3 Tips for Travel Ball Pitchers

The three most important things for a developing youth pitcher looking for a scholarship.

What are the most important things for a growing pitcher?  I’ll explain the 5 most important things to focus on perfecting before college.

While there is a conversation that needs to happen about youth pitches throwing too much, that’s not what I’m going to talk about in this post.  Expect that in a week or so…

Arianna pic pitching
Photo Credit: Arianna Macaluso

1. Arm Care & Strengthening

          CARE

The #1 most important thing for every pitcher is arm health.  There are plenty of pitchers who use Jaeger Bands before a start but that is NOT enough.

Even if you band for 20 minutes before a start, that doesn’t mean anything.  Banding before a start is your warm up, it helps your arm get acclimated to the throwing motion before you start actually throwing a ball.

You get real arm care when you take your pre-game arm care routine and combine it with a few light arm strengthening routines and do it every other day.  Regardless of whether you pitch or even play that day.  You should have about 30 minutes of work you can do every day.

And that is just to keep your health at 100%.

          STRENGTHENING

I’m not a pitcher and I’m not going to act like a baseball strength or pitching coach when I’m not one.  I am speaking from the point of view of a Division 1 baseball player and about what I’ve seen successful pitchers like recently called up pitcher Corbin Burnes do.

Talk to a strength coach about how to strengthen your arm and work on it every day.  Here are a few things I picked up when trying to strengthen my arm;

  • Your arm will only go as fast as your muscles can slow it down.  That is why a strong back is so important.
  • Arm strength is only one part of throwing hard.  With the right mechanics, velocity comes from the legs.
  • Many reps of small weight are much more effective than heavy weight.  Especially when dealing with small muscles in the arm.
  • When dealing with those smaller muscles, it shouldn’t hurt like when you squat or do curls, it should feel like a warm burn.
Arianna pic full field
Photo Credit: Arianna Macaluso

2. Be able to Throw AT LEAST 2 Pitches for Strikes Consistently

As a hitter, the biggest relief is when you realize a pitcher can only throw his fastball for a strike.  At the high school level, you can have an 81 mph fastball and be extremely efficient… but not if that’s the only pitch you can throw for a strike.

The key is to throw your off speed for strikes.  This summer for the Palm Springs Power, I played against pitchers of ALL different skill levels.  We went 28-7 powered mostly by our offense and the only thing that slowed us down was NOT pitchers with velocity.

It was pitchers who could locate more than one pitch for QUALITY strikes.

Few pitchers at the high school level can throw 3 pitches for strikes.  While you need to make sure your velocity is climbing, a lot of that will come with working out and growing.  Don’t try to force it too early.  Also you need to make sure your off speed pitches are effective.

I’m not saying that you can throw a bad slider down the middle.  You need to work on having good off speed pitches, and when I say ‘strike’ I mean something low in the zone.

pitching 2
Photo Credits: Arianna Macaluso

3. Velocity (unfortunately)

I hate the idea that you HAVE to throw hard to get a scholarship and it’s NOT I repeat NOT always true… but it does make it a whole lot easier.

I personally would rather hit against someone with velocity and little or no off speed command, but the way coaches see it, it’s a lot easier to teach off speed than it is to velo.

There are a lot of youth coaches out there who will see a guy who clearly is having trouble getting his velo up and will tell him, ‘ohhh you don’t really need velo to be successful.’  WHICH IS TRUE.  The problem is getting scout attention.  When your velo isn’t high you have to prove yourself every time you take the mound because your success can only be measured in the stat column.

Velo can be recorded and impress someone whether or not they give up any runs.

Even though I don’t want to, I am going to leave ‘getting your velo up’ as my last piece of advice.  That being said, I want to end my post with this:

When you’re working on your velocity, be aware that throwing too much or working your arm too hard will only cause poor or negative results.  If your goal is to get your velo up, slow and steady really wins the race and doing it the RIGHT way, through mechanics, total body strengthening, and deceleration exercises will benefit you in the long run.  You must be patient.

My last tip comes from something AMAZING I saw.  I was watching my buddy throw a bullpen one day at school.  He usually sat 87-90… I have no idea what mechanical changes the pitching coach told him to make, but he literally made a jump from 87-90 to 91-93 right in front of my eyes.

So what’s my point?  He wasn’t exerting extra energy.  Your mechanics are your most important part of your velocity which is why people say there is a difference between THROWING and PITCHING.

