Our Cage Sessions will begin the first week of November. Please refer to this website and the cage calendar for updates and information. All of the registration forms and waivers are available online (and are in the process of being updated). Looking forward to seeing you soon.
We have all seen the young player who swings hard and finishes with their feet flat, their heels having never left the ground, without any good hip rotation. We ask them to look down after their swing, and they see their feet pointing into the opposite batters box. But how do we fix this?
Some players simply use all arms and fail to generate much of any power from the ground and their hips and legs. In our first practice, I have already seen this in a few of our 13 year olds, and I knew I wanted to try and teach this in a new way.
Last winter, my son trained with Jamar Hill in Anchorage, and Jonny Homza was working out with some of his fellow White Sox organization teammates. They were working on coiling into their back hip and launching into balls, hitting them with some serious torque, high into the Dome netting. Jamar also noted that my son’s swing could benefit from more lower half “coil”, so I started to ponder the idea of “hip coil” in the load portion of the swing.
Coach Cathcart (Baseball Doctor) does the best job I have seen, online, demonstrating how to practice a good “coil” and load. We will be incorporating these drills into our cage sessions, emphasizing sinking into our back hips during our load, without closing our front shoulder to the pitcher, while minimizing head movement, and leaking out on the back knee.
Justin Stone is a master of explaining / diagnosing swing flaws and, in particular, how to properly address the issue of failing to get the most out of our lower half. His continuous pitch drill does a great job of addressing this issue.
Now that the winter program is starting up again, I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned over the past season, and some of the adjustments to my approach to coaching in the off season. This past year I had the opportunity to travel with a group of talented players from Sitka to the USA Baseball National Team Selection Tournament in Phoenix with Jamar Hill’s Alaska Gamers team. We traveled with great players from all over Alaska and learned a lot seeing our kids struggle at times, and compete well at other times against some of the best competition in the country.
Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is the importance of putting a larger emphasis on strength and conditioning in the off season especially for the rising Freshman (13-18) year old age group. Kids in this age group are all at different stages of development and one of the singular most important separators is physical strength and speed. Both of which can be improved with a proper strength and conditioning / agility training program. Fortunately, here in Sitka, we have Jared Rivera, who got his degree at Oregon State University in this specific area, and who played for the Wolves Baseball team in highschool, and even got to work with the OSU baseball team when he was getting his degree.
At SBC, we will be incorporating our own strength routine into our cage sessions, but will be encouraging parents to get their kids enrolled with Jared’s Sitka Grind Fitness center this winter.
One of the other important lessons from last year was how important live reps and live at bats are in developing a successful hitter (and the successful pitcher for that matter). I truly gained an appreciation for the importance of live at bats in helping a hitter gain the necessary confidence for consistent success. I don’t mean live BP from an L screen. I mean a kid facing a live arm (both lefty and righty) at regulation distance in the cage much like you see in the Driveline youtube videos where younger players face off against one of the best pitchers in baseball Trevor Bauer, or (better yet) in sandlot style scrimmages as often as you can muster it. This may seem obvious, but, with all of the cage work kids do these days, I have just seen some pretty talented kids struggle to make the transition from the cage to the playing field in game/tournament settings–and I think more live, competitive reps would help.
Obviously, a progression is still key. A progression that begins with tee work, and soft toss, to front toss, and toward velocity training on machines and live arms, is still essential. With more advanced hitters, though, (varsity or advanced JV players) the progression simply can’t be thrust on a player in a vacuum. The first step is building a relationship with the player, watching, listening, and hearing what they “feel” and want to work on, to help with buy in. Then, video analysis of their swing mechanics. Getting a baseline of their measurables (exit velo on tee / on BP pitching). Then, we develop a plan and routine for each player, with a goal of achieving measurable results.
Our goal at SBC this year will be to help the kids each increase their exit velocity over the next 3 months by at least 5 MPH, and to increase the consistency of their line drive target performance by at least 10%. If we can achieve these performance goals it will confirm our process oriented focus will have succeeded. We will use a combination of strength conditioning, weighted bat training, and skills training (that we call “target practice”) to achieve these results.
“Target practice” = with tee work and front toss, hitting the upper corner of the end of the cage, on a line, where the pitch is pitched. We think of tee work as “sighting in our rifles” and the time in between our sessions as opportunity for our scopes to get bumped or out of whack. On an inside pitch (or tee location) to a right hander, this means hitting the upper left corner “gap shot”. And on an outside pitch (or tee location) to a right hander, it means hitting the upper right corner “gap shot”. Our rough goal is 10-20% launch angle for the kids below 80 mph exit velocity (which is most of the kids). For those who are over 80 mph exit velo, they can start working on hitting the ball in the air a bit more.
