Playing baseball at the age of 12 is a critical age for kids – it comes as they are beginning to grow and have a firm grasp on the basics of the game. Pitching is an area that is critical for children of this age because it gives them time to specialize. What pitches should a 12-year-old throw?
12-year-olds should stick to throwing fastballs and change-ups. Throwing other pitches, like curveballs or sliders, can place unnecessary pressure on a young pitcher’s shoulder. This pressure on the shoulder has the potential to cause shoulder issues in the future.
While you do see some 12-year-olds throw breaking pitches (just watch a Little League World Series game), it’s generally accepted that fastballs and changeups are the best pitches for players to throw at this age. Although there are different types of fastballs and changeups a player can throw and we’ll cover those in the rest of this article.
These 3 Pitches Should be in a 12-Year-Old’s Arsenal
Being able to have command of two or three pitches is really all a 12-year-old pitcher needs. Batters at this age are not as advanced as batters in the pros so the pitching grips for youth baseball players will not need to be as advanced as the pros.
The main pitches a 12-year-old pitcher should learn are:
- 4-Seam fastball
- 2-Seam fastball
Learning the pitches will take time, and the player should know that practice is essential.
4-Seam Fastball for 12-Year-Olds
The four-seamer is one of the most thrown pitches in baseball. A fastball typically makes up about 90% of pitches thrown for youth baseball players. Throwing that many fastballs allows the arm to build strength and the pitch to gain velocity. Building arm strength is integral to moving forward and learning how to throw breaking pitches that involve arm torsion.
The steps to throw a four-seam fastball are:
- Grip the ball with two fingers across the horseshoe shape of the baseball. The index and middle fingers should cross four seams while the thumb rests on the smooth leather underneath. A loose grip is essential for speed.
- Throw the pitch low in the strike zone and near the corners to keep batters from making any solid contact on the baseball.
Change-Up for 12-Year-Olds
Pitching for 12-year-olds is about keeping the batter off-balance with a good fastball and a devastating change-up.
The goal of the change-up is to throw the ball with the same arm motion as a fastball, but the change-up will die at the end of its trajectory and fall away from the hitter. The drop in speed will make the batter swing wildly or connect with no power.
The steps to throw the change-up are:
- Grip the baseball with the index, middle, and ring finger while resting it on the thumb and pinkie.
- The idea is to let the ball slip from the fingers. Having a tight grip on the ball will cause it to hang and could be hit easily.
- Sell the pitch by using the same throwing motion as the fastball with the same arm speed.
- Selling the change-up is a big part of what makes it work. As it leaves the hand, it will appear to move like a fastball but will be much slower.
For a more in-depth look at throwing a change-up, check out our previous post on how to throw a three finger change up pitch.
2-Seam Fastball for 12-Year-Olds
Throwing a two-seam fastball is a great way for youth pitchers to add some variety to their pitching arsenal.
The two-seam fastball is a pitch that has more movement than the four-seam. It is gripped with the threads to give a bit of air resistance to the laces. For right-handed pitchers, the air resistance makes the pitch move slightly to the left for right-handers and slightly to the right for lefties.
The steps to throwing the two-seam fastball are:
- Grip the ball with the index and middle fingers on the baseball’s laces.
- The biggest part of throwing the 2-seam is to keep the same loose grip you use with the 4-seam. A loose grip helps create a flicking motion that could increase movement if done correctly.
- Use the same arm motion as the four-seam fastball.
- Using the same arm motion leads the pitch to fall from the middle of the plate to the edges. This amount of movement could mean the difference between an out and a wasted pitch.
Youth Pitching Strategies for Avoiding Arm Torsion
Most of the literature and blog entries out in the world place emphasis on why kids shouldn’t throw the curve and slider. Few will have a strategy for how to pitch and keep the hitter off-balance without using the curve. What’s a good strategy that youth pitchers can use to avoid arm torsion?
Simply put, a good pitching strategy for youth pitchers is to move up and down the strike zone with fastballs and retiring batters with a change-up. With that in mind, here are some strategies youth pitchers can use during any game.
- Change the batter’s eye line – A batter watches the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and determines the pitch. The grip that the pitcher uses is a dead giveaway as to what is coming. Using the fastball and change-up means you will be throwing two different pitches, but your fingers will look very similar for each pitch.
- Keep the batter off-balance – Changing speed can be devastating to a hitter. Greg Maddux was one of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game. He leaned on the change-up placed in spots all over the plate to offset his fastball, which was in the low 90s. Even though it was only a 10mph drop in speed, the change in speed was enough to wreck some of the greatest hitters of the age.
- Use pitches low in the strike zone – Another way to use the fastball and change-up is to keep the ball low in the strike zone. Balls lower in the strike zone make it harder for the hitter to generate enough power to put the ball out of play. Often balls down in the zone are weak grounders or pop flies that die in the gaps.
- Keep the fastball inside – Moving the fastball inside is another way to keep hitters from generating power. Using a few pitches away from the batter before coming back inside forces them to pull their hands inside the pitch. When this happens, the ball strikes the smallest part of the bat and dies quickly.
- Use a moving fastball – The two-seam is going to have much more movement than the four-seam. The extra wind resistance on the laces forces the pitch to move away from right-hand hitters. This movement goes inside on left-handers and mimics a slider.
The Different Types of Change-up for Youth Baseball Players
Like the fastball, a couple of different grips have a surprising effect on the baseball. Each has the same effect of creating more drag on the baseball and slowing as it leaves the hand. As it travels towards the plate, it will begin to die and fall as it reaches the catcher.
The different types of grip for the change-up are:
- Three-finger change-up – This is the grip for those with smaller hands. Place the baseball on the thumb and pinkie while closing the other fingers atop the ball. Use the same arm motion and speed as the fastball when throwing. The extra pressure on the top fingers creates the drag that causes the ball to drop as it nears the batter.
- Circle change-up – If the player has bigger hands, this pitch could work better for them. Instead of placing the index and middle finger atop the ball, you make an ‘OK’ on it with your fingers. This grip keeps the friction on the ball like the three-finger but allows for more grip. Extra grip has some nasty effects on a baseball, which can mimic a slide-change.
The four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, and change-up are all the pitches a 12-year-old will need to throw. At this critical stage in their development, throwing pitches that create torsion on the wrist and elbow can ruin their game prospects. It is a high risk for low reward and could destroy the player’s love of the game.
The change-up, if learned correctly, can be just as effective against hitters. When paired with the two and four-seam fastball, it gives the young pitcher a potent mix of pitches. Practice and patience will pay off by leaning on the fastball.