Pitching coach: Staying prepared when no one is watching
Summer is when baseball recruiting is in full swing, but the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced it. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) extended a ban on in-person recruiting through July 31, and only recently has Major League Baseball permitted scouts to go back on the road to watch players in showcase events.
Couple those reductions with the fact that high school and college baseball seasons were already cut short by the outbreak, and players hoping to be seen by scouts and coaches have gotten little to no exposure.
That hurts their chances of getting scholarship offers or drawing big-league interest. But in the meantime, it’s crucial that they train properly so they’ll be prepared for when college coaches are allowed to hit the recruiting trail again, says Ron Wolforth (www.TexasBaseballRanch.com), a long-time pitching trainer who is founder of Texas Baseball Ranch and author of Pitching with Confidence: A Parent’s Guide To Giving Your Elite Pitcher An Edge.
“This is usually a pivotal time for coaches to evaluate prospects,” Wolforth says. “But while some showcases and tournaments have remained on the schedule, many parents naively believe that the primary reason their son hasn’t garnered more attention from college or professional scouts is lack of exposure. The primary reason is that the athlete lacks the specific skill set required at the next level.
“Spend your time, effort and money developing skills with proven instructors instead of attending a showcase. This is particularly important for young pitchers, who may lack the throwing velocity or consistency required to perform at the next level. This extended waiting time is extra time to fine-tune skills and get ready to be seen.”
Wolforth suggests pitchers pay attention to the following fundamentals if they hope to attract scouts’ and coaches’ attention:
Wake-up, warm-up. “One of the most frequent mistakes made by pitchers today is being significantly underprepared for the intensity of the stress on the body,” Wolforth says. “Throwing hard at any age requires the full utilization of all our body, not just our arm. A pitcher who doesn’t take sufficient time to warm up the entire body is at greater risk of injury. Develop three different personal wake-up/warm-up routines of at least 15-30 minutes.”
Mechanical efficiencies. A pitcher progresses toward his potential when he streamlines his efficiency of movement, from windup to delivery. Wolforth says instructors should incorporate concepts such as mobility, stability, holistic training, synchronization, degrees of freedom, and deceleration. “The truth is,” Wolforth says, “no two pitchers in the history of baseball have ever thrown identically. Insisting there is one ideal mechanical model and cloning your pitcher for that model is one of the worst things one could do to a young man. Yet we see this scene play out again and again. Stay away from any instructor or coach who wants to place the pitcher into a specific mold. It almost always ends poorly, in underperforming or injury.”
Command of the ball. “A pitcher who can put the ball exactly where he wants it is ahead of the game,” Wolforth says. “Command is predominantly about developing a repeatable outcome. One builds repeatable outcomes only by a lot of deliberate practice; thousands and thousands of hours. What we are seeking is a mechanically efficient movement pattern and then training that pattern so our outcome is more and more repeatable
“Showcases make sense for only about 15-25 percent of all baseball players actually attending the showcase,” Wolforth says. “That doesn’t mean that many of the others will never have the capabilities of reaching the next competitive level. Those who develop those capabilities do so by putting in the work consistently under the right, focused guidance.”