One of the most important positions on the baseball field is the catcher. A catcher needs to be the team leader. The role of catcher is to be able to anticipate all situations before they occur and react appropriately. Catching is a very cerebral position. All beginning catchers should be made aware of the responsibilities that go along with the position. The final piece of a championship team could depend on how solid the team is behind the plate.
The objective here is to take a beginning or experienced catcher through all the steps necessary in becoming a proficient, well-rounded catcher. With this step-by-step approach you should be able to provide a complete teaching base for catchers of all ages.
The following pages describe in detail the skills needed to becoming a quality catcher. Drills are included on some of the pages.
By no means is this writing meant to be the "final" word. There is a lot more than said here regarding catching...but this is a good start. Enjoy, and let me know how you do.
- A Catcher's Stance
- Setting up for Pitches
- Giving Signs
- Framing a Pitch
- Blocking Pitches
- Throwing Footwork
- Fielding Bunts
- Plays at the Plate
A Catcher's Stance
A catcher can assume two different types of stances. One is used without runners on base and less than two strikes, and one is used with two strikes on the hitter or runners on base. For the most part, both stances have similar qualities. The major difference is preparing your body to block pitches at the appropriate times.
Without runners on base and less than two strikes on a hitter, the catcher will have their weight resting on their instep. A catcher’s center of gravity should not allow them to get caught lunging at pitches or falling forward.
The feet should be toe-to-instep with each other. For a right-handed catcher, the left foot should be slightly ahead of the right foot. Balance should be evenly distributed over both feet. This will allow you to shift in any direction without obstruction.
The mitt arm should assume a relaxed position. The fingers should be pointed up and tension free. The elbow should rest under or slightly angled away, not to the side of the hand so that the fingers are horizontal. The catchers elbow should also rest slightly outside the knee.
There are a few different positions for the throwing arm to rest without runners on base and with less than two strikes. The most important aspect is to keep it out of harms way. It can either rest behind the back or leg.
Your brain should be focused. You must maintain your intensity for the entire game. The team cannot afford to have a lapse in concentration from their catcher. Be ready for all situations that could occur.
With runners on base or with no runners on and two strikes, the catcher must make an adjustment. There is no change in weight, feet placement, and mitt arm positioning. However, there are other changes with the throwing arm and brain functions.
The throwing arm should move from behind your body to behind the mitt. Place a closed fist behind your mitt. There may be a fear that the hand will be hit by a foul ball. However, foul balls change planes. If your closed hand is behind your mitt as you attempt to catch the baseball, you will be protected. The major advantage for placing your throwing hand behind your mitt is to better facilitate a quicker mitt to hand exchange when you need to throw. If your throwing arm is placed behind your back or leg, it will take you longer to exchange the ball from your mitt to your hand and throw, as opposed to having the throwing hand right next to your mitt.
Don’t sacrifice your target. A common idea is for the catcher to raise up in their stance into a “more athletic” position. However, when you do this, you also put your mitt in a higher position. This gives a pitcher a higher target and also gives him a false sense of security. Keep the target low and be prepared to block all balls in the dirt, retrieve all balls in the dirt, throw all retrieved balls, and be prepared for any situation.
Setting Up For Pitcher's
A sure giveaway to a hitter is for a catcher to give their signs and immediately set up inside or outside. A catcher should give the sign and location for the pitch they want and move to the location as the pitcher begins his motion. An important point is for the catcher to get the mitt up and give the pitcher a target as early as possible. Again, don’t give away location too early. More so, give the pitcher a reference point to immediately focus in on.
When a catcher is setting up for a fastball to be thrown right down the middle, the catcher should cheat slightly to the backhand side. The reason for this is it is easier to move and catch an errant pitch to your mitt hand side than it is to your backhand side. Unless you are calling for a pitch up in the strike zone, your mitt should target the bottom of the zone. If the target is thigh-high and your pitcher hits the target, the ball may land 400 feet away. If the target is at the knee, the pitcher has a greater chance of success if they hit their spots.
