In the age of information, both players and coaches struggle with balancing the plethora of information we have and our ability to coach or play well on the field. Sometimes practicing the most basic skills of hitting fall through the cracks in our programs. I keep finding myself wondering if hitters prioritize thinking about their swing over picking up the baseball out of the pitcher's hand. I will never stop trying to improve the swings of those I work with, or mine for that matter, but at the end of the day, we have to see the ball extremely well in the box to be an elite level baseball player.
Sounds ridiculous, I know. Of course you have to see the baseball well in order to have any chance of hitting it. Think about it though, how often do we consciously practice picking up the baseball? Even if you are lucky enough to have been introduced to some vision practice, how often do we get in the cage and have a round where all you do is concentrate as hard as you can on the baseball? When you're standing in the batter's box, that is your only job. The ability to pick up the baseball precedes any ability to swing at it. If we can’t see the ball, the pitch that’s thrown, or where it’s going to be, we have no chance at hitting the baseball.
Some examples of ways to practice looking at the baseball:
Last round of the day: At the bare minimum, your last round in a hitting session should consist of queuing on nothing else but the baseball. You may have been working on bat path or lower half stuff earlier in the day, but now that you’re almost done, we need to get the eyes working. Focus on the ball, search for the seams. Have your pitcher throw breaking balls and different pitches to practice picking those up too.
Take Rounds: Take rounds are great for practicing a variety of things including rhythm, load, and your vision. You know you’re not swinging so you shouldn’t be thinking about anything but locking in on that baseball with every part of your concentration.
Colored balls: Use markers to color some balls and mix them into the pile. The possibilities are endless with colored balls. Pick a color and only hit that color, swing at color balls, take white ones, etc. Any drill that forces you to lock in on the baseball is practicing this basic skill every hitter needs
Focal Point: Take notice as to where you are focusing before the pitcher has released the baseball. Many players of all levels who have heard this question often cannot answer it. Some guys have a soft focus of the whole pitcher, some focus in hard somewhere near his release point. As a high schooler, I was taught to lock in on the logo of the pitcher’s hat. The logo is roughly the same size as the ball and in close proximity to where the pitcher’s release point will be from the view of the hitter.
Short Overhand Toss: Pretty self explanatory here, put the L screen about 6 steps away and throw it overhand to the hitter at a pace that makes it difficult for them. Hitters should struggle with this drill for a good amount of time. I personally started doing this drill this summer, it took my teammates and I about a week and a half to consistently hit the ball hard every round. We saw improvement when our hitting coach was stressing picking up the ball and picking a better pitch to drive.
On a final note, there’s a story going around that Miguel Cabrera gets headaches during his hitting sessions. He supposedly says it is from concentrating on the baseball so intently. I can’t find any reading on the subject, but knowing Cabrera as a hitter and his control of the strike zone, I like to think this is true and strive for this sort of deliberate practice as a player myself.
Part 1 – Colorado Rogue Fall Baseball - An Overview
Part 2 – Colorado Rogue Fall Baseball - Weekly Training
The third piece of our fall program revolves around our game schedule, which we work to deliberately build in order to maximize our training and give our guys opportunities to take their skills to the field and compete. Our common metaphor is academic in nature, with training and practice being the classwork and homework, and the games being the test. Our fall games provide players the chance to cut it loose on the field knowing that they have put in the work during the week, and give us as coaches the opportunities to evaluate our guys and provide them with valuable feedback that will influence their practice in the next week. We’ll take a look at our fall games in three parts; schedule, game-day lineups and rotations, and video and statistical focuses.
Our fall schedule is built to both give our guys ample game time opportunities, as well as catering to our training schedule and the busy fall life of a high school student. Typically we play somewhere in the 25 game range in the fall, which puts most guys at about 75 games for the calendar year after 20 high school games in the spring and 30-35 tournament games with us in the summer. We feel that this is a good number and provides a balanced schedule that allows for training, playing, time for social and family life, and the sometimes undervalued concept of rest. While we have played in a league in the past and it was valuable for us when our team was younger, we have worked into a tournament heavy format with our upperclassmen, supplemented by a couple of doubleheaders against some other teams from our area.
In addition to our scheduled weekends, we deliberately build in a couple of weekends off, allowing our guys to seek out other opportunities such as camps/showcases or school visits, or just take a weekend away from baseball to do something else. The split between the two options is about 50/50 with our current group, who do a great job of understanding their own personal priorities. It is important for us as coaches to remember that these guys are teenagers and having some time away from the game will allow them to be more well rounded, enjoy being a high school student and ultimately keep them fresh and motivated on the baseball side.
