Let’s face it. There isn’t a more important defensive position in baseball than the catcher. Catchers decide what pitches the pitcher should throw and calls out defensive positions for infielders. Learning all the jobs a catcher has on the field can be challenging for younger players. What drills can young players run to get better at being a catcher?
Baseball drills for young catchers can be grueling and will usually take more nerve than other positions. Some of the drills can be downright painful. Learning how to be a catcher will take time and serious effort to master everything a catcher needs to know. Don’t let it get you down! Read on and learn all the drills you need to know to be an excellent catcher.
- Youth Catcher Drills
- Blocking Drills for Stopping Wild Pitches and Foul Balls
- Drills for Receiving the Baseball From the Pitcher
- Framing Drills for Youth Catchers
- Throwing Drills for Youth Catchers
- Fielding Drills for the Youth Catcher
Youth Catcher Drills
Like any other sport, a foundation of the position and its basic moves should be the place to begin when working with young baseball catchers. There are lots to learn, and it’s best to have catchers jump right in and get to work. The basic movements that youth catchers must start to work on are:
- Blocking Drills
- Receiving Drills
- Framing Drills
- Throwing Drills
- Fielding Drills
Each of these movements is a crucial thing that a catcher must learn and perform at any moment. The drills teach the catcher what they are supposed to do in the wealth of defensive situations in every game. Not only will a catcher have to think fast, but act fast as well. It is a good idea to take the drills slow and speed up for progression.
Blocking Drills for Stopping Wild Pitches and Foul Balls
The most important thing a catcher can do is block balls. If runners are on base, they could advance or even score if a ball makes it to the backstop. The catcher must create a wall with their body that makes the ball bounce back toward the field of play. This movement can be challenging if the ball is thrown towards the outside of the plate.
The best drills for learning to block wild pitches are:
- Blocking Without the Baseball
- Blocking With the Baseball
- Rapid Fire Deflection Drill
Blocking Without the Baseball
The place to start when working with younger catchers is beginning with no-contact drills. It makes them move at full speed while not being afraid of the ball hitting them or jumping away wildly. This visualization drill consists of the catcher mimicking their moves if the ball were a wild pitch. Making catchers comfortable getting up and down is going to be crucial here.
The steps to blocking without the baseball are:
- Get into catching position – Have the catcher take their normal stance behind the plate with their catcher’s gear on. You can use a moveable plate if you have several catchers to work with, but having them keep the ball in front of the plate is critical.
- Simulate the wild pitch – On your command, have the catcher begin blocking the baseball. They must create a wall with their body. Any holes or spaces that could allow the ball to sneak through must be closed.
- Place the mitt on the ground – The hole that needs to be closed first is created between the legs. A common problem is a ball lacking enough momentum to reach the plate, especially in younger pitchers. The first move should be to drop the mitt down on the ground between the knees.
- Drop to the knees – Closing up means that the catcher must get down on the ground. As the mitt goes down, the knees should go down with it. This creates a solid area between the ball and the backstop. Pay close attention to bring the knees in to meet with the catcher’s mitt’s outer edges.
- Hunch the shoulders and neck – Just making a wall between the ball and the backstop isn’t enough. The purpose is to keep the ball in the field of play. Have the player hunch the shoulders and neck so that they are looking directly down on the ground. They must be looking down at the ball with no flinching.
Repeat the process several times until they get a uniform movement with no gaps between the legs and the mitt. The shoulders and neck must be rounded and face down towards the ground. The catcher’s mask was designed to take shots off the front. Turning the head could lead to shots in the neck or unprotected parts of the jaw.
Blocking with the Baseball
While it may not sound like an upgrade from the previous exercise, this drill is going to show you who the real catchers are. A great way to ease them into this drill is to start with tennis balls. These will have more bounce and will be less intimidating. Catcher’s equipment is made to keep the player safe and avoid any unnecessary bumps and bruises – trust it to work correctly.
The steps to blocking with the baseball are:
- Take the catching position – Have the catcher get into their stance behind the plate with their catcher’s gear on. They need to act as if they will receive a pitch and not just squatting to dive toward a ball. Keeping them guessing will reinforce the lesson.