Once the pitcher is ahead in the count, the catcher should set up for pitches differently than if the pitcher is behind in the count. If an outside pitch is called, the catcher should set up off the plate about three inches. Having command of the strike zone will increase the chances of the umpire giving you the outer half. The same holds true for the inside pitch. The only difference is that instead of setting up three inches off the plate, you only need to set up one inch off the plate. It is important to remember one of the cardinal sins of baseball; never hit the batter when you have them down in the count.
Once a pitcher falls behind in the count it takes away from some of the latitude from the umpire and the catcher. If the catcher calls for a pitch away, they need to set up on the plate. You want the pitcher to hit the outer third or the black. Again, the same holds true for the inside pitch. You don’t want to fall behind even further. Set up on the corner and give the target on the plate.
When a breaking ball is called, the catcher can still cheat slightly to the backhand side. They must again target the bottom of the zone. The glove must be at the knees. Mentally, the catcher must assume the ball will be in the dirt. Always be ready to block all balls in the dirt.
When the pitcher gets ahead in the count and a breaking ball is called, the catcher will set up on the plate and want the ball in the dirt. You want the hitter to chase the breaking ball and get himself out. Again, be ready to block all balls in the dirt and tag the runner on strike three. When the pitcher is behind in the count, the catcher should set up on the plate and target the bottom of the zone. In this case we want a breaking ball thrown for a strike. An important tip to the pitcher and the catcher: if you are going to miss, miss down and toward the location. You won’t get hurt if you miss down. However, if you miss up, bad things will happen.
An area that is commonly overlooked when teaching young catchers is sign giving. It is just assumed that a player will be able to flash a few fingers and be on his way. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have seen many catchers that are not proficient at sign giving. A small problem such as this can lead to game time problems.
A catcher should give slow, controlled finger movements. There is no need to rush. The pitcher should be able to see the signs easily and in a relaxed manner. The catcher’s hand should be placed back against the cup. The fingers should be pointing down. If the fingers are at an angle, it will be hard to see from 60 feet 6 inches away. The last thing you want to have happen is for a catcher to call a changeup and the pitcher to get confused and throw a slider.
Be sure the fingers are not placed too low. The hand should not be so low that the on-deck hitter or individuals behind the catcher can see the signs. Another area of concern is to close off both knees. The knees should be facing towards the pitcher. If the knees are open, the coaches in the coaching boxes may be able to see your signs and relay them to the hitter. There is nothing wrong with stealing signs if the catcher is doing a poor job. Close off the knees and make the hitters beat you the hard way. Also, have as little hand movement as possible. Don’t give away location of pitches with loud arm and hand movements. The key to sign giving is to be slow, deliberate, and subtle.
1.) Mirror Drill
Catcher gives signs in front of a mirror. The catcher will see what the pitcher sees. This gives the catcher an idea of how difficult or easy they are to read.
2.) Practice Setting
When catchers are working on other skills, have them go through the entire sequence of events, starting with sign giving. This gives the coach or partner an opportunity to witness and critique any problems.
Framing a Pitch
The most important aspect of framing is to frames strikes and borderline pitches. Don’t waste your time or the umpires by trying to frame balls that are not in the strike zone. Simply catch the ball and return it to your pitcher and get ready for the next pitch. By framing pitches that are not strikes, you make yourself look like a bad catcher and may make the umpires look bad. If you make the umpire look bad, he will not be anxious to help you on a borderline pitch.
One key to framing is to catch the top half, bottom half and side half of the ball. When you catch the ball, you should show the umpire the other half of the baseball. On a pitch at the top of the strike zone or on the inside or outside of the strike zone, catch the ball with your palm facing the strike zone. For pitches down in the strike zone, catch the ball as if you were “picking strawberries” with your palm down, then lifting the mitt about 3 inches after the catch. Couple that with a weight shift and you have mastered the beginning skills of framing. It is most effective if the catcher can move their body with the baseball, putting their nose directly at the ball and eyes level.
It is very important to beat the baseball to the spot of contact. By this I do not mean extend your hand and arm so far as to get hit by a swinging bat. Don’t let the ball control you. Beat the ball to the spot and stick it. Make sure you do not hold the pitch for too long. This may upset an umpire. He may think you are showing him up by holding a frame for a long time. Keep an umpire on your side. Also, don’t allow the baseball to knock your glove around. Be firm with your frame.