Below is our 2017 Fall Schedule provided as a reference. While this schedule is what we are doing this fall, we will always evaluate what is best for our current group of guys from year to year and adjust accordingly.
Day Date Opponent Site
Sat-Sun 8/19-8/20 PBR Tournament Denver, CO
Fri-Sun 8/25-8/27 UNC Tournament Greeley, CO
Fri-Mon 9/1-9/4 Slammers Tournament Denver, CO
Sat-Sun 9/9-9/10 Off Weekend
Fri-Sun 9/15-9/17 ABA Fall Tourney Albuquerque, NM
Sat-Sun 9/23-9/24 Off Weekend
Fri-Sun 9/29-10/1 Perfect Game Tourney Emerson, GA
Sat 10/7 D-Backs Scout Team 18 Peak to Peak HS
Sat. 10/14 Gameday Baseball Double Angel
Sun. 10/15 Players vs. Coaches Chaparral HS
The PBR tournament allows our guys to play local competition and is covered well by the Prep Baseball Report staff. The UNC tournament in Greeley is one of our favorites of the year and is organized by Triple Crown sports in conjunction with the baseball staff at the University of Northern Colorado. Slammers partners with Perfect Game and puts on a very good Labor Day tournament that is well scouted. The ABA fall tournament is Albuquerque is one that I have attended with our guys as well as a player and college coach. This gets us in front of some of the southern schools and gives our guys a chance to play against some different competition. The Perfect Game WWBA National Qualifier in Georgia is a really good experience for our guys and playing at the Lakepoint Complex is memorable against the very stiff competition in the southeast. We finish with a couple of double header weekends against local teams and have incorporated a players vs. coaches game which is a fun way to finish out the fall.
In addition to the schedule above, the fall provides our guys additional opportunities to showcase their skills on a more individual basis including events with Prep Baseball Report and Mountain West Baseball.
We teamed up with Prep Baseball Report to provide a scout day specifically for Rogue players as well as individual trainees from the facility. This gives our guys an opportunity to be evaluated and measured by the staff of PBR and to have a profile on the PBR website for a discounted rate. This can be very beneficial, as many college coaches use PBR as a resource in their recruiting.
Mountain West Baseball is an organization out of Utah that has secured team spots in the prestigious Arizona Fall Classic which attracts hundreds of coaches and scouts to Peoria each fall. Our players have been given an opportunity to participate in that tournament through a tryout with Mountain West and this year four of our seniors and three of our juniors will be attending the fall classic. While this is not a part of our team schedule, this is a highlight of the fall for our guys and allows them to play in front of a ton of coaches as well as against very good competition.
Game-day Lineups and Rotations
Our approach to how we structure our fall from a gameplay standpoint is rooted in our belief in providing our players with ample opportunities to get at bats, innings on the mound and time at the positions in which they need to be playing.
On the hitting side, we set a lineup on the first day of the fall and we roll that lineup in order for all of our games. The guy that ended a game on deck will lead off the next game, as the guy who made the last out moves down to the bottom of the order. When a player misses a game or two, he is just slotted right back into where he was before. This method keeps the number of at bats just about equal for all of our guys, as well as getting them time at different spots in the batting order on a game by game basis.
Defensively, we do our best to get guys sufficient work at all of the positions they may play. For some guys who play single positions such as catcher or 1st base, they will get their innings there with an understanding that may sit a little bit more than guys who are more versatile and need time at various positions. Even at the upper levels of high school baseball, we encourage players to have some versatility to their game and be open to playing in some different spots during the fall. We are firm believers that if a coach can put you anywhere on the field, your chances of playing will increase exponentially. To keep this in order, we lay out each game prior to with the template below. This makes it easy for guys to understand what they’ll be doing that game. In addition, we keep a detailed log of the amount of innings that each guy plays at each position, so that we can structure lineups properly as we go through the fall, as well as make some notes of games they may have missed.
On the pitching side, innings are laid out on the lineup template as well. Innings are thrown based on a number of factors including pitcher’s workload throughout the year, other positions they may play, the pitching role they most often find themselves in (starter, reliever, closer). Effectiveness is a factor as well, and the guys that prove to be more effective generally get a few more innings. We are very cognizant of pitch counts and make sure not to extend guys past a point we believe is safe for them. Despite pleas from our guys who wish to stay out there and continue to compete, we stick to this plan each weekend.
Video and Statistical Focuses
As mentioned earlier, the weekend is an opportunity for us as coaches to continue with the development process by getting game video as well as keeping a detailed set of statistics that we use with our players.