Not only that, your mechanics will keep your arm healthier.  Throw harder and get less sore… what more can you ask for?

pitching 3
Photo Credits: Arianna Macaluso

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Here are a few other posts you might be interested in:

5 Things You Can Change to Get a College Scholarship

Choosing a Travel Ball Team

Does Your Position Make a Difference to College Scouts?

Palm Springs Power Summer Baseball

I was pleasantly surprised with the good competition for a summer ball team on the west coast.

Right now I’m about a week and a half from being done with summer ball here in Palm Springs so I thought I’d write about my experience.

Image result for palm springs power

Going into my third year of summer ball I was excited to finally get to play in California.  Being in Palm Springs I knew it was going to be intensely hot, but was just happy for there not to be any humidity.

My very first impression was that the team is well organized.  I showed up and there were interns there ready to give me my t-shirt and shorts at the door.  There is nothing to complain about when it comes to the facilities (the stadium was built for a minor league Angels team).

The team was started and is run by Andrew Starke who is also an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies.  He’s a great leader and it seems he’s done a fantastic job with the team and the league.

The SCCBL is a small league made up of 7 teams.  The Palm Springs Power tends to dominate the league with 8 league titles in the last 10 years.

The first couple weeks I was here, we played a slew of non-conference teams, none of which showed much talent.  Once regular season games started though, I was pleasantly surprised to see much more competitive pitching.  Still not at the same level as the Prospect League or the Cal Ripken League, but it was better than I expected for a young league on the west coast.

It was $400 per player to play for the Power which is reasonable considering busing and food expenses.

Starke also runs a separate “Collegiate Training League” for players who don’t have the skills to play in the SCCBL.  This league will run you $1800 which is because there aren’t enough host families to house the 150+ players so a most of the money goes to paying for hotels.  Also, these games don’t attract the fans that the Power does so there is virtually no revenue from their games.  That being said, it is also a great place to get your at bats/ innings in.  There are usually 6 teams in the Collegiate League and you play in the morning (when it’s a lot cooler) five days a week.

The Power treat their players very well which is why I’m currently playing with two guys spending their third summer here and one spending his second.  I’ve had a great time and if you’re looking for a good spot to land for the summer, Palm Springs is a great option.  If you can’t make it to Palm Springs, check out the SCCBL website to find another team to play for in the league.

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Related content:

Launch Angle, Changing Your Swing, and Taking Effective Batting Practice

What College Coaches Are Looking For

The Importance of Hitting Every Day

Launch Angle, Changing Your Swing, and Taking Effective Batting Practice

The baseball swing for every ballplayer is ever changing.  All the way up to the MLB, players are constantly working and tweaking their swings, players are constantly talking with each other and their coaches about their swings.  A lot of players growing up don’t realize how mental the game is.  They all hear it’s 90% mental, but why?  It’s not just during the game that is the mental part.  Every time you take batting practice you need to think about what is working and what isn’t.

Over the last few years there has been a change in swing culture.  The goal used to be to hit low line drives, and now it is to hit deep fly balls in the gap or over the fence.  When you’re going through the process of changing your swing, you need to be extra mindful and you need to work on it every single day.

Ever since Josh Donaldson went on Studio 42 and gave us all his two cents on hitting ground balls, virtually all the coaches in America have turned their players on to hitting deep fly balls hoping for extra base hits.

Here’s the full video – CLICK HERE

Here’s the important part (5:22 in the full video) – CLICK HERE

I am entirely bought into the thought process Donaldson describes in the video.  If I want to get anywhere with my baseball career (especially as a corner outfielder/ 1st baseman), I’m not going to get there hitting ground balls through the four hole.  So I completely changed my swing.  I have completely bought into working every single day on my spine angle and making sure it’s perfect on every swing.  It’s to the point where I believe that when almost anything goes wrong, I feel like it is because of my spine angle.

There is one thing I’ve noticed about this swing though.  High heat is impossible to catch if you repeat this swing no matter where the ball is.  I say high heat because it’s only a problem if you’re facing velo.  If not, it’s not a problem.  The uppercut swing is direct and at a perfect angle to the low ball, but when the ball is up, the swing becomes very long to the ball.

There’s two ways to go about dealing with this;

1. Do what Mike Trout does: Take high fastballs.  Now, this sounds easy, but there’s a reason Mike Trout is the only person I’m calling out here.  He is the only one that is able to consistently take fastballs up… for strikes.  Yes, just because it’s a strike, doesn’t mean you have to swing.  Mike Trout is successful for many reasons, but one of them is because he knows his swing and will not swing at a fastball, even if it is for a strike if he’s not going to be on time.  I challenge you to find a video of Mike Trout being beat by a high fastball.

