A great receiving catcher can make an average pitcher look good. Many coaches use the term “framing,” although the most efficient way is just to catch strikes. Each umpire has his own strike zone, and catchers have to learn the one in use for every game. Here are some baseball catcher drills to help you do a better job of receiving pitches.
If the pitch is inside your body frame, you can use quadrants to catch the ball. The intersection of the quadrant is at your sternum. Move the mitt through the quadrants as if you’re steering a vehicle, with only your glove hand. In quadrant 1, catch the ball with the mitt turned slightly to the right. Quadrant 2 will be a slight turn to the left. Quadrant 3 will be a hard right, and Quadrant 4 a hard left, with the palm turned toward the sky.
When you receive the ball, your mitt should be in front of your body with your elbow outside or above your knees. Certain pitches, such as high off-speed pitches, need to be caught closer to your body. The backside of your catching shoulder should stay strong and “stick,” or keep the ball where you catch it. Don’t let the ball take the mitt with it, which could potentially move the mitt out of the strike zone. Practice this by removing the mitt and learning how to catch the ball bare-handed. Have someone throw you balls gently from 10 to 12 feet away.
A catcher’s footwork depends on whether the batter is right-handed or left-handed. For this article, we will discuss a right-handed batter. As the pitcher approaches his release point, step with your right foot toward the left-handed batter’s box, landing directly behind the ball. This will allow you to pivot on your right foot as you catch the ball. Your left foot should land between your right foot and second base or third base.
If you’re great at blocking, you’ll increase the confidence of your pitchers, because they’ll know you won’t allow a ball to get by. Use different catching techniques to block different types of pitches. If you’re a younger player, you can stay focused on keeping the ball in front of you by using your knees instead of your feet. Drop to your knees and go straight down in front of the ball. Your throwing hand, still in a fist position with the thumb underneath four fingers, should drop directly between your knees. Your mitt will drop directly in front of your throwing hand and open up in order to fill the “hole” between your knees. When the ball hits the ground in front of you, keep it in front, but, more important, don’t let it hit you in the throat.
If you’re a high school pitcher or above, you can use the same catching technique on fastballs. You also need to block off-speed pitches that move as they hit the dirt because of spin on the ball. For example, if a right-handed pitcher throws a curveball in the dirt at your right knee, it has the potential to hit your left shoulder. So when blocking errant off-speed pitches, use your shin guards as skis and slide forward to reduce the distance between you and the ball. This limits the chances of the ball changing directions and skipping past your shoulder.
When blocking laterally, lift your lead foot (the one closest to the ball) a couple inches off the ground and push off with your other foot. This allows you to stay low and move laterally. Use the same technique for blocking this pitch, as your hand and mitt will fill the hole between your knees.
After you’ve blocked the ball, the runners may advance. Use a fist into the ground to get up quickly. This will cut down on the chance of the batter stepping on your finger.
Here’s a great catcher drill for athletes of all ages.
Place three balls in front of home plate—one directly in front of you and the other two just outside each knee. On coach’s cue, move as if blocking the ball coach calls out. Coach will be able to see whether you have your knees, hands and head in the proper places to block the ball and reduce any chance of injury.