Player Development Resources

 Perseverance
(8/31/2022)
 
   

Perseverance


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer, Michael Cuddyer discusses how players reach honest levels of success by maintaining a consistent and resilient work ethic, not matter the outcome. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 Why Small Ball Still Has Value, Especially at the Amateur Level
(8/23/2022)
 
   

Why “Small Ball” Still Has Value, Especially at the Amateur Level


By Jim Koerner


Have you noticed how baseball has transformed over the past decade at the Major League level? According to Baseball Reference, home runs per season have increased from 4,552 in 2011 to almost 6,000 (5,936) in 2021. With this increase, strike outs have also surged from 34,489 to over 42,000, with a decrease in batting average, stolen bases and sacrifice bunts. Batted balls in play during each game have decreased and swing and miss rates are on the rise. Training academies are also preaching the importance of maximum exit velocities and increased attack angles. I’m not here to argue the merits of the homerun, and who wouldn’t want to hit the ball farther and harder? I am also a big advocate for the extra-base hit and a big inning. But at what cost?

It’s one thing to see these trends at the highest level of baseball, where the pitching and defense are unmatched, but it’s completely different at the amateur level. The goal is to score as many runs as needed during a game, and there is more than one way this can be accomplished. The versatility of our hitters plays an important role in this concept and needs to be addressed in our player development models. To further emphasize my point, let’s look at these numbers:

In the early 2000’s batting average and stolen bases per season were consistently higher than they are now. With that, strikeout rates were lower as well as homeruns per game. One might think runs per game would suffer with the decrease in home runs, but in fact, the opposite occurred. In the early 2000’s runs per game were higher than they are now (as high as 5.14 in 2004, compared to 4.53 in 2022). There are multiple reasons for this including the aforementioned change in pitching, but it helps prove there is more than one way to a score run.

Growing up, my father taught me how to use the proper tools for different jobs. You wouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail. The same framework can be applied on the baseball field. Think of each game as a different type of job with different tools needed. During a season, you will experience slugfests and pitcher’s duals with multiple variations in between. Players that possess the skill sets to succeed in multiple run producing ways are the players that can win any type of game. One dimensional players, and one dimensional teams, are easier to pitch to and easier to defend. Let’s fill each player’s toolbox by teaching them the necessary skills to play tough against all opponents.

Defining “Small Ball”

“Small Ball”, otherwise known as the Short Game, or "manufacturing runs," is defined as an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes run production by advancing runners into scoring position in a deliberate, methodical way without requiring extra base hits, or sometimes, any base hits at all. I would argue that Small Ball doesn’t necessarily need to be methodical at all, but it can be rather aggressive and entertaining. Let’s break “Small Ball” into three categories. Those categories are the bunt game, base running and situational hitting. The bunt game includes all types of bunt plays, including the sacrifice, drag, push, suicide and safety squeeze. Base running will include, but is not limited to, stealing bases, dirtball reads, advancing two bases at a time, or taking any extra base (i.e. an outfielder bobbles the ball or over throwing to cut offs or throwing to the wrong base). Situational hitting would be a hit and run, run and hit, hitting behind runners, scoring the runner from third base with less than two outs and other bat control techniques. I’ll even include two strike adjustments as a form of small ball, since strikeout rates have climbed dramatically over the years.


1. Bunt Game

Contrary to some belief, bunting is not easy, and the higher the level of baseball the more difficult it becomes. All forms of bunting require skill that needs to be perfected, like any other aspect of the game. While controversial in nature due to advanced stats on run probabilities, there are still multiple situations where a bunt is effective.
Defense, in general and at the amateur level, can be suspect. The increased chaos a bunt causes puts more pressure on the infield to make plays. In addition to the lack of pitcher fielding practice at some levels, drag, push and sac bunts can all have a time and place for success. Knowing what side of the field the bunt needs to be directed can increase the odds of it being successful. Typically with a runner on first, the batter would want to put a sacrifice bunt down the first base side. With runners on second, or first and second, the batter wants the third baseman to field the ball. When bunting for a hit with either a drag or push, it’s important to know if a left or right handed pitcher is on the mound. Typically a left handed pitcher falls off the mound towards third base, which makes a push bunt (a bunt between first and second base and past the pitcher) the more appropriate call. With a right-handed pitcher that falls off the mound toward first base, a drag bunt down the third base line is the proper play.

