Coach Jason Washburn wanted to make sure his baseball team took advantage of the time it had this offseason. The Woodlands (Texas) College Park High School baseball team returns one starter from a squad that went 27-6 and advanced to Texas’ Region II 6A quarterfinals in the spring.
Washburn customized the Cavaliers’ offseason schedule to give his players the opportunity to get plenty of work on the field, in the weight room and with indoor drills.
“This year we were probably on the grass a little bit more in the fall,” Washburn said. “And we absolutely have hit more. It’s a year-to-year feeling. We wanted to get as much stuff in the fall as we could.”
The Cavaliers’ offseason had three stages — fall ball, working inside and plans for winter break — all leading the players toward the start of practices at the end of January.
The Cavaliers had a short fall season when they returned from the summer. They were on the field for about six weeks this fall, able to take ground balls, throw bullpens and hit live pitching. The fall season also included time in the weight room for strength and conditioning work.
The focus shifts to strength and conditioning and indoor drills once November starts. The Cavaliers are also able to hit in cages or throw lightly in pitching drills.
Washburn gives his players a plan while they are out of school. It’s up to the Cavaliers to find time during their vacations to continue to work and prepare for January practices. The Cavaliers use different drills during these different stages to improve at the plate and on the mound. Washburn shared his approach to offseason hitting and pitching work.
Make Adjustments Now: The offseason is the time to fix mechanical issues. “We try not to make too many adjustments in the spring time,” Washburn said. “That’s the time we want kids to react and compete.”
Individual Work: Each player should know his strengths and weaknesses and focus on those things during work in the cage.
Mix Up the Drills: Help players understand and feel their swing by using different methods. The Cavaliers build bat awareness by using unweighted dry swings, a band resistance system set at different angles, and weights at either the hands or power rings at the end.
Warm up the Bat: Players spend time warming up before they hit the field for practice. Washburn has his players do the same thing before they get in the batting cage. “When we go to batting practice, (we used to) jump right into swings,” he said. “We don’t always prepare the swing for success.” The Cavaliers go through dry swings to get the muscles ready before stepping into the cage.
Visualize Success: “During all those dry runs, we’re asking kids to visualize a good swing and visualize success,” Washburn said. “We want them to see the ball coming off bat.”
Make it Available: Washburn opens the cages to his players whenever he is on campus. This gives the players the chance to continue to work even if school is out for winter break.
Plan Out the Pitching: Pitchers can throw downhill during fall ball but need to take a break before the season starts up. “They won’t throw 100 percent on the mound until they get back from Christmas,” Washburn said. “Between now and January we’re just trying to get their arms back in shape.”
Give Plenty of Options: Washburn gives his pitchers a plan for the winter break but allows them to personalize it. Pitching drills included using weighed balls, throwing from the knees, long toss and resistance band exercises. “They taper it to what they feel like they want to do,” Washburn said. “They choose what they want to do over the break.”
Create Expectations: The important thing, Washburn said, is that they do the work. “They have to keep working, even if they’re out of town or on vacation,” he said. “There are expectations during that break (to work on their own).”
Adding to the Repertoire: Washburn said his more experienced pitchers probably aren’t learning new pitches during the offseason. “They’re not tinkering too much with new stuff,” he said. “They’re just trying to make their existing stuff better.”
Younger pitchers, on the other hand, can use the time to develop new pitches. “When they come in, we have to work on some of the pitches,” Washburn said. “Some of them haven’t developed a curveball yet that they can throw safely and consistently. We delve into that with the younger guys.”