Parents and coaches usually have two schools of thought when it comes to playing fall baseball. The “old school” mindset is you have to play as many games as you can to get better. A newer way of thinking is to work exclusively with an instructor or training academy and focus on your specific position.
“You absolutely want to be playing in game situations,” he said. “But you also want to be able to work on your mechanics and the fundamentals of the game. If the guy who’s (pitching) against you can’t throw a strike, then it doesn’t do you any good to get four plate appearances every Sunday for eight weeks in the fall.”
Kotzen has coached all ages of youth baseball, including high school, American Legion, and travel teams, so he’s seen both sides of the fall ball issue. His advice to parents and ballplayers is do your homework. Here are some important questions you should ask before signing up:
1. What is the level of competition?
2. What is the age group?
3. How much emphasis is put on player development versus actual competition?
Rather than ask, “How can I get exposure?” he said a player should focus on a more important question: “How can I become good enough to get noticed?” Kotzen offers some additional suggestions to help ballplayers get the most out of their fall ball experience, and develop the skills necessary to get better at their position.
All pitchers should get involved in a solid throwing program. Find a team or coach who has enough knowledge to manage your individual workload. Along with refining the mechanics of gripping the ball, getting down off the mound or opening up your front side, young pitchers need to keep their arms strong. This can be done a number of ways: playing catch, getting the right amount of exercise, and paying attention to proper nutrition. “Don’t just throw; that’s not a good plan for anybody,” Kotzen explained. “You’re probably going to hurt your arm, and you’re not going to make the most of every outing.”
The goal of every hitter should be to hit the ball harder. That doesn’t mean you always swing for the fences. If you’ve committed to playing in the fall, balance batting practice in the cage with a game or two during the week. This allows you to work on your swing and practice hitting in game situations. Watch how the pitcher is throwing. What will you do with runners in scoring position? You want to put yourself in the same game situations as if you were on a varsity team in the spring.
If you’re a catcher, practice receiving the ball from a pitcher, blocking balls, and releasing throws to get base runners out.
Infielders should work on getting their hands and feet in position to field a ball. Kotzen believes the trick to successful fielding is putting your body in the best position to pick up the ball and throw to a base.
It’s important for outfielders to learn the art of tracking; when to come in or start back on a ball. Taking that first step is crucial.
“A lot of people say your first step should always be back,” Kotzen said. “I think your first step should always be toward the baseball. If it’s in front of you, your first step should be in. It’s instinctual work, making sure you can catch the ball and get it back into the action.”
Choosing to play fall ball is a family decision. Players shouldn’t be pressured to do so, Kotzen says. But if the answer is yes, go all in.
“When you do make the commitment, know it’s for 8 or 10 weeks, and that your teammates are counting on you to be there,” he said.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.