2. Learn how to hit it.  This one also sounds easy but obviously it’s not.  Baseball is hard.  If you want to have this uppercut swing, but also want to be able to hit middle/ up fastballs, you CAN NOT start with your spinal angle set which is what some players do to cheat to those low pitches they can crush.  You need to start with a normal spine angle, recognize ball down, and set your spinal angle while the ball is coming.  This is entirely possible and is what most ball players do without even knowing it.  While it gives you a better chance to hit the high pitch, you will no longer have as much of the advantage you had with the low pitches with your pre set spinal angle.

Next time you’re taking batting practice, try to find which zones you like the best and which ones you don’t like and find out why it’s like that.  Instead of mindlessly hitting, learn about your swing.  The more you know your swing, the better your approach at the plate can be and the better your swing will be.  You can either be aware of what you don’t like and take those pitches and/ or make minor changes in your swing to correct those flaws over time.

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Road Trip from Maryland to Southern California

Summer ball is coming to a close, for me, that means planning for the road trip home.  I have a few things planned, but it doesn’t seem like it’s enough.  Since this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I want it to be planned out well.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to go across the country and you don’t have a time limit, I suggest driving.  There are plenty of people who do it just for fun, why not turn your trip from just an expense, into an experience??? This post is for people who are looking for some pointers on things they should do, I won’t experience it all, but if you’re reading this and want a few pointers on how you should plan your trip, go ahead and contact me and I’ll help you out.

As of right now, this is my road map –

Road Trip map

I am driving with a buddy who lives near San Francisco so we mapped out the route we would take if we were going to his house as well as to my house.  I found that the road through Colorado, Utah and Las Vegas looks a lot more fun than the road through Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

We are starting in Gaithersburg, MD and our first stop is at a friend’s house in Chicago.  I don’t have all the nearby baseball fields mapped out, only the ones who are home when we are driving though.  The first one is PnC Park.  From there we are going straight to Chicago, in Chicago you have the White Sox and the Cubs, along with a lot of other things to do…  You are also passing relatively close to Cleveland so you could go to a Cavs game.

From Chicago, the road through Iowa and Arkansas is pretty boring, I have the Field of Dreams, a matchstick museum and a small $20 zoo planned out if we want to do anything during that time.  The green dot is a camp ground, my buddy and I will have a tent and a grill, so we’ll be camping out a couple of our days.

 

From our stop in Arkansas, we are going to Denver to catch a Rockies game and found a $30 hotel (sketchy, I know, we might change our minds about that one) to sleep and shower.  From there, the three walking men are three hikes I have planned out.  Below are links to all three in order from east to west on the map –

Blue Lakes Trail

North Fork of Mill Creek

Zion Narrows Riverside Walk

I’m most excited for Blue Lakes Trail.  It is a three mile hike to a lake hidden away by mountains.  It looks beautiful.

From Colorado, we are going to Las Vegas where we will spend a night, then home. All in all, it will be a great time.  I’m sure on the way we will find more places to stop, and I’ll post an updated map of what we actually did.

Summer Ball for Junior College Guys in California

In California, summer is when baseball thrives the most for guys who are still in high school or younger.  There is no school, the weather is nice and you have all the time in the world to play as much as you can.

For high school graduates, the story can be a little different.  While D1 guys usually can find a place to play, they usually have to travel across the country.  The best summer ball leagues are located across the Midwest and on the East Coast.  While there are a couple decent California leagues, there’s not nearly enough considering the amount of players to come out of there.  While finding a team isn’t a problem for players at the D1 level, some guys decide not to play summer ball because they don’t want to travel or can’t afford to travel.  (While traveling can be expensive, it’s a lot of fun.  In the summer of 2016, I drove from Maryland to California)

Junior college guys have the most trouble finding a place to play.  Many teams don’t want to take junior college guys just because they play at a junior college.  When a guy comes to bat, summer ball teams love to announce the school they come from and junior colleges don’t have the same appeal as D1’s.

I think a special league should be made for junior college guys.  A place where D1 scouts can come to find players to play at their school for a year or two.  When a college coach gets a JuCo guy he knows he is going to get someone who won’t be nervous to play like a freshman normally would.  He will get a mature player ready to take a role for the next year.

The opportunity for someone to turn this into a reality is there.  All it takes is good  coordination and a good network of people who want to be a part of it.  With some good venues (which there are plenty of in California) and good advertisements, these teams could turn over good revenue and be beneficial to the players and the communities.