- Throw the ball a few feet in front of the catcher – The ball needs to bounce somewhere around the plate in front of the catcher. The purpose is to have them react to the wild pitch and move accordingly while creating the wall. Using different locations is something that should be done at regular intervals. Keep them guessing.
- The catcher deflects the ball – As the kids progress, they should learn to have a ‘soft body’ when deflecting the pitches. Having a ‘soft body’ when deflecting the ball as a catcher means they could have a small amount of control over where the ball will bounce. This comes with time but is the ultimate goal of blocking and deflection drills.
- Keep the face and shoulders over the ball – Keeping the face down on the ball during the deflection helps keep track of the ball and gives it a place to rebound toward the ground. As the catcher progresses, they should work to make the ball rebound into areas that make plays and throws from the plate much more manageable.
Rapid Fire Deflection Drill for Youth Catchers
Once the catcher has become adept at blocking with and without the ball, it is time to increase speed. In a game situation, speed is critical, and making the right play could mean victory or defeat. The rapid-fire drill requires a few more players but will have the catcher working on speed and accuracy.
The steps to the rapid deflection drill are:
- Take the catcher’s stance – As will be the case with most of the drills, starting in the proper position is critical. An old Army adage, ‘train as you fight,’ means that every situation should be taken as if the game is on the line. Make every drill essential to the process.
- Place three throwers around infield – Take three other players and arrange them in a wave in front of the catcher on the infield. In random turns, have them throw balls landing around the plate and forcing the catcher to deflect them back into the field of play.
- Return to starting position – As soon as the ball is defended, the catcher should move back to their stance behind the plate. The up and down of deflecting will be taxing at first, but once the player can deflect nine or ten in a row, they have it mastered.
Drills for Receiving the Baseball From the Pitcher
It doesn’t seem like one of the essential parts of being a catcher you would have to practice, but taking pitches from a live pitcher will help decrease dropped balls and allow players to practice blocking and deflecting live pitches. Receiving is catching the ball in the web of the mitt, away from the palm and fingers.
The best drills for learning to receive the pitch are:
- Three-finger Catch
- Ninja Catch
Receiving the ball is merely catching it. It has such a proper-sounding name because there is a process, even for something as simple as catching the ball. This process should be done in layers to create a finished movement that allows player safety and a possible advantage in the balls and strikes category.
The Three Finger Catch Drill for Youth Catchers
Using the catcher’s mitt is a little different from using a regular one. The outsides of the glove have extra padding, while the web is similar to an outfielder’s glove. Using the catcher’s mitt means that three fingers are needed to clamp down on the pitch when the ball lands in the web of the mitt. The three fingers used in this drill are:
- Index Finger
- Middle Finger
The steps in the three-finger catch drill are:
- Take the catcher’s stance – Have the catcher get set up behind the plate. They should have no glove and be in a toes-forward stance. Using the barehand gives the player a better feel for the ball and allows them to concentrate on closing their fingers around the ball as it enters the mitt.
- Toss tennis balls to the catcher – Lightly toss the ball to the catcher and force them to catch using only the three fingers indicated. This drill’s main trick is tracking and closing the fingers as the ball comes into the area. This level can be increased as needed to help the catcher progress.
- Grasp the ball – After the catch, hold on to the ball for a few extra seconds. The squeeze will prepare them for moving up to using the mitt. It also aids in what catchers call framing the pitch, which will come later.
- Advance as needed – This drill is so great because it can be adapted for any skill level. It starts with something soft and manageable, but smaller and odd-shaped balls can be added to test the grip.
The Ninja Receiving Drill for Youth Catchers
This drill is more about training the hand to snatch the ball out of the air. As the catcher begins to catch more pitches, their hand strength will improve, leading to “hard-hands” – a rebounding of the ball off the mitt. By relaxing before the pitch comes and snatching the ball as it nears the mitt, you work like a ninja snatching flies with a set of chopsticks.
The steps in the ninja receiving drill are:
- Stand facing the catcher – The catcher should be in their stance, and the ball should be thrown quickly and progressing towards game speed. The ball is also something that can be changed to test grip or rapid fire. The purpose is to move the hand quickly and silently, like a ninja.