The right time to use these tactics depends on multiple variables. Factors such as the speed of the batter, where you are in the lineup, the score of the game, and who is on the mound all play a role for both you, and your opponent. Two of my favorite bunt plays, which are extremely difficult to defend at any level, are the suicide and safety squeeze plays. When executed properly, they should both lead to guaranteed runs for your offense. If you are facing a dominant pitcher or your batter has been struggling at the plate, and your team needs an insurance run late in the game, this can be the perfect play.

I also want to make note of the ancillary benefits the threat of a bunt can cause. With the increased popularity of the shift, holes in the infield are harder to find for a hitter. If your batter can put a bunt down, the defense needs to respect this as a viable option. The corner infielders can no longer play at greater depths. The more the infield must move-in, the greater the space is for the hitter to find a hole. On the opposite side, if the infield doesn’t respect the bunt option and continues to play back, this opens up room for a drag or push to be more successful.

2. Base Running

For those old enough to remember Game 4 of the ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox, you will remember one of the most important stolen bases in baseball history. Down one in the bottom of the ninth, with no one out, Dave Roberts steals second for the Red Sox. This stolen base ultimately leads to Roberts scoring to tie the game and an eventual Red Sox victory. Right place, right time, and the right person. The Red Sox were playing to win. They were facing the best closer in the history of the game, and they knew hits would be hard to come by. By stealing second base, they gave their offense three opportunities to get the base hit needed to tie the game. They could have sat back and waited for a double, but with Rivera on the mound and with his propensity for strikeouts and ground balls, it may have never come. Analytics say: if a player or team can steal bases at an 80% or better success rate, you are helping your offense increase their run probability. Your team needs to be prepared to capitalize in these high pressure moments. They should also be prepared to take advantage of amateur pitchers that don’t hold runners well or are slow to the plate.

I’ve always emphasized that immediately after a batter hits the ball his mindset needs to change from being a hitter to “what do I need to do to score.” If a base runner is solely relying on the next batter to drive him in, multiple opportunities to be aggressive on the bases may be missed. Aggressive base running goes well beyond simply stealing a base. The most important base running skill a player can possess is the ability to advance two bases at a time. This means going home to second, first to third and second to home. In order to do this effectively, the runner needs to be proactive in his approach. Hard turns around first base on singles can lead to doubles. Hard turns around first base with runners in scoring position can also lead to extra bases in the case of an overthrow by the outfield or throwing to the wrong base. The ability to go first to third or second to home on base hits will depend on knowing the positioning of the outfield defense before the pitch, gaining productive secondary leads, getting good reads off the bat, and taking the proper angles when rounding the bases. This all takes time to perfect and can be done most effectively during your batting practice routines.

A good base running team puts pressure on a defense to make plays and move fast, which can lead their opponent to make mistakes and errors. A player that has the feel to advance two bases at a time minimizes the need for an extra-base hit to score a run. Players that are a stolen base threat can divert a pitcher’s focus from the batter. This type of distraction can lead to more pitches to hit or increased command issues for pitchers. Teams that are proficient and proactive on the bases and ready to capitalize on all mistakes, are much tougher to play against and defend.

3. Situational Hitting


To have a good situational hitting team means your team is made of unselfish players. Many times, situational hitting means you’re giving yourself up for a productive out. If your lineup is filled with players that are willing to do anything for the overall good of the team, you should win a lot of games.

While we can cover many examples of situational hitting, including the hit and run or run and hit, the most important aspect to me is the ability to score the runner from third base with less than two outs. Most coaches would agree that they would trade an out for a run every time. This is a concept that needs to be emphasized with your team. With a runner on third and less than two outs you will typically see three different types of defense. Those defenses being the infield is all playing up, the infield is all playing back, or the corner infielders are up, and the middle infield is back. In two of those situations, infield back and middle back, all the batter needs to do is hit a ground ball to either the shortstop or second baseman to score the run. With the infield up, the batter is looking to hit a fly ball or line drive in the middle of the field. While neither the ground ball nor fly ball help the player’s batting average, they do become very productive outs by scoring the run. Getting your batters to make these unselfish swing adjustments makes your team tougher to pitch to and defend.

While situational hitting sometimes requires the hitter to cut down the swing and adjust, so does hitting with two strikes. While technically two strike adjustments don’t fall under “Small Ball,” everyone would agree that the more balls a team can put into play, the greater likelihood of having more base runners. Hitters that are tough to strike out increases the pressure on the pitcher, and often drives up pitch counts. These are benefits that can lead to more run scoring opportunities as the game progresses.