Your mitt arm should be tension free and relaxed. It should be fully extended when the ball is caught. Trust your eyes, the ball will come to you. As it approaches, your wrist should relax. There can be a slight mitt drop or turn in order to relax the hand. Do no allow your mitt to fall too far. A slight wrist drop is appropriate for relaxing the hand for contact.
Catcher starts out in their stance. Coach holds a ball in front of the catcher and moves it around the strike zone. The catcher follows the path of the baseball and frames the area. The catcher should work on body movement and catching the ball in halves.
2.) One knee underhand toss
Coach gets on one knee five to ten feet from the catcher. The coach will underhand toss a ball to the catcher. The catcher will work on body movement and catching the ball in halves. The benefit of this approach is that the coach is close enough that they can be more accurate with their toss and work all areas.
3.) Medium toss
Coach stands up and throws pitches to a catcher from 40-50 feet. This allows the catcher to track the ball from a longer distance. The catcher will still work on body movement and catching the ball in halves.
4.) Catching batting practice and bullpens
This is as close to a live game situation as a catcher can experience. It is very important that a catcher not go through the motions when catching batting practice or a bullpen. This must be a highly intense environment and must be taken seriously.
This skill can win or lose a close ballgame. One misconception is that blocking a ball in the dirt is a catcher’s only requirement. Not only is it important to block the pitch, but also to properly retrieve the baseball and get your body in a position to throw out a runner trying to advance. It must be stressed to catchers not to admire their work when they block the baseball. Catchers need to get up and pounce on the ball.
When blocking a baseball it is important to get both knees on the ground as quickly as possible. You do not want to hop up and then hit the ground, but drop to your knees immediately. The direction of the ball will dictate whether or not you will need to push off in any direction. This is done with your feet. You must get an aggressive push off with your legs toward the direction of the baseball. The next movement is to put your mitt back against your cup with your fingers down, not the back of your hand down. If your fingers are down and the back of your hand is against your cup, you have set up a barrier for the ball to bounce off. If your hand is on the ground, you have created a ramp for the ball to hit and continue in a forward motion. The ball will have an opportunity to continue its forward motion and possibly get away from the catcher. During this time your throwing hand must be placed behind your mitt. This will protect your hand from injury and help square up your body to the ball.
A catcher must also protect their throat and neck. To do this the catcher must take their chin and tuck it into their chest. They should not drop their head down, just their chin. Dropping the head will cause the catcher to lose track of the baseball. By only dropping the chin, the catcher will still be able to visually track the baseball.
A catcher needs to be flexible. They need to be able to sit on the ground in the blocking position. The lower they are to the ground, the less area the ball has to get under the catcher.
A catcher should attempt to block all balls in the dirt when there are runners on base or when there are two strikes on the hitter. When a dropped third strike occurs, a hitter may try to advance to first base if it is unoccupied. A catcher should make it as easy on their pitcher as possible. If the pitcher gets a hitter to chase a pitch in the dirt, they should be rewarded with a strikeout.
As there are different types of pitches that will be thrown, there are different ways to block these pitches. The goal in blocking is to block all balls so that they will hit you in the center of your chest and drop harmlessly in front of you. Do not try to catch a ball that is in the dirt. Trouble starts when a catcher tries to catch the bouncing ball and misses. The result is a ball to the backstop and the advancement of runners on base.
When a fastball is thrown in the dirt, the catcher should maneuver their body in front of the ball and block it back to the middle of the field. Their body should be perpendicular to the ball. If the ball is blocked correctly off the middle of the chest protector, the ball will hit and return to the direction from which it was thrown.
Depending on whether or not a right handed or left handed pitcher is throwing will dictate which direction a catcher will turn their body to adjust for the spin of a breaking ball. Therefore, blocking the breaking ball requires some thought and preparation.
As you look at home plate from the pitchers mound, a right handers breaking ball will hit the ground and spin right, a left handers breaking ball will hit the ground and spin left. A catcher must angle their body to adjust for the spin of the baseball. They must push off with the opposite leg and drive their body over to meet the baseball and block it towards the middle of the field. An aggressive push with the opposite leg is crucial. They must be able to beat the ball to the spot and block the baseball.