- Snatch the ball – With a relaxed hand, reach out and snatch the ball as it crosses the plate. It shouldn’t be understated how much being able to perform this drill will protect the off-fingers and meat of the palm. Grasping with the outer fingers will still cause pain, but it won’t linger or hamper the rest of the player’s game.
The ninja drill is one youth catcher drill that can be done anywhere and requires only two players. It is an excellent way to warm up, and if there is a workout program, this one should be as close to the beginning as it allows. Having loose wrists and fingers will protect the hand, as much as the catcher’s hand can be protected.
Framing Drills for Youth Catchers
Another important aspect of catching is framing the pitch. A split-second after receiving the ball, the catcher can move their hand back to another position over the plate. This is known as framing the pitch because the catcher is trying to make it appear as if the pitch crossed the plate at a different location. This can also be used to make an umpire call a strike on something outside the strike zone.
The best framing drills for youth catchers are:
- The Shadow Drill
- Half-Ball Drills
- Batting Practice
These drills are a progression that builds off the other one and forms a solid routine that teaches young catchers how to frame pitches. Framing is essential for younger catchers as it will improve reflexes and give them a working knowledge of how strike zones differ from umpire to umpire. Start slow and work toward game-speed scenarios.
The Shadow Drill for Youth Catchers
One of the most straightforward drills that youth catchers can do is the shadow drill. This can be done with no ball, no mitt, and only two people. The catcher’s focus is to follow the pitch with their hand, like a shadow, as the ball moves in the pitcher’s hand. The catcher should mirror the coach or player as they mimic the flight of the ball.
The steps to the shadow drill for youth catchers are:
- Get down in the catcher’s stance – Young catchers will need to hold this position. Some coaches allow catchers to stand on one knee, but this could cause the player to be hit with a batter’s swing. Practice moving in and out of the stance to see which is most comfortable for the player.
- The other person sets up in front of the catcher – The player or coach will line up about 15 feet in front of the catcher. A lot of the time, this person will be on one knee.
- Mimic the flight pattern of the ball – The player or coach should mimic the ball’s flight coming towards the plate. They will do this by moving the ball to either side of the plate, without letting go of the ball. The catcher will move their mitt accordingly. This creates a tracing motion with the catcher’s glove. The glove should move in a smooth motion and stop moving in time with the movements of the ball in this pitcher’s hand.
Shadowing can be beneficial for young catchers because it shows them the rhythm of pitches and where they can expect the ball’s flight path to be.
The Half-Ball Drill for Youth Catchers
The half-ball drill will build off the shadowing drill by adding the elements of ball movement and tracking. The object is to snatch the ball with a bare catching hand quickly. That sounds easy enough, but add in colored surfaces on the ball for more experienced players. This element forces them to grab a specific colored half of the ball.
The steps for the half-ball drill for youth catchers are:
- Get set up behind the plate – Take the normal stance behind the plate. Remember that each time the catcher takes their stance it must be comfortable but ready to strike at a moment’s notice. The hand should also be out front and relaxed and prepared to receive the pitch.
- Toss the ball to the catcher – The ball should start with an arc for beginners and move towards what they will see in a game. If working with pitches, like a change-up, mimic the arm motions on every repetition.
- Receive the ball – Like with the ninja drill, you should move with a relaxed hand, quickly and quietly. One of the significant wrinkles for this exercise is to call the sides of a colored baseball. This forces the player to focus on an individual half of the ball. Grasping the ball by certain halves gets them ready to make throws as soon as the ball is caught.
The half-drill is where the parts begin to come together for young catchers. They learn how to receive the ball and protect their hand from serious injury. This step is a serious part of the drills because it gets them ready to catch a batting practice session.
Batting Practice Session for Youth Catchers
The only thing short of catching a game is catching a batting practice session. Batting practice is thrown at a lower speed, and only specific pitches are thrown. These pitches are determined by the coaches but usually consist of fastballs. A session gives the catcher some in-the-fire experience that could come in handy during a game.
The steps for a batting practice round for youth catchers are:
- Get down behind the plate – Take the time to remind the catcher about the other drills and how they should be getting into a comfortable but ready position. By now, they should have a working knowledge of how to catch and where the balls are likely to cross the plate.
