Playing catcher isn’t brain surgery, but it can feel like it at times for a baseball player who is learning the position for the first time. Catching involves so many nuances beyond simply reeling in any pitches that a pitcher gets past the batter.
Every catcher acts as the eyes for his teammates when the other team is at the plate. That means learning how to read batters and learning how to call a game.
“There’s so much for that catcher to learn,” says Kent Norris, general manager of the MountainWest Baseball Academy. “It’s not like you can tell a catcher in a day or two what he needs to do.”
Norris, who also coached baseball at Granger (Utah) High School for four seasons, helps beginning catchers learn the ropes by letting them call pitches for an inning. Once the inning is finished, he takes them aside and offers feedback on what worked and what needs improvement.
Learning every aspect of the game is the first thing a catcher needs to do, Norris said, because it dictates their ability to be successful more than anything else. For example, the catcher needs to understand what a batter is doing so he can signal the correct pitches to the pitcher and infield.
“He has to know every aspect of what the other team does and what his team does best so that he can make calls,” Norris said.
Reading a batter starts with discerning how his stance in the box influences pitches. A catcher needs to read a batter’s stance and see whether he’s up against the plate or whether he’s hanging back. It influences pitching decisions as simple as throwing hard and inside versus throwing hard and outside.
Once a catcher masters reading a batter, he can work on other essentials such as proper throwing mechanics, signaling to the pitcher and his own stances behind the plate. Catchers need a deeper understanding of the game more than any other position. Once they learn those nuances, it can help them in their own progression in all areas — including hitting.
“Does it help their hitting?” Norris said. “Yes it does, because they start getting an idea of what opposing pitchers are going to try to do to them in certain counts. Their anticipation offensively improves because of their knowledge of the game.”
Being a catcher can be more demanding than other positions in baseball. Many young players opt to take on other positions like shortstop or outfielder, which rely more on instinct and reaction rather than anticipation. This means competition at catcher can be a little lighter than other positions on a team.
Still, a baseball player who puts in the time and becomes a student of the game has an edge on being a key part in any team’s rotation as an effective catcher much faster than his peers at other positions.