When extra-base hits and homeruns are hard to come by, your team still needs to find a way to generate offense. Having your players prepared to score runs in multiple ways only increases your likelihood to win any type of ball game. As an opposing coach, it is never comforting to know the team you’re playing can affect the game on multiple levels. Don’t give up on “Small Ball” strategy when planning practices and developing your players. At some point you will need it.




Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 The Importance of Using Data and Technology in the Player Development Process
(6/14/2022)
 
   

The Importance of Using Data and Technology in the Player Development Process


By Jim Koerner


Data and technology are revolutionizing how competitive sports are being played. Teams and organizations are receiving and inputting data at lightning speed. In baseball, we’ve seen major advancements from how we evaluate and develop players to actual in-game decision making. In what, for decades, used to be a mostly subjective, feeling-involved occupation, baseball now applies real time data to all facets of the game. Let’s look at why data and technology are important, and how they can be added to your daily player development process.

10 benefits to Using Data and Technology in Your Player Development Plans:

1. Identifies Areas of Improvement:
All players have inefficiencies and areas that need improvement. Player development can be more efficient when these areas are identified through objective measures. What does good horizontal movement on a slider look like? Do the fastball and change-up have enough separation? Does the barrel spend enough time in the zone? The development process is only as good as the evaluation process. Technology helps ensure the efficiency and accuracy of these processes.

2. Reinforces Areas of Strength:
Not all player development lives in the world of what’s wrong. Reinforcing positive movement patterns is a strong developmental technique. The appropriate technology and data collection can assist in keeping players doing the right thing more often.

3. Strengthens Arguments for Change and Improves Communication:
Visual reinforcement is a powerful tool when communicating about adjustment with players. With the increased access to information across multiple media platforms, players can now be more informed than ever before. Factual data and visual recordings make the buy-in process more influential.

4. Allows For Real Time Feedback and Adjustments:
The ability to capitalize on teachable moments is priceless in the player development world. Having insistent feedback and replay on a singular pitch or swing can allow a player to make immediate adjustments. This is a place where the “real” vs. “feel” worlds can assimilate.

5. Ensures Accuracy:
There is nothing worse than being wrong when it comes to player development. To suggest a change and then spend countless hours working towards it, only to see minimal or zero return can be debilitating. Sensors, apps, ball tracking devises, and video review keep us going in the right direction.

6. Tracks Progress:
Simply put, there is no better way to track progress than through data collection. Data eliminates any subjective assessment of improvement, which is especially important if the actual need for improvement doesn’t exist.

7. Separates Style from Technique:
There are a lot of instructors/coaches that make changes with their players because of the way something looks. As long as style isn’t affecting technique, these adjustments aren’t necessary. Technology can help prevent coaches from making unnecessary changes.

8. Holds Players Accountable:
There are numerous ways accountability can play a role. A simple tool, such as a pocket radar, can immensely enhance the productivity of your batting practice. Having players take rounds that are within +/- 3 of their maximum is a great way to ensure proper intent with each swing.

9. Saves Time:
Beginning with the player evaluation, and continuing through the execution of the plan, all areas in baseball technology and data collection are quantified. If progress continues, the process continues, if progress stops, we adjust.

10. Enhances Overall Goal Setting Process:
Goal setting is crucial to producing results. A player or coach can’t manage what they can’t measure, and you can’t expect improvement is you can’t manage. The popular goal setting acronym S.M.A.R.T stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. To execute this process without data and some type of corresponding technology to collect it, is difficult.

How to implement Data and Technology Through Goal Setting (S.M.A.R.T+)

*SMART+ is my way of adding an application method to the goal-setting process.

Let’s look at a fairly simple example. You have a player that’s new to your program. After a couple weeks of practice, you believe that your player sits on his back leg while hitting and produces a lot of unproductive fly balls. Since you’ve been using a bat sensor during your batting practice sessions, you now have two weeks' worth of data at your disposal. After reviewing the data, you conclude that the swing metrics match your observations. This player averages 15-18 degrees on his attack angle. Based on your players physical profile, you both agree its best if he could work in the 8-12 degree range. While you’re going to continue to monitor each swing on a daily basis (for coachable moments), after three weeks, it’s your belief he should be averaging at least in the upper ranges of the agreed upon range.