On the video side, hitting and pitching are the main focuses and we try to get a handful of swings and pitches that we can reference going forward. We put our iPad on a tripod and we’ll have the player who was the last out of the previous inning run the video. We keep all swings including balls in play, foul balls and swings and misses, and upload them into our Hudl Technique account, which is shared to all of the guys’ individual accounts. They have these videos forever, and many guys refer to them daily while others quickly peek at them and move on. As coaches we will make some notes on guys’ swings and build our training around them. Pitching wise the process is the same, and we will make sure to get video of the pitcher from straight across on the arm side. These videos are also used for player’s reference and the next week’s training. Defensively we will get video if the need arises, but obviously it’s a little tougher to predict each guy’s reps in the field so our focuses defensively are left to the naked eye.
On the statistics side, we have a healthy mix of process and result based stats in each phase that we focus on during games.
At the plate, I keep a running notecard of the results of our guys’ plate appearances. On my notecard, I circle the result if the player notched a quality plate appearance or QPA, and can easily tally these up for our reference throughout the game. I put Qs on our lineup card so that guys can see how many they have that day, and their in game goal is to have a QPA each time. In our program, a quality plate appearance is defined as one of the following: Hit, walk, hit by pitch, moved runner, hard hit ball, 8+ pitch at bat, sacrifice. In addition, I keep a number of approach stats that track a few of our points of emphasis. With these we are able to really lock in the foundation of our players at bats. These stats include hitters count fastball swings and takes, hitters count chases, positive and negative results in hitters counts, and wins and losses on fastballs with 2 strikes. We have found that having hard proof that identifies our guys’ approaches has been invaluable, and after a weekend I will match up our approach and result stats and we find that there is a strong correlation between guys’ approaches and their production. In my opinion, these numbers go much further with the players than my subjective opinions on their approaches and results.
On the mound, coach Moritz keeps stats in the same manner, with a mix of process based stats and traditional pitcher numbers. He places a big emphasis on 1st pitch strikes, less than 4 pitch hitters, and less than 12 pitch innings, and these are guidelines for our guys. In addition, he will keep the traditional numbers including earned runs, strikeouts, walks as well as leadoff and two out walks. Finally pitch counts and innings are factored in and each player’s numbers are molded into the “DMO Index” after the weekend giving a good number showing their efficiency.
Defensively, the main focus for Logan is players making routine plays, as well as tracking pre-pitch movement from our guys. Routine plays that are made and missed are tracked from infielders and outfielders, and catcher’s blocks and throws are also tracked. Pre-pitch, the emphasis is that all of our guys are on time for the ball in the strike zone, so we keep an eye and make sure that our guys are on time on two feet. Any poor “prep steps” are noted and shared with our guys later.
Jordan has taken on the role of making sure our guys are running hard, and tracking times from home to first and making sure guys are getting on and off the field are his main points of emphasis. 5 seconds is the benchmark that we want our guys to be under on both a balls in the infield and the outfield. On and off the field, we are looking to get there in 20 seconds in order to keep pushing the pace.
For us as coaches, the process-based stats give us feedback that can be presented to the players mid-game, while keeping track of the results allows for analysis after the weekend. As I mentioned earlier, it is very interesting for us to match up our process focuses and see the correlations of guys who are producing good results. We can use this info to help guide what we coach and emphasize in the future.
Part 4 - Helping Players Play at the Next Level
Part 1 - An Overview
Now that Rogue Baseball’s methodologies, principles, expectations and goals for our fall season have been laid out, we can get into the meat and potatoes of what we do with our guys, and that is WORK! We truly believe that our program provides players the opportunity to develop their game in all aspects, and our weekly routine and the work that we put in is evidence of that. Below is the layout of a typical week in the life of a Rogue Baseball player, with detailed descriptions from the coaching side on what we do and why we do it.
Monday – OFF Day/Weight Room
Mondays don’t have any baseball specific activities scheduled. Most weeks, we have just completed a weekend tournament and Monday provides our guys with a day to focus on schoolwork, get things in order for the week ahead, and take a mini break from the game. From the coaching side, Monday gives us a day to compile the stats and video, and get that out to our guys, which I’ll dive into more specifically in the next blog post. With that info we encourage our guys to evaluate their weekend and think and look through some things they can work on in the week ahead.