Another huge reservoir of insight for me has been the ABCA podcasts and Inside Pitch Magazine. To me, any coach who is not a member taking advantage of these resources is doing themselves and their players a disservice. One of the best nuggets I found this off season was learning about Rob Friedman’s “flat ground app” and his insights more generally on pitching. Rob is a fellow lawyer, who I can relate with on a number of levels who has a ton to offer coaches and players (MLB players are constantly in touch with him) wanting to get better. He create his flat ground app to help get players who were falling through the cracks more exposure without all of the expense.
Our winter hitting program will start Tuesday November 5, 2019 (4:45-6:15 p.m. Moller Cage) and will continue Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:45 – 6:15 p.m.. All returning and new members / participants must print and fill out our registration forms available here or on our home page. Please print, fill them out, sign and bring to your first session. Bring a check for your player dues ($75) and your punch card ($50 for 10 sessions) ($100 for 20 sessions) to your first session.
RBI Alaska is part of a Major League Baseball initiative to help subsidize the high costs of baseball in rural and urban areas throughout America. If we can gather 20 registrants our club will be able to access resources from MLB to help our club members and community access coaching, equipment, and other resources that would otherwise be cost prohibitive.
Please contact Coach Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
There is currently another Page called “Sitka Baseball Club” that I think was created by Ed Conway or someone within Little League, but since we can’t make posts or edits to that page, I created the new group. we’re hoping to be able to link the two shortly.
This past weekend, Jamar Hill, of Gamers Baseball, in Anchorage, visited Sitka and worked with us for a day in the cage. Jamar really emphasized swing plane. To teach the proper swing plane, Jamar placed a batting screen directly behind the kids, so that if they swung rotationally, their follow through would strike the screen, which doesn’t feel good and would teach the kids, like Pavlov, how to adjust their swing to finish high missing the screen. He started with small wood training bats and then had the kids use their regular bats. It was a difficult drill to say the least.
Many of us coaches tried it out just to see what the kids were grappling with and struggled. It’s like hitting in a phone booth. I call it the reverse net drill. I asked Jamar to send us a video demonstrating the drill with his own swing; so that we can continue to work on these skills before the season.
After spending a few nights thinking about this new drill, and keeping Jamar up late with some tequila and beer, I think I finally understand its genius. Having the screen behind you, forces the hands to whip the barrel through the hitting zone on plane with the pitched ball for a longer period of time, in an upward trajectory, finishing high. Much like what Matt Antonelli describes in this video. If you don’t, you get a loud “CLANG” and the bat hits the hitting screen. When the kids swing like they are used to swinging (more rotationally or downward… read: in and out of the zone more quickly) they finish low, and CLANG. The drill also emphasizes keeping your barrel a lot lower than your hands during the swing, at least on all pitches below the belly button. This puts your barrel in better alignment on sinkers, breaking balls and change ups. Finally, this drill basically eliminates any chance for a “roll over” at or near contact. If you roll over, you hit the screen.
To do the drill well, kids have to understand what happens earlier in their swing, e.g., how to turn the barrel, as opposed to “throwing the knob”. The kids quickly learn they cannot swing down on the ball. If they do, they will destroy their bats. On high pitches they still must have a slightly upward hand path with a golf finish to avoid the net. The high pitch was really tough for me to figure out with this new hand path. The kids that get it will relax and are able to swing hard and finish high without striking the net. Those that don’t get it right away, remain tense, and worry about striking the screen. After attempting the drill for a while, the kids should all spend time at the batting Tee, without the screen; because if the kids are tense and timid, the drill doesn’t help them much. It might even bring back bad habits because kids tend to forget about their lower half and their other fundamentals tend to fall apart.
At the batting Tee, they should imagine there is still a screen behind them. They will then have the freedom to swing hard without such a harsh penalty, while still learning the proper hand path. They should be checking all of their cues along the way. This means: making sure they’re getting a good load and stride, stretching the rubber band, getting in a good launch position (top hand ready to knock some body out). They need to make sure they are balanced throughout the swing with a bat path extending through the ball slightly upward and finishing high, with their backs to the plate, if they can. In order to achieve that high finish with their backs to the plate, they have to relax and get a good load and stride, with forward momentum, using the ground to power their swing in an upward trajectory. To finish properly, they have to have done everything else correctly (load, stride, turn of the barrel, stiff front side and balance at contact, with proper extension up and through the ball, finishing high).
Check out my favorite college player’s swing, which is a great example of what I think Jamar is trying to teach with the reverse net drill. Check out Nick Madrigal (OSU second baseman) and preseason All American.
As some of you know, the cage screen we had previously was in tatters and was a serious safety hazard. So we made it a priority to replace the old screen with this front toss screen. If you watch Root Sports much, you will see Edgar Martinez, use one just like this with the Mariners’ hitters. We have also purchased two buckets of 6 dozen leather baseballs; a bucket of tennis balls, and a bucket of wiffle balls.