Most coaches are aware that how well their catchers play their position will often make the difference between winning and losing a game. Being able to block a wild pitch, reduce passed balls, respond correctly according to the dropped strike three rule, throw out runners–all of these skills can prevent runs from scoring in virtually every game that is played.
However, it has been my experience that at both rec and competitive levels, there is room for a great deal of improvement in training for youth catchers.
At the rec level, many catchers have not even been trained in how to protect their throwing hand. When I coached rec, I often gave friendly advice to both the opposing catchers and their coaches, to help prevent injury.
Other skills, such as being able to catch the ball consistently without dropping it–securely catching the ball so it stays in the glove–can still be a problem at the competitive level (again, based on what I have seen). Of course, blocking balls in the dirt can be really difficult at any level–even the pros let some get by them.
So what it comes down to is: it’s a very challenging and responsible position, and the more effective your training for the catcher position, the better your chances that your catcher will be able to save games for you.
If you’d like to improve your catcher training, I recommend Catching-101: The Complete Guide For Baseball Catchers. I really like this book by Xan Barksdale because it covers all the basics, from blocking wild pitches, tag plays, throwing to bases, etc. I never played in the catcher position myself, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I should be training my catchers. After reading this book, combined with my general knowledge about the position, I was able to provide them with some good instruction.
My son wanted to get better at blocking the ball, and after going through that section of the book, we developed some practices that really helped. As an example, we would have him gear up and I would throw pitches in the dirt in front of him and his job would be to block them, using the tips we learned in the book. We did this time and time again… and no surprise, he’s the best catcher on our team.
Another thing we worked on was the dropped 3rd strike rule. We taught our catchers to not only be mentally prepared for it, but how to get to the ball quickly and how to step out of the base path so they had a clean throw to 1st base.
And, of course, anticipating that throw down to 2nd base to catch the steal. That takes good footwork and a strong, accurate throw. We practiced that often. One of our favorite drills was to have a runner on 1st, coach pitching, and work on having the catcher throw out the baserunner as he attempted to steal 2nd.
Just like you do infield and outfield drills, the catchers also need to build up their muscle memory of how these things work. You can’t practice them often enough.
Then, starting last year, I had the good fortune to have a former college-team catcher as a coach on my team. His work with our catchers has been wonderful for us. If you can find someone locally who has specialized training in the catcher position–and who is good with kids–this can be a godsend.
However, I do recommend asking them a little about how they work. One coach of a young team wrote in to my YBC Facebook page to say he had an opportunity to get a local expert to come train one of his catchers, and the expert just scared the player so much he didn’t want to catch any more. The position can be intimidating, especially for young players, so it’s important to work with them in such a way as to build their confidence.