There will come a time when even the best catcher will be unable to block a fastball or breaking ball that is thrown way outside or inside. The catcher will not have a chance to get their body in front of the baseball. This is where the goalie save comes into play. This technique is used primarily for the ball towards the backhand side of the catcher. The catcher will push off hard with the back foot and drag the mitt across the ground. You should turn the glove over and get out as far as you can. The leg you initially pushed off from will drag across the ground and assist you in getting to your feet quickly, after you get the mitt or body on the ball. Basically, you throw everything you have at the ball in an attempt to stop or slow a poorly thrown ball. A variation of this will come on a pitch thrown towards your mitt side. The mechanics are the same only this time you have an open mitt. The goal is the same: stop the ball.
At this point it is important not to admire your work. Don’t allow yourself to be satisfied with a great block. It is now time to retrieve and get your body in a position to throw.
First, locate the ball and quickly get to your feet. From the blocked position it is important to clear your hands from the middle of your body. It should be done by exploding your hands and arms in opposite directions. Do not lift your hands up and out in front of your body. The baseball can get caught up in your hands or arms if your first movement is towards the pitcher. If your movement is away from your body, you decrease the chance of making contact with the baseball and increase the chance of keeping the ball in front of you.
Next, you should round the ball. Get your chest over the baseball and in a position to scoop up the baseball. Note we have yet to look for a runner that may be trying to advance. The single most important aspect of this stage is to get to the ball first, then check the runner. A common error is to check the runner first. If you see the runner go, you may panic or get in a hurry and not retrieve the ball correctly. Get to the ball first and then check for the runner. Besides, if the rest of your teammates are paying attention, you will hear them yelling “runner”.
Never pick up the baseball with only your mitt or only the bare hand. The hand and mitt must work together. This can be referred to as “raking” the baseball. A common error is made when a catcher tries to pick up the ball with only one hand. If the ball is not fielded the first time, the catcher may panic and continue having trouble picking up the ball, kick the ball, or field it and make a bad throw because they are in a hurry. Two hands will give you a greater opportunity to field the ball the first time.
As you rake the ball, you should be angling your body to the base the runner could be advancing to. You should get your feet set, your mind ready to throw and now find the runner. If the runner is trying to advance, throw a strike to the base. If the runner is not going to advance but is leaning, throw behind him. The key is be ready to throw to any base. Take pride in blocking, retrieving and throwing the baseball effectively. This can make a difference in the outcome of the game. A good catcher wants to call a breaking ball in the dirt with two strikes and the winning or tying run on third base. The pitcher must have confidence in the catcher to get the job done, and the catcher must have confidence in themselves.
1.) Shadow blocking (No ball)
Coach stands behind the catcher. Catcher assumes their stance. The coach tells the catcher which pitch is being thrown and where. The coach will give the catcher a few seconds to get ready. When the coach claps their hands, the catcher will assume the blocking position and hold. The coach or other players will check their form to make sure the catcher is in good position. The drill can be varied by giving the catcher less time between pitch and location and the clap, or the catcher will go on verbal commands only.
2.) Sit and get hit
Coach gets on one knee from a short distance. The catcher assumes the blocking position. The coach will throw the ball in the dirt and off the chest of the catcher. The catcher gets the feeling of balls coming off their body.
3.) Medium toss
Coach stands halfway between the mound and home plate. The catcher assumes their stance. Coach will throw balls in the dirt and the catcher will block, retrieve, and get their body in a position to throw.
4.) Standard toss
Coach stands on the mound. The catcher assumes their stance. Coach will throw balls in the dirt and the catcher will block, retrieve, and get their body in a position to throw.
Lay out five balls five feet apart. The catcher will shuffle to each ball, assume the blocked position, get up and shuffle to the next ball. The object is to work on quickness down to the ball and up from the ball. Make sure the catcher’s hands are moving in the correct position on the way up. The drill should be executed both directions.
6.) Hands drill
The catcher should start in the down position with the ball placed in front of them. When the coach says go, the catcher fires their hands out to the side and away from the ball, gets to their feet quickly, rakes in the ball and gets their body in a position to throw the baseball.