SMART+ Test:
(S)pecific- Yes, you and the player are focused on adjusting the attack angle of the swing to a range more suitable for his body type.
(M)easureable- Yes, you are using a bat sensor that provides quantitative data.
(A)ttainable- Yes, while his swing has some upward lift, he is not far from swinging in an ideal range for his body type.
(R)ealistic- Yes, your player is a good athlete that has shown an aptitude for adjustment.
(T)ime Sensitive- Yes, in three weeks you want to see this player consistently in the desired range.

Types of Technology and Data Collection

There is potential for data and technology collection within many types of programs. While it would be great if everyone could have Edgertronic Cameras, Rapsodo, or Trackman, budgetary concerns play a role.

Here are a few low budget options that would work for various programs:

- Stopwatch (the best piece of low-priced technology every coach should use)
- Radar Gun
- Pocket Radar
- Diamond Kinetic Pitch Tracker
- Bat sensors
- Hudl Technique app (one example of a cost-effective app you can get on your device)
- Smart Phone (video, camera, apps)
- Manual charts (if you can chart it, I recommend doing so)
- Player journals (goal tracking, weight gain/loss, nutrition habits, general well-being)

By applying the appropriate data and technology to our player development models, we can streamline the efficiency at which we work. As coaches, we owe it to our players to provide the best possible solutions to their developmental needs.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 Developing Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part II)
(5/31/2022)
 
   

Balancing the Development of Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part II)


By Jim Koerner


View part 1 here.

Organizing Your Batting Practice Groups
The organization of your batting practice groups can go a long way towards your practice efficiency. There are multiple ways this can be accomplished. Left or right-handed batters, by position, similar mechanical deficiencies, or the type of hitter are most popular. You can script a batting practice routine that suits their individual needs by categorizing your hitters. An example would be:

Run Produces: These are the elite players in your lineup you rely on to drive in runs. They are typically your middle-of-the-order hitters that have power potential. These players won’t be using small ball concepts (bunt, hit and run, slash, backside groundball, etc...) or will be using them infrequently. You can now either completely eliminate these reps from their batting practice plan or limit the number of reps.

Gap to Gap: This group might have some of the same qualities as the Run Producers but also have the need to execute the short game when needed. Practice reps would be adjusted accordingly.

Table Setters: These hitters will be relied upon to sacrifice bunt, bunt for hits, hit and run, run and hit, and slash. More attention to these specific skills should be emphasized, but it doesn’t mean broader hitting concepts are ignored.

Don’t force hitters into certain categories just to check a box. Just because a player bats fourth doesn’t necessarily mean he’s elite. You may end up with all Gap to Gap groups or more Table Setters.

Smaller groups also keep players more active. Groups of five would be the maximum. Groups of 3 or 4 are ideal. This gives each hitter an ample rest period but not so much downtime that they become stagnant.

Repetitions and Rounds
There are two proven effective training methods, Random and Blocked. Both methods can serve a purpose during batting practice, but studies prove that randomized training translates better game performance. Random training is never performing the exact same skill twice. For example, while hitting off a tee, you would adjust location and height after each swing, or in the batting cage, you would follow a gap to gap swing with a hit and run. Blocked training (repeating the exact same movement) is effective when reinforcing a specific feel for a hitter, whether a round of all hit and run execution or setting up a tee exclusively low and away.

How you approach each repetition and round also plays a role in game simulation. Each round should consist of no more than five swings. Anything beyond this point, fatigue sets in, and the quality of the repetition diminishes. More consistency and success can be found in rounds of 3 or 4, with a small rest in between each repetition. This is more game-like and allows for maximum focus and intent.
Rounds of 1 are also highly recommended to simulate game conditions. Tiering your rounds can also be effective. This allows you to accomplish different objectives throughout a session. This would look like this: 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.



Drill Stations and Structure
Facilities, equipment, and time play a large role in what can be accomplished during batting practice. Here are examples of different stations that can be used to construct your ideal batting practice routine using the principles mentioned above:

Tee (Cage): A lower-pressurized opportunity where a coach can incorporate an individualized component to a routine. If there is a specific feel or mechanical adjustment a player is working through, you can set it up here. If a player has a specific routine they like to complete; this station is also a good place. If you believe you need more time to work on general concepts related to Decision Making, Contact, or Power, that can be accomplished as well.

Intent Swings (Light bat/Heavy bat) - Power

Target Tee Swings- Contact

Walk-up Drill w. Timing- Power and Contact

Shuffle- Power

Step Backs- Power

Front Toss (Cage): An Area where you can blend competitive drills with developmental concepts. If you’re incorporating a bat speed program or using different weighted and length hitting tools, this is an area that serves both purposes well.

