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
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:
*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.
*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.
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.
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..