7.) Zone blocking
Acceptable activity for when practice is getting monotonous and the catchers need a change of pace. Assign three zones and points for each (5, 3, -5). The first zone should be 3 feet by 3 feet starting at the catcher’s feet. The second zone should be 5 feet by 5 feet starting at the catcher’s feet. The third zone is anything outside of the two zones. Catcher assumes stance while the coach stands on the mound. The coach will throw balls in the dirt. The catcher should block, retrieve the balls in a zone and then get their body in a position to throw. Each catcher gets an established number of trials. Add up the points and assign a winner.
8.) Batting practice
There is no substitute for blocking live during an established period of time during batting practice. This prevents the catcher from sitting back and creating bad habits during batting practice.
The bullpen should be utilized not only for pitchers preparing to enter the game, but also by catchers as well. The catcher should report to the bullpen in full gear and have their game face on. No balls should ever get by a catcher in the bullpen. Take pride in your abilities.
Throws to second base
I will address two types of throwing footwork: jump pivot and load and throw. Each type will be determined by the location of the pitch and the arm strength of the individual.
If a ball is thrown right down the middle of the plate or towards the forehand, a catcher that does not possess great arm strength will utilize the jump pivot. The jump pivot allows for a quicker release and is recommended for catchers with quick hands and a lack of great arm strength. The catcher will quickly shift their feet from parallel to second base to perpendicular to second base. The catcher will not move toward the right handed hitter or away from the left handed hitter. If the catcher is right handed, his back (right) foot will end up where their left foot was. The front foot will end up in a direct line to second base. The catcher’s hips and shoulders will be in a direct line to second base. A common error is for the catcher to move towards the pitcher and fall off balance. The catcher should assume a pole running through the middle of their body. They want to shift around the pole, not spin away from the pole. Another key is to make sure the catcher does not stand straight up their first movement. Stay low and in a strong, athletic position. This will assist the catcher in staying on top of the baseball and throwing downhill toward the base.
If a ball is thrown right down the middle of the plate or towards the backhand, a catcher who possesses arm strength will utilize the load and throw. Catch the baseball while shifting weight to the back leg. Again, the catcher must square the body to second base. The catcher must still utilize a quick mitt to hand exchange with the baseball and stay low to the ground in a strong, athletic position. The catcher must get into a position where weight is on the back leg and the shoulders are squared to second base. If the alignment is off, or the catcher has already stood up, the power that they possess in their throwing arm is lost.
It is important to mention at this time that a catcher must be proficient at both skills. The location of the baseball will dictate which footwork to use. The only exception is on a ball thrown to the middle of the catcher’s body. On this throw, the catcher will determine which throwing footwork will be best for them.
Throws to third base.
A catcher can utilize three methods of throwing to third base. They can take a jab step towards the backhand, throw over a right handed hitter, or shuffle behind a right handed hitter. The location of the pitch, height of the hitter and arm strength of the catcher will determine which throw is best.
On pitches that take the catcher towards the backhand, the jab step is an appropriate throwing position. The catcher will simply take a jab step with their right foot, plant the left foot, stay low, point the hips and shoulders to third and make a strong, accurate throw. This will clear you from the hitter and give the catcher a lane to throw in.
On a pitch down the middle, the catcher can use one of two methods. First, depending on whether there is a right or left handed hitter, how tall the right handed hitter is in relation to the catcher, the catcher should simply plant his back leg, step towards third with the hips and shoulders square to the target, and throw over the top of the hitter. The object is to have a lane to throw in without the hitter getting in the way and disrupting the throw. If the hitter is taller than the catcher or the pitch takes the catcher towards the forehand side, the catcher can utilize a quick shuffle outside the hitter and create a throwing lane. Again, stay low, athletic, square the body to the base and make a strong and accurate throw to third.
1.) Catcher with ball
The catcher starts out with the ball in their mitt. Coach will be in front of the catcher. The coach will instruct the catcher to use either the load and throw or jump pivot. The catcher will execute the footwork and throw to a partner. Make sure to work both methods of footwork.