Off-Set Angles (Front Toss) - Contact

Velocity (Overhand- short distance) - Power, Contact, and Decision Making

Mix (Overhand-short distance): Contact and Decision Making (Pitch Recognition)

Short bat (Front Toss) - Contact

Heavy bat/Light Bat (Front Toss) – Power, Contact

*Decision making can be incorporated into any one of these drills using the 1-6 zones discussed earlier

On-Field: Typically, on-field hitting is where I would like to get the most competitive and challenging. Increasing the pressure to perform in the same environment that game competition takes place further enhances the hitter’s comfort level in the batter’s box.

Velo Machine (Overload training)- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Breaking Ball Machine- Contact, Decision Making

Open and Closed Angle- Contact, Decision Making

Count Management (>2K, <2K) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Situational Hitting- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Random Mix (FB/BB, FB/CH) - Power, Contact, Decision Making (Pitch Recognition)

2K Approach- Contact, Decision Making

Generate a Run Rounds (Group or Individual) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Environment Constraints- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Multiple Plate Breaking Ball (Machine) - Contact, Decision Making

Multiple Plate Fastball (Machine or arm) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Feel Good BP

Other Potential Stations:
Bunting
*Can be completed behind the backstop when the hitter leaves the on-field batting cage in between rounds, or it can be a separate station in an outfield corner. Using a bunting station on the side allows you to eliminate bunting on the field. Now you can use those reps for more swings.

Standing In – Decision Making and Pitch Recognition
*Any bullpens that need to be completed can have a batter standing in calling out pitch type upon recognition. The hitter can also use a simple yes or no call if he would swing or not.

Video Review
*Once the hitter leaves the cage, he can look at the previous round to evaluate

Vision Training Apps
*There are numerous vision training and pitch tracking apps that can used between rounds

Calling out Zones:
*Having the previous hitter stand behind home plate, calling out what zone the ball crossed to reinforce if the hitter swung at the proper pitch. This reinforces plate awareness for both players involved.

Non-hitting Stations:
Defense and Baserunning groups are both major aspects that can be incorporated into batting practice.
Live reads for the infield and outfield are arguably the greatest training tool available for defensive skill acquisition. This is also true for our base runners.


 
This example of a batting practice plan would be posted in the dugout or someplace that all the players on your team have access to it. It would be expected that each player has an understanding of their responsibilities for each station. Depending on roster size, facility access, and equipment, anything can be added or subtracted. In this example, groups were broken down by position (not by classification as in the previous example). Your structure will depend on the level of value you place on each skill.

Conclusion:
When structuring your team batting practice sessions, it is important to strike the appropriate balance between developing your offense and developing hitters. These are two separate aspects with overlaying principles that need our attention. By creating a challenging and competitive culture that is also organized and detailed, using various training instruments, we will develop our hitters into better movers and decision-makers.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 Developing Your Offense & Hitters (Part I)
(5/24/2022)
 
   

Developing Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part 1)


By Jim Koerner


Some coaches deem batting practice the most important segment of their training session. If a typical team practice takes three hours to execute, batting practice usually occupies at least a third of that time. With such a large portion of training time dedicated to this skill, coaches need to ensure the execution of this segment is completed with the utmost efficiency and productivity. Multiple layers need to be considered when constructing your batting practice plan. This article will define philosophy, cover specific hitting concepts, and detail the integration into a batting practice model.

What is the Team Philosophy?

Before a coach can put together a player development model that can serve the needs of the team, they must first define what they believe is important. More specifically, a coach needs to fully understand his team's make-up and how his personnel is best suited to win games. At higher levels (college), some of this is controlled through the recruiting process and can be consistent from year to year. Coaches will recruit players that fit their offensive style. For example, the small ball game might be more important to some than others. Therefore you may see more players capable of using the hit and run or bunt as offensive weapons. Other universities might be more power-oriented and recruit more physicality. This helps when allocating precious practice time and repetitions. Why spend hours on sacrifice bunting when you know you're only going to do it ten times a season? At the high school level, the team's make-up is more likely to vary somewhat from year to year, and at the youth level, a more universalized approach should be stressed for all players to understand every concept.

