest mistakes catchers make is setting up too deep. You lose the low strike when you set up too deep.
- The problem is there is not a definitive rule to use. I have been told you should be able to reach out and touch the back knee of the batter. I can tell you from experience that if the hitter has a long swing or is a spin hitter that may be too close. You learn through experience the depth to set up.
- If you are receiving an inside pitch, you need to set up deeper because you are obviously closer to the hitter.
- Conversely, if you are receiving a pitch away from the hitter you can move slightly closer.
About the author: Brian Hucks is entering his eighth season as the head baseball coach at Brookland-Cayce. He is a 1991 graduate of Lexington High School. Hucks attended the University of South Carolina after stops at Anderson Junior College and Campbell University. He was a three-year letterman in baseball at USC as well as a tri-captain his senior year. Hucks graduated from USC in 1996 with a B.S. degree in physical education. He was drafted in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Cincinnati Reds where he played in the minor league system through 1997. He has one State Championship (2000) under his belt and is well-respected in his profession.
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