2.) One knee partner/coach toss
Catcher at home plate. Partner or coach a few feet in front of home plate on one knee. Partner or coach will toss ball to catcher who is already in their stance. The catcher will catch the ball and execute proper throwing footwork and throw to another partner. Being on one knee and tossing the ball will allow the partner or coach to put the ball exactly where they want to work. Also, this will assist the catcher in working on both types of throwing footwork.
3.) Medium/full toss
Coach will stand halfway to or on the mound and throw pitches to the catcher who has already assumed their stance. The catcher will execute footwork determined by the pitch and throw to a partner behind the coach.
A catcher must be able to anticipate multiple situations. One of these situations is fielding a bunt. There are several factors that must be taken into account before a hitter even steps into the box. The catcher must recognize the speed of the runner, the athlete on the mound, the condition of the playing surface, the game situation (tied, up, down, early in the game, late in the game), and eventually factor in the speed of the bunted baseball before deciding which base to throw to. The catcher must take charge of the defense.
A catcher should attempt to field all bunted balls. The entire field is in front of them and they can make a quick, early decision. If the ball is fielded down the first base line or towards the middle of the field, the catcher should take a direct line to the baseball, rake the ball in with both the hand and the mitt, set their feet, stay low and athletic, and make a strong throw to the intended base.
If a ball is bunted down the third base line the catcher has two forms of footwork. One method is to stay on the inside of the ball (opposite of the foul line), step over the ball, rake, spin the head and body, locate the base to throw to, plant your feet and make a strong and accurate throw. The other method is to round the baseball, staying on the outside (or near the foul line), rake, plant and throw. The coach must allow the catcher to be an athlete. The step-over technique is the most natural and recommended form of fielding bunts down the third base line. However, there are some individuals who have the ability to quickly round the ball, field it, and make a strong throw. A coach needs to be flexible. If the catcher can perform this skill they should be allowed to show off the athleticism, not be handcuffed into a method that most recommend.
1.) Three Ball
Place one ball near the first base line, one up the middle, and one near the third base line. Catcher will assume their stance. Coach will stand behind and call out which ball to field. Catcher will attack the ball, field it, and make a strong and accurate throw to the correct base.
2.) Over the Shoulder Toss
Catcher will assume their stance. Coach will stand behind the catcher with a ball. The coach will toss the ball over the catcher’s shoulder. The catcher will field it and throw to a base. A variation can be used by telling the catcher that the runner has great speed and they must hurry. Also, the coach can throw it far enough that a throw to first would be late. The catcher will execute a full arm fake and throw out the lead runner who may have drifted off a base.
Plays at the Plate
One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the play at the plate. When you think of some of the most famous plays in Major League Baseball, great throws to nail a runner or violent collisions at home plate always show up on the highlight reels. A catcher must always assume a bad throw to the plate. In their mind they must be ready to move in any direction to catch a thrown ball, or be ready to drop to their knees and block a poorly thrown ball to keep runners from advancing and still giving yourself a chance to pick up the ball and tag out the runner. The catcher must keep the ball in front of them at all cost. When setting up for the throw to the plate, a catcher should put their left foot on the third base line. Their knee should be pointed directly at the runner. If their knee is pointed away from the runner and a collision occurs, there is a greater chance the catcher will be severely injured. If their knee is pointed at the runner and a collision occurs, the knee will bend as it is intended, reducing the chance of injury.
After catching the ball, the catcher should attempt to tag the runner with both hands; hand on ball, ball in mitt. If it appears a collision is going to occur, the catcher should lower their center of gravity and stay low. Just like in football, low man usually wins.
After you have tagged out the runner, get out of the way and find any runners that may be on base. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the play so much that you lose track of other runners on base. Tag out the runner trying to score and look for the next victim. Want to throw the baseball. Want to make the next play. Always stay focused on the game.
One important point that must be mentioned is the catcher should leave their mask on. An excuse for taking off the mask is that the catcher feels they can see the ball better without the mask on. With that philosophy the catcher should never wear the mask. If you can catch balls from a pitcher from 60 feet away and not have problems seeing the baseball, you should be able to see a throw from the outfield. It is also a safety precaution. If the ball is short and takes a bad hop, an injury to the face and head could occur. Safety comes first. Protect yourself from injury at all times in as many ways as possible.