Monday’s biggest priority for our guys is to get back in the weight room, which is a staple of our program and a critical part of the development process for high school players. We are very fortunate to share a facility with Push Performance, who run one of the best elite baseball strength training programs in the country. DJ Edwards and the rest of the Push staff provide a personalized program for each of our players, based off of an initial assessment that our players are taken through at the beginning of the fall. Players keep that program and record their weights throughout each lifting cycle, and continue this process throughout the fall. In the weight room, we allow players to get in there at their own convenience, rather than lifting as an entire group. This allows our guys to get their lifts in around their school and baseball schedules, which can be hectic. While they have some freedom with when they can lift they are also held accountable for being in the weight room 4 days each week. We constantly stress that being great is hard, and the ability to diligently plan their weeks and stick to that plan is the key to consistency. In general, the guys that are consistent in the weight room are the guys that show consistency on the field.
Tuesday – Team Practice Day
This fall, Tuesday is set up as our team practice day. We are lucky enough to practice at a beautiful Cherokee Trail facility thanks to my former high school coach, coaching mentor and current CT head coach Steve Eaton. We use this practice day for a number of things, varying from week to week depending on what we have learned over the course of the weekend. We start each Tuesday practice with a 10 minute team meeting discussing the positives and negatives from the week and weekend prior. In addition, we recognize our weekly top performers, awarding each of our three ball bags to our hitter, pitcher and defender of the week. Recognizing our guys like this is a great way to keep them motivated and recognized for their hard work and how it leads to their performance on a given weekend, as well as turning the burden of carrying the ball bags into a positive. We also give the helmet bag to the voted upon “Dummy of the Week,” just to keep things light and allow our guys to have some fun with each other.
After our meeting, our guys go through our stretch as a team, our band and plyoball work to prepare themselves to throw, and then our throwing progression. With our current group, we have nine two-way players, so it essential that we build both pitcher and position player focuses into our throwing progression. Players act as pitchers as they stretch out, working through three or four different steps of the pitching progression, and as position players on the way including position throws and various catch principles (tags, DP footwork etc.) At the end of our defensive progressions, our two way players throw 10-15 pitch flatgrounds, with coach Moritz guiding some pitch specific work that guys may need.
Once our throwing progression is finished, we generally work into individual defensive work, with outfielders and infielders getting focused full length reps in a variety of ways. After indy D, we may do some sort of team defense that we’ve identified as a problem area, or just something we haven’t covered. After defense we’ll transition into hitting in the cages, setting some specific parameters and drills for our guys while allowing them to get a good amount of swings.
After getting a good amount of focused reps, we’ll move into some sort of live work on the field that gets our guys out in the open and playing at full speed. These drills may include our situational point game, live at bats, the ever exciting Runnin’ Rogue game, BP competitions and others. Getting the guys to compete in a fast paced, pressure environment is key here, and they usually respond well and enjoy it. We’ll conclude with some sort of conditioning, which is in place to keep our guys accountable for the week prior’s weight room attendance. Winning practice is always a key focus for us, so the coaching staff makes a decision on whether or not we practiced well enough to win and if so, we’ll get three outs and shake hands as we would after a game win. Our players of the week take the responsibility of the small amount of field cleanup that we need to complete, and we call it a day.
Wednesday – Small Group Hitting Day
Wednesday for us is a hitting specific day, in which our twelve hitters are split into three groups and work through an hour of focused work at the facility. This practice always starts with players getting stretched together as a group, and then working into some mental game work. Our focus on the mental game and providing our guys with strategies that will allow them to perform on the field is something we feel really sets up apart. Visualization, relaxation and concrete ways to handle the inevitable adversity that comes as a hitter are drilled each week for a short time on Wednesday. After practicing our mental game, we generally move into some sort of lower half and upper half warmup work, employing a number of different drills and implements that help out guys optimize their swings. From there we will get into rotations, where our guys spend time with additional specific swing drills on the heavy bag, on deck with timing focuses and in the cage with flips and overhand BP. In addition to swings, our guys train with DeCervo uHIT virtual, a cutting edge program helping to train hitters pitch recognition abilities, and we take measurements with the Blast Motion sensor which gives our guys feedback in a number of different metrics including bat speed and bat path angle. In the future, all of our players will have their own Blast Sensors and uHIT accounts, allowing them to train and receive feedback when working on their own. This use of technology allows us to take some of the guess-work out of our coaching, and provide our guys with useful objective feedback. Wednesdays allow us to take what we saw from our hitters on video from the weekend and design drills to help attack those issues, as well as giving our hitters a chance to decide for themselves which drills and progressions they prefer and can use on their own. These are both critical to helping our players advance as hitters.
