Catchers are the most active player on any team. Catchers have responsibilities that range from catching every pitch, to throwing out base runners, to directing traffic. Learning how to catch is no small task, but all catchers need to learn and practice some basic fundamentals. What are the fundamentals of being a catcher in baseball?
The fundamentals of being a catcher include being able to catch and frame a pitch, blocking pitches, throwing out base runners, signaling pitches, leadership skills, and backing up first base. Catchers must always be mentally prepared as they are involved in every play.
Catchers are a rare breed who can shoulder the bulk of a team’s responsibility without the glory. They have to be incredibly strong in the legs and arms, being able to spend extended lengths of time crouched low and then explode in an instant. On top of all that, they have to develop a practically telepathic relationship with the pitcher. Let’s dive into the 6 fundamentals of being a catcher.
This article is one part of a guide on baseball fundamentals. Read my complete guide on breaking down every baseball fundamental for every position.
6 Fundamentals Of Being A Catcher In Baseball
Catchers can make or break a team. An otherwise excellent team will have their defense fall apart if their catcher can’t block pitches or stay focused. Even a brilliant pitcher can be destroyed if working with a mediocre catcher. The catcher position is a position that requires core fundamentals both physically and mentally.
1) Catching & Framing Pitches
It’s all there in the position’s name: a catcher catches the pitch. Crouched low, the mitt is extended, giving the pitcher a target. Once the pitch is delivered, it’s the responsibility of the catcher to catch the pitch and throw it back.
Catching a baseball is a large part of a catcher’s responsibilities so make sure you know the 7 fundamentals of catching a baseball.
Any pitch that is off the mark must still be caught. If the pitch just misses the strike zone, good catchers know how to maneuver their glove after catching the pitch to make it look like the pitch was a strike. This slight movement of the glove after the catch is known as framing the pitch.
2) Blocking Pitches in the Dirt
Catchers need to stop a ball from getting past them, no matter how wild the pitch. Sometimes this requires leapfrogging to the side to ensure you get in front of the ball. Once in front of the ball, catchers need to get both knees on the ground to block the ball from getting past.
The good news is that catchers wear a lot of gear so the ball doesn’t hurt when it bounces into their chest. Blocking pitches in the dirt is a similar process for all catchers:
- Get in front of the ball, no matter where it is
- Both knees drop to the ground
- Head drops, so the chin is tucked into the chest protector
- Eyes stay on the ball
- Mitt stays low, between the legs
- Catcher leans forward to act as a wall in the event a ball bounces
3) Throwing Out Base Runners
Catchers need to be able to throw accurately to second or third base while starting from a crouched position. While Major League catchers can perform the throw from their knees, it’s generally recommended to make the throw from your feet.
Performing the throw takes a powerful arm along with quick footwork so catchers need to practice both on a regular basis. Make sure you’re familiar with the 3 fundamentals of throwing a baseball.
Once the catcher notices the runner trying to steal, they need to catch the pitch, quickly pop up, and throw the ball. Catchers do not have time to get a running start so they’ll also need a strong and accurate arm to make the throw.
4) Signaling Pitches
Catchers need to know what pitches the pitcher will be throwing, otherwise, catchers would just be guessing and they would be unprepared for whatever was coming at them. Because catchers and pitchers need to be on the same page, catchers are responsible for signaling the next pitch to the pitcher.
Catchers signal the next pitch by placing their free hand in between their legs, hidden from other players, and pointing to the ground with their fingers. Each pitcher and catcher can come up with what signals mean what pitch, but most pitchers and catchers have the same idea. One finger means fastball, two fingers means curveball, and three fingers mean a changeup.
5) Leadership & Directing Plays
A catcher is the leader of the infield. This massive responsibility requires catchers to be knowledgeable about every situation that could occur.
When a runner is on base, catchers will give signals to the infield, similar to how a third base coach gives signals to a hitter. These predetermined signals tell the infield how they’ll play the bunt or how they’ll handle a stolen base attempt.
In addition to giving signals to the infield, catchers also need to shout to their infielders where they will throw the ball as the throw is coming in from the outfield. Catchers have a complete view of the play and the base runners, so they are in the best position to tell their teammates where to throw the ball.
Another leadership skill catchers need is the ability to go to the mound whenever their pitcher needs a small break or needs encouragement after a rough play. Some leagues have a limit on the number of mound visits a team receives so catchers must also be aware of how many mound visits they have remaining.
6) Sometimes Backing Up First Base
First base may seem like a long way to run for a catcher, but catchers are in the best position to back up the first baseman in case of a passed ball. But a catcher shouldn’t back up first base every time. When should a catcher backup first base?
Catchers should back up first base when there are no runners on base, when there is only a runner on first base, or when there is a runner on third base and two outs. In any other scenario, catchers should remain at the plate in case the ball is thrown to them.
Backing up first base may seem like a chore to some catchers because of how far it is, but catchers who are backing up the first baseman on a bad throw will be getting a lot of praise from the team for hustling and for keeping the runner from advancing.
Catchers have one of the toughest positions in baseball, as it’s one position that is involved in every play, both mentally and physically. The athletic skill has to be matched with an incredibly heavy leadership position, as well as incredible knowledge about baseball strategy. It is a position that, when done well, makes the pitcher and the rest of the team look great.
Looking for drills to practice your fundamentals as a catcher? Learn about these top drills for youth catchers that cover everything from blocking drills, to receiving drills, to throwing drills.