The most important skill a catcher needs is to be a skilled receiver. I was working a camp with Landon Powell and he told the kids he catches 100–125 pitches a game and he only has to throw maybe once or twice a game. Makes sense!
Tell your catchers to keep their nose behind the ball! It forces them to look the ball into the mitt and catch the ball within their body. Most umpires are more likely to give you the call if the ball is received this way. You also want to be strong and “stick” the ball where you receive it. Do not jerk balls into the zone! You want to get 3–4 inches off each corner of the plate and at the top and bottom of the zone. If the ball is obviously out of the zone catch it and throw it back to the pitcher!Hand position: 1) Inside pitch–Thumb up and glove inside the elbow. 2) Outside pitch–Thumb down. 3) Low pitch–Don’t turn the mitt over unless you have to in order to catch the ball. You usually will not get a call if the mitt is turned over. 4) High pitch–Thumb parallel to the ground. Always catch, the outside of the ball and slightly roll your wrist when you receive the ball. Stick the pitch when you receive it and have quiet movement. Good catchers are like chefs, presentation is everything!
Drills:Receiving drills should be done everyday. On all drills, work all pitches and emphasize keeping the nose behind the ball and see it into the hand or mitt. Also try to emulate game speed. Partners are very important. Make each other better. Do not brother-in-law in these drills. Also work primary and secondary stances in drills.
1. Whiffle balls without glove–partner should be about 20 feet away and work all pitches. Partners should put some velocity behind the ball. Catchers should try to catch the ball with their index finger, middle finger and thumb.
2. Baseballs with glove–stand about 30 feet away and work tough pitches.
3. Receive from pitching machine if available. I like to use the Iron Mike and have the catchers move closer to the machine with each new set. Adjust the catcher’s position to work on trouble pitches.4. Bullpens–Very important time because you learn your pitchers and develop a relationship with them. Also, listen to the instruction the pitching coach is giving the pitcher so the catcher will know what corrections the pitcher needs to make during games.
Make catchers accountable for passed balls!
As long as my catchers do a good job in games, we will only block two to three times per week. I use Incrediballs unless they give me reason to test their courage. If I am not pleased with their effort then I will throw to them and find out who wants to keep the ball from getting behind them. Blocking is generally “want to.” They either want to keep the ball in front of them or they don’t.
1. Get your throwing hand behind the glove. This serves to protect the hand and also turns your shoulders in so the ball stays in front of you.
2. Do not catch the ball! Most catchers revert back to their infield days and will not leave the glove on the ground.
3. Recognize your pitchers spin so you will know how the ball will react when it hits the dirt.
4. Drive your shoulders up the lines on balls to the left and right so the ball will funnel back toward the plate after you block it.
5. When working breaking balls, let them know it is coming. They will have this information in the game. Also work different breaking balls. Balls react differently depending on the type of rotation.
1. Hand/Glove Drill–A drill I do to work on getting the throwing hand behind the glove. When I move my hands they move theirs and get in the appropriate hand position.
2. Dry blocking–I point down, right, or left and the catchers all move in the appropriate direction and show proper blocking technique.
3. Blocking–Partner should be 40–45 feet away. This is important because you need to make it as game-like as possible. If you get too close then they do not have time to read the angle of the ball.
4. Block and recover–Work on retrieving the ball after blocking and get into position to throw a runner moving up a base.
5. Combination drill–Work receiving and blocking in the same drill so catchers have to recognize the angle of the pitch and react accordingly. Hands down the best drill!
6. Bullpens–They should not block all balls in the bullpen. Tell them for the next ten pitches I want you to block every ball in the dirt. If there are none, then go the next ten. You do not want to beat them up, but they need to block balls at game speed and they need to build the confidence of the pitchers that they can work low and know the ball will not be at the backstop.
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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