Thursday – Small Group Defensive and Pitching Work
This practice is built much like our Wednesday small group hitting day, just in the context of defense and pitching. Generally, our infielders arrive first, working with coach Logan Serena on fundamental aspects of infield play. The same stretching and arm care protocols are used, and catch play is geared even more towards infield skills including adding transfers and additional footwork variations into the mix. Standard fundamental drills are often done at the beginning; with additional drills built in based on weekend observations or general needs. In addition to mastering the routine aspects of infield play, allowing our guys to be athletic and make great plays is a focus as well. Drills built with different variables like oven mitts and lacrosse balls are staples, and getting guys moving around athletically in a four corners or circle drill setting keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
In the outfield, Jordan Serena coordinates the drill work with the same goals of mastering fundamental aspects of outfield play. The format closely matches that of the infielder’s work, with catch play geared towards outfielders specifically, with a heavy focus on throwing footwork. From there, drop step progressions and various drills working on reads are done, and full length, full speed drills are mixed in at the end. A big goal in outfield drills is to help our guys get comfortable being uncomfortable and the use of late and bad read drills force this. Catchers also spend time working on their craft on these days, with drill work mixed in with the catching of bullpens. Receiving, blocking and throwing drills are done on a need basis, and we always try to overtrain with our guys, working at or above game speed. After hammering home fundamentals in a drill setting, catchers can take the work into bullpens where receiving is obviously a priority and blocking is forced as well. This process works well for their development.
On the pitching side, Thursdays are a great day for pitchers to get good focused work in an individual or two on one basis. While bullpens are a priority on these days in order to prepare our guys for the weekend, they are often preceded by focused drills aimed at certain mechanical and mindset specifics. Coach Moritz does a great job of understanding each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses and tailoring his instruction to those points. It’s a priority to get video of each of our guys over a weekend, which allows Dillon to break down that video and use it in his instruction and this video has been shared with the pitchers prior to Thursday.
In addition to high-level instruction from our coaching staff during the week, it is a constant point of emphasis to our guys that they understand what they need to work on and that these days are collaborative rather than dictatorial. We aim to build in time in all drill settings where they can work through drills that they find useful, and much of what we present to them is for the purpose of understanding and making a decision on a drill’s value to themselves as a player.
As mentioned earlier, our weekly baseball specific training is the meat and potatoes of our program, and while it most definitely is a grind, we feel that it adequately exposes our guys to what it takes to be a high level player. In the next post, we’ll dive into our fall games and how we schedule, how we work lineups and playing time, and specific stats that we look for in game situations.
Part 3 - Our Approach to Games
As the fall season is past midway for us at Rogue Baseball, it is our desire to share some of the ins and outs of our fall program and the methodology that drives the things we do with our team. We feel very strongly that the training environment and culture that we are in the process of creating (and will always be looking to improve upon) provides high school baseball players with some of the best opportunities to develop as into a high level player at their current level, and help them towards their goals of advancing to the next level of baseball. This post will be pretty extensive, providing full insight into the processes that we work through on a daily and weekly basis.
This is not a “Showcase” team!
Our goal every fall is to provide our guys with the feel of a college baseball program, as it is most guys’ goal to get to that level. This is in large contrast to the “we’ll see ya next weekend” mentality that many programs employ during the fall season. We are firm believers that if we can expose them to what it takes to play college baseball from a commitment standpoint, we have provided them the opportunity to decide if it is in fact something they want to pursue, as well as prepare them for that commitment on the baseball skills side. Because this is such a different mindset than most guys are used to, it often comes as a shock to some of our players. Early on, many have a little bit of “what did I get myself into”, but most of our guys settle in and embrace the commitment after understanding and experiencing what’s expected of them. Some guys however do not, and realize that it’s too much and find other options. To us, that is just fine. For a player, facing the reality and learning what they don’t want to do is just as important as learning what they do want to do, and we want guys in our program who embrace and enjoy the grind.
Our Coaching Staff
With any good program, the coaches that lead it are of paramount importance, or “the golden goose” as once described to me. We are fortunate to have a group of coaches that have an incredible passion for teaching, a strong base of current knowledge, the time to commit to fully developing our guys and most importantly a willingness to constantly challenge the things they are doing and learn about new ways to make our players better. The mindset of “this is how I did it, so you’re going to do it this way” is completely nonexistent in our staff and forever will be. Everything we do has purpose behind it and is always communicated to our guys. We aren’t scared to try new things that may be outside the box, as well as checking our ego’s enough to do things that others have proven to work. A quick introduction of our staff includes Logan Serena who is in charge of our infielders as well as coaching third base and dominates throwing batting practice (an extremely important skill.) Dillon Moritz is our pitching coach and does an incredible job at preparing and guiding our pitchers, as well as throwing great BP (which is rare from a pitcher.) Jordan Serena is a current professional player with the Angels and is a huge asset to our guys given his experiences at baseball’s highest levels. Jordan works with outfielders, catchers and base-runners. I run our hitting, as well as coordinating and overseeing everything within our program. Although our staff members all have well defined roles, it’s understood that the better each coach understands and can teach each aspect of the game, the more productive we can be. We take pride in treating practice and game days like workdays, rather than rolling the balls out, sitting on a bucket and spectating.
