As players reach their teens, pitch recognition starts to become a necessity for quality at-bats.
Gone are the days of simplistic pitches from their younger years. From rapid-fire fastballs to tricky curveballs and changeups, batters can begin to expect a vast array of different options being thrown at them starting at the middle school level.
That’s where the front toss drill comes in handy.
Grand Ridge School baseball coach Laramie Dryden has his middle school squad perform the drill each day during the season.
The drill is essentially an underhand bucket toss by the pitcher, who is only 10-15 feet from the batter. This keeps the reaction time intact but makes the pitches more accurate due to the closer proximity.
Each batter gets six attempts. The goal is to hit line drives to the right side of the cage.
“I like keeping it short because if you take too many swings in there at one time, you start getting into bad habits. So we usually go 6-8 pitches and then rotate in new guys,” Dryden said. “That way they’re getting good reps without getting tired or lazy. They’re using good fundamentals instead of slipping into bad habits. We usually do three or four rounds of it.”
Dryden said he has his players concentrate on hitting the ball to the opposite field, making contact with the ball on the inner half and recognizing the pitch. He also makes sure the batters are challenged.
“After they get good and successful at that, we’re mixing it up ... where they’re looking for the pitch they’re going to be hitting,” Dryden said. “Not just swinging at every pitch that’s thrown up there.”
The Grand Ridge coaching staff wants to prepare their players for the next level.
“It’s a good training for when they get to high school, so that they’re getting the basics and starting how to look for certain pitches,” Dryden said. “You can’t just get up there and swing at every pitch, because at this level they’re starting to see curve balls, fast balls, changeups and other pitches. So you’ve got to go up there and sit on a certain pitch.”
While Dryden would love perfection, he’s realistic with his expectation from his batters during the drill.
“My main goal would be six out of six line drives to the back of the net,” Dryden said. “As they start progressing, four out of six would probably be good. But after that, I want that person to be trying for five out of six. You’re not going to get six out of six most of the time. You’ll have somebody that hits the first four great and then the next two they get excited and roll through it with bad habits.”
In his final season coaching at the high school level, Dryden’s Sneads Pirates had seven batters averaging .300 or better.
Dryden estimates that a great high school batter should average .400 or better, while a standout middle school athlete will be in the .500 range.
The best way to accomplish that is to exhibit patience and have a keen eye.
“When you’re in Little League if you make contact, you’re pretty much going to be successful,” Dryden said. “When you get to middle school you start seeing different pitches and you have to start working on hitting the fastball and curveball and recognizing pitches. Then in high school, you have to start picking pitches to hit. You can’t go up there and swing at a fastball every pitch.”