Results of Academy Batting Cages showing up now in MLB
It is astounding to see the caliber of young hitters coming into major league baseball, but it should not be surprising. Many of them are beneficiaries of the surge in baseball academies over the last twenty or more years.
It is the time of year that baseball players begin heading to the batting cages. Nowadays, most communities have a baseball and softball academy with many batting cages. Young players and teams practice at them to sharpen up before and during the season. When I grew up, batting cages were few and far between. They were not as necessary then, as groups of neighborhood kids would head to the local ball diamond and play all day. When groups were not available, we played one on one with any kind of ball in smaller areas around the house. We practiced hitting and throwing all summer long, without realizing it was practice. It was fun and something to do, as we didn’t have the technology alternatives and other activities of kids today. Finding things to do was vital, and they usually included physical activity, unlike the times now.
I often think that I learned to hit playing whiffle ball in that manner. The whiffle ball with holes on just one-half of the ball moved in all kinds of crazy ways, and it helped learn to hit the curveball, sinker, and riser. Good mechanics are necessary to hit balls that dart all over the place. The old fashioned whiffle ball is a good way to teach young hitters to understand angles of pitches and ball movement. That is a story for another day.
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Without the baseball academies and batting cages available now, kids would never get the repetitions needed to learn to hit. As implied, neighborhood play with big or small groups of players is rare, now. Baseball and softball academies have replaced the at home play, fortunate for the youngsters that love playing baseball. Many of the current young MLB stars breaking into the big leagues today are products of baseball academies. They are the beneficiaries of great instruction and years of practice at baseball schools. The results of that are showing up with polished hitters entering the big leagues at very young ages and without much grooming in the minor leagues. Young players can get more swings in one visit to a baseball school than kids in the past received in weeks. Additionally, the instruction with the help of video analysis is something players of years ago were not privy to getting.
Of course, players from the warmer states and Latin American countries play can play outside year round, but that is not the case for those from other parts of the United States and the world. Academies are the neighborhood play.
Getting the Most out of Batting Cages
To get the most out of the batting cages, coaches should do some of the following to make it more on-the-field like.
- When capable, live batting practice pitches should be thrown from the same distance as batters face in games.
- Coaches should set a marker down for the first and third base line, so players know what fair, and foul balls are. Often, hard hit balls are foul balls, but no one knows for sure with the nets.
- When taking short flips and practicing with a batting tee, batters should hit the whole length of the cage instead of hitting balls into nets from a short distance. Seeing the ball flight and trajectory is imperative. Many hits that appear to be solid from a short distance may not be that when seen over a longer distance.
- Coaches shoot use targets on the cages to show line drive areas and to make practice more fun. Little hitting contests are easy to have with targeted areas in the cages.
- Coaches can also off-center the protective screen when flips from behind it so balls can fly to the back of the cages.
- The nets can be used for some hitting drills, too.
Batting Cages and Pitching Machines Help when Used Right
The opportunity to receive live batting practice is usually best, but when that is not possible, using pitching machine batting cages can be useful, when used the right way. Whether facing a pitcher or a batting machine, other things are important to get the most out of batting practice in batting cages.
I have seen season’s ruined by facing fast speeds at the beginning. Either, bad timing or habits came from trying to adjust to speeds batters were not ready for hitting. A good way to make sure batters stay back, a key component to hitting, is to have them wait for slow pitched balls. I often say that there is no such thing as too slow a pitch and lobbed balls help players stay back. It takes time for players to get used to increased speeds of balls with their eyes and bat quickness.
- Change of speeds is important, always.
Speed changes in batting practice help with timing different speed pitches in games. Rarely do pitchers throw the same speeds, so facing the same speed pitches the whole time does not help with hitting multiple pitchers and pitches. Practicing at the same speed is one of the drawbacks of batting machine use.
- Game distances.
When using a machine and only one speed is available, try to get a speed that approximates the average of the pitchers’ speeds you will face during the season.
- Work on the basics
It is always a good idea to begin hitting with a no stride approach to get a feel for the timing of the pitches and to avoid jumping at balls. This no-stride method also allows players to focus on other hitting mechanics without worrying about the timing of the stride. Batting practice is a good time to experiment with different batting techniques.
- Change distances.
When batting practice pitchers cannot throw full game distance to throw strikes, batters should vary the distance between them. A movable plate is necessary for that but is great for learning to time the ball, too. As long as the pitching machine is safe to use, those that are inconsistent with pitch location are more game-like.
Players should use a different bat than their “gamer” as the wear and tear from use in batting cages can break wood bats and wear down aluminum bats.
Batting cages allow room for team work with multiple hitting stations for short flips and batting tee work. Coaches must adhere to safe procedures in this manner with the use of softer balls an option. Players should always wear helmets in batting practice.
Finally, hitting line drives in the direction of the pitched ball is usually the best indicator of a good baseball swing.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching, and parenting stories help create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.
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