Our Core Principles
In the spirit of operating like a college baseball program, we have found that having a set of core principles that guide our processes has been of huge benefit to us as coaches and to the players. It helps us as coaches classify our expectations as well as have a specific focus for the things we do to train our players and for the players it gives them guidelines to how they should be approaching each day. Below is a description of our principles, creating a definition for the word “Rogue”.
Routined - Rogue coaches help players and teams understand the importance of creating and executing daily and pitch-to-pitch routines, as well as maintaining a focus on mastering the routine aspects of the game.
Optimized - Rogue coaches work tirelessly to help players and teams develop their Tools, Actions and Game-ability in the optimal way, understanding that there are foundational principles that all great players work to master. Coaches work to help players achieve optimization within his own individual style.
Gritty - Through a hard working, blue collar attitude and approach to the game, Rogue coaches, players and teams understand how play the game hard, how to handle inevitable adversity and how to continuously trust the process as they look to improve.
Unselfish - Rogue coaches, players, and teams understand that personal greatness can still be achieved with a team first attitude. Cooperation, sacrifice, and the success of the team are driving forces and are celebrated above all else.
Energetic - Rogue coaches, players and teams bring the three C’s every single day; Concentration on the task at hand, Commitment to giving 100% effort at all times in any role, and purposeful Communication with themselves and those around them.
Our belief in and daily adherence to these principles will guide our culture and continue to provide the best baseball development environment possible.
Our Expectations of our Players
While developing great baseball players is an exciting and enjoyable task, developing great men is a far more important one for us as coaches. With that in mind, accountability is at the forefront of our expectations of our guys. While there are constantly little (yet important things) things that we try to teach our guys, we don’t have a giant rules list and there are two main expectations that we have. Number one is communication. Whether it’s something off the field like a schedule question or that you are going to be a few minutes late to practice, or on field items like discussion of swing/throwing/fielding mechanics, we are huge believers that our guys need to learn to communicate well. The reality is that everything that is going on in our program revolves around them, so they are the center point of all communication between coaches, themselves, and their parents. In very rare cases do we speak with parents without players being included in the conversation. Our number two expectation is that our guys be prepared. Having the proper tools, apparel, nutrition and idea of the purposes that day all come with being a prepared player, and we expect our guys to operate in that fashion. With these two guidelines, we believe that we are helping our guys with basic skills that will help them be successful as ballplayers but more importantly as people.
In the next post, we'll dive into the specifics of how we train our players, including a strong empahsis on the strength aspect, layouts of our weekly practices, and our goals and routines within those sessions.
Part 2 - Weekly Training
To finish our series outlining our fall program, I’d like to briefly discuss how we approach the task of getting our players to paly at the collegiate level. To begin, I think it is appropriate to emphasize that one of our main objectives is to attract players that have the desire to play at the next level and are willing to put in the time and energy to strive towards that goal. The ways that we help players to do that from the physical side are outlined in the previous posts, but it is important to note that the time and energy are not just spent on the field or in the gym, but in the attacking of the recruiting process. Another important thing to note is that every single player is going to be different. An understanding that there is no blanket way to get kids to the next level, and that their paths are going to vary is important for us as coaches to remember, and players and parents to grasp. With that said, this post will be split into two simple parts, the responsibility of us as coaches and the responsibility of the players and parents.
Our Responsibility as Coaches
From a coaching standpoint, we undoubtedly have an important role in helping our guys get to the next level. This starts with the task of developing their skills to a level that can play at the next level. This to us in the most important and obvious piece of the puzzle. Simply put, if you can’t physically play at the next level, you aren’t going to play at the next level. We emphasize this to our guys all the time and make sure that they understand that exposure doesn’t do you any good if there is nothing to expose!
The next thing we do at the beginning of each season is provide our guys with a valuable resource from College Baseball Advisors. This group out of Arizona has put together comprehensive material helping guide players through the recruiting process, and Don Mitchell has seen baseball from every level. This provides families with a guide that they can refer to whenever they need!
From there, we make a concerted effort to help our guys make a quality skills video that they can have as a tool to send to coaches. In the Internet age we live in, a skills video is extremely valuable for college coaches, as it allows them to get a good look at a player without having to travel across the country. We spend a practice day at the end of the fall getting footage of our guys hitting, taking groundballs and fly balls, throwing and pitching and compile the clips. The video is put up on our YouTube page so that our guys have easy access to the link and can use it as they see fit.
