Some high school baseball coaches work their hitters hard and emphasize offensive principles on the first day of practice, but Seymour (Wis.) varsity baseball coach Curt Jefson takes a different approach. Instead, he sets the groundwork for the coming season by having his guys nail down the program’s routine of playing catch on a daily basis.
Jefson, entering his fifth season as coach, believes catch is great for the entire team but “especially young players that haven’t been in the program”. It’s also a good reminder for the coaches and for the players that when we’re playing catch it’s not a social activity, we’re warming up with a purpose for what we do. I think that kind of sets the tone.”
Jefson and his coaching staff sit the players down, talk about the importance of the throwing session and hand out laminated cards that detail what each position will do during the 20- to 25-minute drill.
“We explain the purpose of the cards and that we’re not only warming up, but we’re practicing the types of throws we’re going to make in a game,” Jefson said. The players are grouped by catchers, pitchers, middle infielders, corner infielders and outfielders.
Each kid pairs up, usually an upperclassman with an underclassman, and typically with both from the same position. One guy is on the first base line stretching out to right field and the other is across from him. Every player will start out throwing the same before breaking into different progressions.
“Basically, we want to make sure that we create good habits,” Jefson said. “We try to incorporate an emphasis from the ground up in all positions. I don’t care if you’re a pitcher, outfielder — that’s really where it starts.”
The catchers’ primary focus in the session is working on footwork.
“We talk about the fundamentals of the transfer from the glove to the hand, the footwork, throwing the ball to first or third,” Jefson said. “Obviously, throwing to third, you have worry about that batter stepping in front or stepping behind.”
The pitchers work on throwing a certain number of changeup grips while playing catch, rather than only tossing fastballs. They also work on a drill designed to set the hip.
“If you can imagine a pitcher kind of hooking his front leg around his back leg so his heel is caught on his shin a little bit,” Jefson said. “We start with that to kind of work that setting of the hip, and we’ll throw from there — scratch that back leg and then we’ll throw.”
The middle infielders work on throwing from different arm slots.
“Not just the flips, but kind of when you field a ground ball and you have to throw it from maybe a sidearm position or a three-quarters position and over the top,” Jefson said. “We want them to be able to be create and get used to throwing from those different arm slots in practice.”
The corner infielders get repetition on their feeds to second base to turn a double play. They also work on cutoffs from the outfielder since both the third and first basemen are cutoff guys on throws to home plate. The players pretend to get a throw coming in, pivot and throw to each other. Middle infielders will also do a similar drill.
The outfielders throw popups to one another as well as work on getting into position to make throws into the infield.
“We try to emphasize staying on top of the ball, because that long throw can drift one way or another way,” Jefson said. “We try to keep them in a pretty good arm position, emphasizing the crow hop and getting behind the ball.”
One of the most important aspects of the throwing session for Jefson is finishing with long toss.
“The more you can get kids to throw at length, the more you’re going to engage that lower body,” Jefson said. “The more they can do that then they’re going to have to start adding velocity, especially when they’re younger. But at any age, it’s really important for them to finish with.”
How will you start your practices early in the season?