I read a ton of baseball articles every week on a wide range of topics. On the RIBBE, I want to provide a comprehensive resource for players, coaches, and families to learn about games, events, tournaments as well as pitching, fielding, and hitting instruction.
I recently found an article on ESPN’s website regarding the professional baseball player’s response(s) to hitting against the shift. You can access that article here and make your own opinions about their answers – MLB Story on ESPN.
I have met some great Rhode Island resources this year for coaching youth baseball and one is Ken Ryan Express Coach Jason Harvey. KR Express will be holding AAU tryouts on August 11th and 12th in Pawtucket. More about that later in the article. I asked Coach Harvey about beating the shift.. Do we start at the youth level and teach kids how to hit “properly” or with power to the opposite field? Is it asking too much of a youth baseball player to recognize an off speed pitch as early as 8, 9, 10 so they can stay back and drive the ball where they “aint?” Here is an excerpt of his response:
Hitting, just like pitching, can be extremely complex. Teaching youth players how to hit is an essential piece of their foundation. Youth players should be taught how to get set in the box so that their brain and body can react when the pitch is thrown. The repetition of just what to do when you step in the box before the pitch is released is an extremely important component to hitting that can set a player up for success or leave them no shot before the pitcher even throws the ball. Once they know how to stand at a proper distance from the plate, how far back in the box, where to position the hands, and how to distribute their weight, they can start to learn how to load the back leg to prepare for the ball to be delivered. As the ball is delivered, the player then should be taught how to separate their hands from their front foot using their torso while keeping their weight back on the inside of the rear foot. As they decide to swing, the weight is suddenly shifted to the inside of the front foot and the hips should rotate before the shoulders and hands ever move. This creates torque through the torso and loads up all the energy that will be released into the hands. The shoulders and hands are then the last to react and carry the bat through the zone in an upper cut that is at least equal to the downward path of the ball. The player also must train to keep his or her head as stationary as possible at the point of contact while the hips and then shoulders rotate as fast as possible beneath it. Notice that I never mentioned to throw the hands. The legs and torso initiate and generate the movement. The arms and hands follow the path created by the body, so they just have to adjust slightly to make contact with the baseball. The player should then finish the swing right through the baseball for optimal transfer of force. Even if they miss hit the ball, they should have transferred enough force to drive it to the outfield. Even with a USA bat.
I mention some of the mechanics because each of the aspects of hitting can be taught to set the player up. The player then has to generate timing. Sometimes the timing is the hardest piece to keep consistent. They may look great in the cage but are having difficult transferring it to the game. This often is related to timing. When a player has great timing, they are usually on fire. Everything they hit is hit hard. When the player develops good timing, they should be taught how to elevate the baseball. Elevating the baseball is the one way to beat any shift. Players can be taught how to elevate the ball from a young age.
The big question becomes, “how do I teach a 10-year-old to elevate the baseball”? You do it with intention. You give the player the simple cue to elevate the baseball. Then you pitch a live BP, every time the player elevates the baseball you praise and encourage it. Every time they hit it on the ground you point out how that was not the right swing path and contact point on the baseball. Encourage the player to hit a deep fly into the gaps. If the ball is middle in, have them elevate it down the left field line or left center gap. If the ball is away, have them elevate it to the right center gap. Praise when they do it right and let them know when it it’s not. The player will quickly adjust their swing plane to intentionally achieve the goal. If you have the opportunity to video the swing, you could show the player the difference between what it looks like to elevate the ball and what it looks like when they don’t elevate the ball. When the players elevate the ball, it wouldn’t matter if all the infielders were standing together holding hands like a soccer team trying to block a penalty kick, the ball would travel over their head into a pasture of grass that only three kids are trying to patrol. The odds are greater that the player will have more long-term success if they routinely elevate the baseball into the outfield. This intentional practice should start as young as possible.
I also believe that if the player learns to hit the ball out in front of the plate with the intention to elevate the baseball, they will have more opportunities for success. Even when they are behind on the pitch, the bat will travel in an upper cut path along the same plane of the baseball so that they will be able to make contact deeper in the zone and drive it up the middle or opposite field sometimes on a mis-hit. Generating a great routine when you get in the box will help get your player setup for success when they decide to explode on the ball with intention.
KR EXPRESS AAU tryouts are:
Saturday, August 11th:
9 and 10: 9:30-12 at Slater Park Complex – Pawtucket
11 and 12: 12:45-3 at Hank Soar Complex – Pawtucket
Sunday, August 12th:
13 – 15: McConnen Field – Pawtucket
For more information, go to www.krbaseball.com.