Another big responsibility for us as coaches is to make sure we are aware of opportunities for our guys, and creating a schedule that will get them as many potential looks as possible. We were fortunate enough to play at UNC, Metro State and University of New Mexico’s ballparks this fall where there were coaches from those schools as well as others present. This is the best thing we can do as a team to get our guys looks from those schools and others in the vicinity. In addition to what we do as a team, having a knowledge of players aspirations and aware of potential opportunities for them is important as well. If we can help advise them in camps and showcases that would suit their athletic and academic levels, we are doing our job. As mentioned earlier, each player is different, so not every player is going to be well suited for every opportunity. This fall, our players have an opportunity to attend the Arizona Fall Classics, which provide a good opportunity for all of those guys given the large number of schools at various levels that attend.
Finally, it our responsibility to connect with college coaches and prove ourselves to be a reputable source for those guys. Using previously established relationships, and working to connect to new coaches as much as we can is important not only for our current players, but for our future guys as well. In addition, we feel that the quality of our program and the reputation we are building in the baseball community is going to not only attract the right kinds of players, but also attract interest from college coaches who know that our guys are being developed to play at their level. This is a major goal of ours. Another tool we utilize is the Field Level website, which allows us to connect with coaches, and promote our guys who may fit that school and that level. We also work to reach out to coaches at schools that interest our players in other ways, such as an email or a phone call. When it boils down to it, our main responsibility is to work with and for each of our players individually to help them find the best opportunity at the next level.
Responsibilities of the Players
As much as we as coaches can help, we are firm believers that it is ultimately our players’ job to find a way to play at the college level. This may sound harsh, but having a plan and strategy from a player and family standpoint is the starting point, and we can help guide that process as coaches. I’ll jump right in and say that it is our players’ number one job work hard enough to be good enough to play at the college level, and that is stressed to our guys often! Exposure works both ways, and if you are exposing how “not good” you are, it won’t get you anywhere. Read more on that subject HERE. Having the tools, actions and game-ability to play at the next level is what coaches are looking for! While the saying “if youre good enough they’ll find you” rings true to us, players must take ownership of the recruiting process in order for that to happen
That being said, it is important that players make a list of schools that they are interested in attending at a realistic level. This takes some extra time and effort from our guys, but ultimately will be a guide for them as they look to play at the college level. It is important to remember that the academics are key, and that after a coach sees that he likes a players skills he immediately looks at grades. If schools can provide players with academic money, that’s less of a commitment that the baseball program has to make, which is a huge deal with a max scholarship amount of 11.7 in NCAA.
Our 2018 class this fall is very strong academically, so many of our guys have high academic Division 2 and Division 3 schools on their lists. We have a couple of junior college type players and students as well, so they are targeting that level. They have done a great job of researching these institutions, reaching out to coaches on their own with video, attending camps and taking visits. All of these pieces are what we encourage, and the guys that take ownership of this process are the ones that find a place to play. We encourage our guys to use the Target Schools feature on the Field Level website to make their list of schools. This allows us to see the updated list, connect with those coaches and promote our guys if they fit that school. We won’t promote that player if we don’t think he can play at that level, and we’ll work through those lists with our guys.
As stated earlier, the recruiting process is different for every single player, and it is our main objective within our fall program to work the process with each guy. We hold end of fall meetings with each player, and in addition to talking about their performance and skills from the fall and next steps in training, we also go over the recruiting process and next steps there. We by no means have this thing figured out, and we will continue to take what we learn from each player’s processes and help it with our players in the future!
“Have an approach!!”
– Every Coach Ever
While this is sound advise, players are often in the dark on what having an approach actually means, and if it’s not clear what approach a player should have, how can a player have one??
As we went into our fall season this year, it was my goal to provide our hitters with some objective feedback on their personal approaches, based on some of the key things we focus on as a group. In today’s baseball data environment, it was important to me to be able to provide them with hard evidence of how their approaches relate to their production. By no means are these the only important things on the approach side of hitting, and there are many different approaches that hitters can employ, but the following focuses are where we decided to start.