It is also important to have a firm understanding of your offensive goals and how you want to achieve them. This helps keep you and your team focused on what is important. Scoring the runner from third base with less than two out (infield up, infield back, runners at second and third with one out or no outs, or bases loaded), two-out RBI's, two-strike approach, free bases (walks and HBP's), moving runners, quality at-bats, and the ability to string together consecutive quality AB's, along with all other situational hitting (all bunts, hit and run, run and hit, and slash) are areas that you might find important. If so, you need to find a way to make them a part of your daily or weekly routines.

Having both of these areas clearly defined will allow you to cycle through and allocate the appropriate practice days and repetitions necessary to excel at those skills.

What is your hitting philosophy?

There is a difference between a team philosophy on generating offense and a philosophy on what's important when it comes to hitting. To be clear, I am not speaking about swing mechanics but rather general concepts that will define success for every hitter. Over the years, I've outlined three areas that I believe bring value to our everyday batting practice routines. These three concepts are decision-making, contact, and power. Sometimes these three work independently, but many times they blend together. Batting practice routines should reflect the importance of these concepts on a daily basis. While the point of emphasis might vary from day to day, the underlying concepts are the same.

Decision Making: This is arguably the most important concept when developing good hitters. Players with strong strike-zone management skills are most likely the same players with high contact rates, higher on-base percentage, and more maximum exit velocity swings. Great decision-making also leads to a greater ability to execute an individual's plan (situational hitting) and to maximize one's own strengths and weaknesses. Pitch recognition also needs to play a role in the Decision-Making development process. The early ability to recognize spin directly impacts the swing decision. This is something that can and should be trained. An easy daily Decision-Making tool would be to have your home plate divided into six different hitting zones. These zones would be numbered across the plate 1-6 from the inside corner to the outside corner. Another way to accomplish this would be to place six baseballs across the front of home plate.
Each baseball represents a different zone. Now you can structure batting practice rounds based on the zones you want your hitters to attack. If the hitter swings at a pitch outside the required zone, he leaves the cage. This creates discipline and structure when progressing through your rounds. You can also have batting practice rounds that force your hitters to only swing at one type of pitch. Now you are layering in a pitch recognition element. For example, the BP thrower is working a fastball/curveball mix while the coach wants the hitter to attack zones 2-5 on the plate, only swinging at fastballs.

Contact: In its simplest form, contact is the ability to consistently put the bat's barrel on the ball. We have all heard terms like, "He has a feel for the barrel" or he has "barrel control." These terms describe the hitter's adjustability in the swing. Adjustability in the swing is the hitter's aptitude to hit on multiple pitch planes and adjust to multiple speed differentials. Incorporating multiple bat weights and lengths into a batting practice routine is a great way to promote swing adjustability. Over time, the body will learn to organize itself to allow the barrel to find the ball. These different size and weighted bats can be used during all types of hitting drills.

Power: Power can be a relative term and is not exclusive to hitting home runs or extra-base hits. I define power as the ability to maximize exit velocity and bat speed on an individual level. Mechanics and physicality aside, "power" is developed through swing intent, timing, approach, and count management. I recommend getting baseline exit velocities and bat speed readings on all your players. Once baseline averages are established, bat sensors are a great way to keep hitters accountable during batting practice. If the program doesn't have bat sensors, a radar gun can be used to track exit velocity. Batting practice rounds that consist of the player being required to work within +/- 5 MPH's of their maximum is a great way to manage the consistency of swing intent. It also layers in Decision-Making qualities.

Challenging and Competitive

It has been well documented how challenging it is to hit a baseball. This needs to be reflected in the way we train. If you want to excel at hitting 75 MPH fastballs, train in the 75-80 range to achieve the desired outcome. If success against pitchers that reach velocities of 90 or greater is important, then the training should reflect the objective. Obviously, this is age-dependent, but the point remains the same. Hitters swing and miss, get fooled and strike out at all levels. If this never occurs during batting practice, the training is not challenging enough. Failure is both a mental and physical part of development and needs to be dealt with at the practice level before you can expect your hitter to succeed on game day.
The use of pitching machines for all off-speed pitches, high-velocity fastballs, randomizing angles, over-training, and incorporating environment constraints (i.e., setting up cones in the gaps) are some examples of challenging batting practice. If you can chart it, then do so. Charting and tracking batting practice success gives a competitive element to each session and reinforces the development process, and shows progress. Examples of hitting drills that can be charted include situational round execution rates, hard contact percentages, exit velocities, and target tee drills. I recommend posting results after each practice so players understand where they stand relative to their teammates.

Tune in to Part 2, coming May 31, to learn more about organizing batting practice groups, repetitions and rounds, drill stations, and structures.




Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..