- Throw pitches to the batter – With the batter in the box, the catcher should be ready for whichever type of pitch the batter is working on. This could be any number of pitches, but the fastball is the place to start for those who have no game experience.
- React to the pitches – The catcher should react accordingly for each pitch that comes to the plate. They should work through a few batters before changing out or taking a rest. It’s important to build up endurance with gameplay, but be careful of burnout. Too much work behind the plate could entice the player to swap positions or give up the game altogether.
The big thing before going to game speed is taking a batting practice session. It is the pinnacle of the other receiving drills. Each of the other drills link together to make the catcher ready for a game. After mastering this section, catchers should be able to participate in the game and contribute to the team as a solid starter.
Throwing Drills for Youth Catchers
Outside of the pitcher, no other player on the field throws the ball more than the catcher. When balls strike the mitt or are blocked by the catcher, they still have to be thrown back to the pitcher. The hardest part of a catcher’s job is getting into a position to make the throw. Snapping to position is going to take practice but will prove to be worth it.
The best throwing drill for youth catchers is:
- Off the Ground Drill
Learning how to scoop and throw the ball off the ground will be necessary for the catcher to master. When bunts or weak hits stay in their area, they must grab the ball and make a throw across their body in time to catch the runner.
Off the Ground Drill for Youth Catchers
The steps for the off the ground drill is:
- Place the ball in front of the catcher – Choose a spot in front of the catcher and place it on the ground. Putting it in different locations allows the catcher to take different routes and grab the ball from different angles. The catcher should start from behind the plate with a normal stance.
- Scoop the ball off the turf – On the sign of ready, the catcher should explode from behind the plate and move towards the ball. They should make a small arc and lean over to pluck the ball from the ground with their throwing hand. Make sure the catcher picks up the ball with their throwing hand and not their glove hand!
- Throw the ball to the base – With the ball in their hand, they should make a throw to whichever base is called by the coach. To make the throw, the catcher must first plant their front foot in the direction of the base – do not make the throw on the run. Throwing to each of the bases with this drill is crucial as it requires a different route for each base.
While this drill is simple in practice, the execution will take some getting used to. Making efficient throws to each base will take time, and the arm strength could be beyond some of the young catchers. Take time and work with pulling the ball from the ground. A firm grip in the correct spot leads to more accurate throws.
Fielding Drills for the Youth Catcher
When people think of catching they usually think of a catcher receiving the ball from the pitcher, but catchers have to respond to hits from the batter as well. While there may not be line drives or stiff ground balls hit in their direction, knowing how to field a pop fly and foul tips could mean extra outs and fewer runners around the bases.
The best drill for fielding with youth catchers is:
- The Pop-and-Go Drill
Drills from behind the plate and fielding are places that don’t often overlap. When coaches work with young catchers, they should stick to the pop-and-go drill as it combines all the exercises learned above and gives the athlete a leg-up on the competition.
The Pop-and-Go Drill for Youth Catchers
Pro tip: use a Jugs Soft toss machine to easily practice the pop-and-go-drill by yourself.
The steps for the pop-and-go drill are:
- The catcher takes their stance behind the plate – The stance should be low and ready to react to any play. The toes should be pointed forward, and the hips should be sat low and comfortable.
- Hit pop flies around the catcher’s area – Use the bat or throw pop flies into the air forcing the catcher to move from behind the plate and settle under the ball. Don’t force them to run into the infield. Just easy pop flies around home plate.
- Throw the mask and settle under the ball – The catcher’s helmet and mask can make it hard to spot a fly ball. So when the pop-fly is hit into the air, ensure the catcher throws off their mask and moves their feet in smooth, easy motions to settle under the ball.
Catching is a challenging part of baseball that takes time and effort to master. For youth players, the thrill of wearing the catcher’s gear is all it takes to get them excited to play the game. When working with young catchers, start with the basics and work towards game-speed situations.
Safety is extra important for young catchers so focus on appropriate stances and protect their hands by using the drills above. As catchers take more pitches, their glove hand will toughen and improve their endurance. Use the gear as it was intended and the catcher should have a game free of bumps and bruises that typically plague the position.