These approach focuses while general and basic, give our guys a good baseline to work from and us as coaches good parameters to measure them. For most high school hitters, attacking fastballs in hitter’s counts is the most viable option unless the pitcher proves that he can command secondary pitches effectively. In my opinion, a hitter’s count is any count with less than 2 strikes. 0-1 to me is still a hitter’s count and feeling like you have to swing at a pitcher’s pitch in that count tends to get guys into trouble. 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, and 2-1 are counts that hitters are generally fairly comfortable in. Hunting in hitter’s counts focuses hitters on leaving pitches alone you’re not on time for, or that are out of the zone. If you’re sitting fastball, don’t chase a good breaking ball that fooled you or that bounces in the dirt. If you’re sitting breaking ball, don’t wave at a fastball. Hunt your pitch and attack it! Winning the fastball with two strikes is important because we have to adjust from hard to soft in a two strike count. The opposite will not work!! Being prepared for a fastball and battling breaking ball with two is key. We give our guys a win for battling off a fastball, as well as making good contact.
As we looked to quantify these approaches during our games this fall, I kept a notecard each game that tracked not only our players results as shown on the front of the card, but their performance in our approach stats on the back. This killed two birds with one stone, as the ability to reference the card allowed me to have a better focus on our guys approaches in game as well as see how our team approach contributed to that our performance as a whole that day. A fancier, more official chart may soon follow, but this worked well this fall!
As we collected that data throughout the fall, both the result and approach data was input into a spreadsheet tracked throughout. The goal was to see how production was influenced by how well guys executed our approach focuses, and to see how our top performers compared to our lower end guys. With that goal in mind we needed a production number, and lucky for me my pal Chris Dunn has come up with a killer stat called QwOBA that combines Weighted On Base Average with our own focus on Quality Plate Appearances. In short, the number gives weight to traditional production stats including singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and HBP, as well as rewarding QPA’s that don’t show up or are marked as negatives on the stat sheet. These to us are; hard hit outs, sacrifice flies and bunts, moving and scoring runners and 8+ pitch at bats. This stat sums up how we value our hitters very nicely.
With this number at hand, we compared what we saw in production with what we saw with approach. Here are the approach stats that we put together based on the items we tracked.
Here’s the full number breakdown, as well as how each player performed statistically both result and approach wise in the stats above. Below it is a look at how our top four, middle four and bottom four producers fared as a group, which is where we will spend most of our time.
Take a look at the second chart and you can see that aside from the obvious differences in QwOBA and QPA production, there are some noticeable differences in the approaches of those three groups. It’s important to note that this fall we kept a rolling lineup throughout or 22 games and that with a couple exceptions, our guys plate appearances were very close in number.
You can see that the top producers were much more aggressive on fastballs than the bottom two groups, supporting our focus on the value of attacking fastballs in hitter’s counts. Going down to chases/player, you see that the top producing group actually chases more balls per player than the bottom group does, highlighting the fact that aggressiveness sometimes makes mistakes and being too passive is safer but less productive. Another interesting thing is that the guys that chase too much in that middle group have less fastball swings, but more chases, indicating the possibility of a little bit more of a guesswork aspect to their approaches as a whole.
Working down to HC Positive %, it’s no surprise that the top four produce more in hitters counts, although not by a wide margin. They make 12 percent more contact than the middle group with virtually the same production there, which tells us that when the middle group made contact, they made it count while putting the ball in play often is what propelled the top group. The bottom group put the ball in play more than the middle group, but yielded far 12% less positive results. This is where other factors including swing quality and pitch selection come into play.
Going down to fastball wins on two strikes, we can see that the top group dominated in this category and was a likely contributor to their success while the bottom group’s ability to battle there gave added some production for them.
It’s important to understand that these numbers just show trends and that hitting is a multidimensional process. Swing quality, pitch recognition, game situations and a handful of other factors all play a part here, and these numbers show generalities. In the same breath, you can see that different players went about it in different ways. For example, Player 2 didn’t make great contact in hitter’s counts, but was very good with 2 strikes at 87%, while Player 1 had just slightly better production by being more consistent throughout with his contact, positive result and two strike percentages. Thinking about these two guys as specifically, swing differences and mentalities come into play as who they are as people and how they can be productive. Player one is a bit better techanically, while player two makes up for it with a big time grinder mentaility. Looking at the general trends and noticing areas where they can improve is important, but seeing how each guy is productive allows players to stick to their personal approaches and coaches to understand. If a guy can produce while being less aggressive early and battling with 2 strikes, so be it!!
While these numbers and their logic are not rocket science, it does shed light on general trends that we can observe and work towards and as well as providing each player with an idea of who he is as a hitter and how his personal approach relates to his own production. 651 plate appearances is a realtively small sample size, so the continued tracking of these stats as well as exploring additional pieces will aid in our understanding of how high school hitters can be productive.
!!!BONUS!!! - A more specific look at our hitters' fall result stats. The numbers are reflected as percentages of total plate appearances. More on this in the future!