As players get older and the rules begin to mirror actual baseball, including use of the stretch position, taking leads, stealing base, and so forth, pitchers (as well as coaches) need to adapt.
In youth baseball, a coach can’t always get the kids with the best pop times behind the dish often because that player may be on the mound or playing a middle infield position for all or part of that day. The coach must always make the best use of available talent. Often that puts a less than stellar player behind the plate for some part of each game and often a majority of the game.
While it is also rare for any decent base runner to be thrown out at this level, there is no need to surrender bases willingly, which will lead to higher pitch counts and greater frustration for the pitcher and the defense.
Some tips to employ:
-Match slower pitchers with a catcher who has a faster pop time.
-Never put a kid behind the plate that can’t handle that day’s higher velocity pitcher.
-Work on slide step deliveries as well as pop time drills with your pitchers and catchers.
-Use slide steps to help neutralize faster runners or in running counts.
-Work with middle infielders on how to properly apply a tag to a base runner
-Have pitchers vary the number of times they check a runner before delivery.
-Gain advantage by observing each lead taken by a runner, since often they will change their lead in some way when the steal play is on.
-Work on deception plays with middle infielders to feign an off-target throw or fake a tag to get them to slide when you know the throw will sail into center field.
-Teach middle infielders the proper way to hold runners on second base (often middle infielders are too close to the bag at youth level or pitchers allow huge leads from second)
-Work on pick off plays to second base as well as to first base.
-Tire a good runner out by forcing him to slide back into his base
-‘Bad-ball’ drills with ALL catchers on a regular basis to minimize passed balls. If a kid can’t block the majority of pitches in the dirt or get to balls within 2 feet of home plate to either side, he should not be a catcher (even if his parents have purchased catching gear for him–fun conversation, by the way, to have with parents who have shelled out $200-$300 for young Englebert’s gear.)
-Know which kids have no respect for your team’s ability to throw him out. Employ a first-pitch pitch out. These are often the same kids who draw a walk and run straight to second base without stopping. You know them, they are the children of the A-hole coach that no one likes. Discuss the situation before that half inning. Have your catcher follow him up the line a bit with the ball. If he takes an aggressive turn at first to see how the catcher reacts, the catcher can easily throw him out at first or second.
I’m sure you guys have some thoughts or suggestions, please share them!