Three Ways to Prepare Your Hitters For A Bigger Field

Written By: Eric Tyler

The Youth Movement in Baseball

Baseball gets younger and younger every year. As recently as 2007, the average age of MLB position players (according to Baseball Reference) was 29.1. In 2018, that number had dropped by a full year, to 28.1.

This statement doesn’t limit itself to MLB. College scholarships are offered at younger ages than ever, despite the NCAA’s attempt to limit the school’s contact with newly minted high schoolers. The stress levels for 13-18-year-olds have never been higher when it comes to performing on the field. Before an athlete plays their first high school game they more than likely know a peer that has given a verbal commitment. 

Here is a list of the top-10 2023 grad (who haven't even played their freshman year of high school):

Youth Movement in Baseball

As you can see, six out of the top-10 are committed. This isn't' a knock on them at all. In fact, if they are talented enough to be recognized by this high magnitude of college baseball schools we should be congratulating them.

Are we REALLY Preparing our Young Players?

So how as a coach, parent, or instructor can we make sure our athletes are ready for the test. Now I don’t want you to take this article as you have to treat 6th graders like professional athletes or else they’ll never make it. But the building blocks for each athlete must be built before the test.

Everyone knows of or has trained the 12-year-old with the mustache who thinks they have it all figured out. The truth is up until the move to the bigger field, youth athletes can out-size their field of competition. However, as they begin playing on bigger fields against better competition, they now must show skill and talent to succeed. 

When dealing with teenage hitters not only does anxiety and pressure play a factor, but mentality does as well. I’m not talking about competitiveness (if you create the right environment they will compete their butt off). But the mental focus and capacity to dive into the mechanics and specific details of the swing.

We Can Fix Anything But We Can’t Fix Everything (At Once)

So what are the 3 most common mistakes made by teenage hitters and how can we solve them? How can we make sure we are preparing our hitters for what is to come, not what they are currently facing.

With that being said we have to address each of these 3 issues with the thought in mind that teenage hitters want to hit well. Whether that means thinking about 20 different things, it doesn’t matter to them. They just want to do well. We have to inform the hitter that the adjustments being made can’t be completed while attempting to complete 19 other tasks. We can only adjust one thing at a time while hitting. Avoid the mental block and keep things simple for your hitters when fixing these mistakes.

The Three Most Common Mistakes in Middle School & High School Hitters

  1. Over-Rotation Of The Swing

Why is it Bad?: 

The aggression and speed in which the hitter swung have created success for them up to this point. However, with the pitching getting better and them seeing good offspeed for the first time, but brute strength and speed no longer plays. That pure aggression has also caused some issues with the rotation in the swing. 

Generally, athletes are one side dominant (Right-handed thrower/hitter, Left-handed thrower/hitter). Meaning the glutes, obliques, abdomen and backside muscles that accelerate rotation is constantly trained and strengthened. However, to use this rotation properly, they must be able to decelerate that speed by using those same muscles on the front side of the rotation.

If the accelerator muscles are able to create more force and speed than the decelerating muscles can handle, the rotation overrotates past the desired point. Without proper deceleration, the bat drags through the hitting zone causing both slow bat speeds and poor direction in the swing. 

Drill: Closed Medicine Ball Throws

How it Helps:

This drill forces players to stop their rotation and not allow their hips to overrotate past the point of release. By showing the hitter that they can rotate successfully without rotating their hips, allows them to feel the connection between the “stopping” of the hips, and the release of force.

2. Lack of Support for the Bat at Contact (Weak Body Positions)

Why is it Bad?: 

In order for a teenage athlete, who more than likely lacks the desired strength necessary to withstand the force of contact, to not get “blown up” by the ball they must support the bat with their body. The use of side bend allows hitters to keep their hands high throughout the rotation.

The hands staying above the back arms elbow is key to the hitter supporting the barrel and having accuracy throughout the swing. For a quick experiment take a 25-lb dumbbell and hold it out in front of you with straight arms. Now hold is close to your chest and above your elbow. Which was easier?

Drill: Banded Swings (As shown in video 2 above)

How it Helps:

By using the resistance band on the hitter’s back foot and top hand, they feel the tension and desire for the band to pull their hands down. This forces hitters to pull against that band in order to support the barrel. The muscles are firing properly to keep the hitter’s hands close to their chest no matter pitch location.

3. No Control with Their Stride or Forward Move

Why is it bad?: 

The aggression and speed in which the hitter swung have created success for them up to this point. However, with the pitching getting better and them seeing good offspeed for the first time, but brute strength and speed no longer plays. That pure aggression has also caused some issues with the rotation in the swing. 

Generally, athletes are one side dominant (Right-handed thrower/hitter, Left-handed thrower/hitter). Meaning the glutes, obliques, abdomen and backside muscles that accelerate rotation is constantly trained and strengthened. However, to use this rotation properly, they must be able to decelerate that speed by using those same muscles on the front side of the rotation.

If the accelerator muscles are able to create more force and speed than the decelerating muscles can handle, the rotation overrotates past the desired point. Without proper deceleration, the bat drags through the hitting zone causing both slow bat speeds and poor direction in the swing. 

Drill: Long Stride Drill

How it Helps: 

This forces hitters to move forward more than usual, but with complete control. Making hitters move athletically while under control can lead to better vision/timing understanding. Many times hitters are forced to shorten up or simplify their stride when they need more time and rhythm. Allow the athlete to learn their rhythm and vision to better understand control and timing.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

It is important to remind the hitter while these adjustments may be tough for them right now, they are vital for their future success. Positive building blocks in the early stages of development can lead to easier adjustments later on.

Remember, stick to one thing at a time and keep things interesting/challenging for the athlete. While they might feel the pressure of a professional athlete it is important that we remember and remind them that their career is still young. One thing is for certain with teenagers, if you create an environment that encourages competition, they will compete.

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