by Ed Herrmann, former MLB all-star catcher
Catching is inarguably the toughest position on the field. And because most youth league coaches did not play the position at a high level, young catchers are often left to “figure it out for themselves.” There are eight basics anyone can teach, which will improve your catchers’ games dramatically.
When in the throwing stance, you should be in a comfortable crouch, compact and relaxed. Move your entire body to the location of the desired pitch, with your off-hand behind your back. Any time there is a threat of a runner stealing, your right foot should be a little behind the left (left heel to right toes), backside up, and the off-hand should be in a tight fist behind the glove.
Use good transition when throwing, whether the "rock in fire" or the "L" method. You should stay low and move in one smooth action, ball and hands to ear, throw over the top quickly (hot potato).
When receiving the ball, be strong and smooth. Extend your arm and show the umpire the ball. Roll your wrists toward the center of the plate.
As the catcher, your body position when in the blocking stance should be the same as the throwing stance because this is used when there are runners on base or there are two strikes on the hitter.
Your feet should be shoulder width apart or more, with the wide base slightly leaning forward on balls of feet. Your backside should be up, and the off-hand in a tight fist behind the glove.
When blocking, you need to immediately thrust the glove into the dirt between your legs. Your bare hand will placed behind it, and you will fall to your knees.
As the catcher, angle your body towards the plate or in front of the plate and be somewhat upright. Your shoulders should roll forward, knees should remain wide, and your head should be kept down. Do not attempt to catch the ball. Instead you need to block it. To do this, keep in front and jump to your feet.
When framing, you need to extend your arm, go get the ball, and hold the ball for the umpire to see. Roll your wrists toward the plate, but don't pull the ball. Roll and extend in a smooth manner and avoid jerking or snapping the glove.
On low pitches, roll your wrists upwards. It is important to give the umpire a good view. The catcher and the umpire need to work together.
When signaling, you need to conceal the signals as you relay them to the pitcher. To do this, your legs should be kept closed, and protect the signs with the glove-hand hanging below the gloveside knee. Your must also be kept in your crotch.
Signaling must be clear. Spread your fingers when giving signals. When communicating #2 or #3, use fingers that are separated rather than ones directly next to one another for easier viewing.
Also remember there are other ways of signaling. You do not have to use your fingers to relay the signs, a touch system or glove position system works just as well. Always allow the pitcher to give input.
When blocking home, your left leg goes on the corner of the plate with the toe third base. You need to take away the front half of home and give the backside.
Your legs need to be bent but the knees should not be locked. Stay low and catch the ball with two hands. You can protect the ball with your off-hand. In a swiping motion, bring the ball in low, pivot and drop the right knee and shoulders. With a continued swiping motion, graze the player, come up and show the ball. Remember, the catcher can take some impact, but should also give it.
When fielding bunts, you need to always use two hands and scoop the ball. Don't try to pick it up. When the ball is down the first base line or up the middle, circle the ball and overstep it. The ball should be between your legs. Scoop the ball with your body angled towards first base. Next, step back from the baseline and throw the ball to the inside or the outside part of the bag, which ever is communicated.
If the ball is down the third base line, you need to come around it with your back towards first base and overstep, to scoop the ball with your body angled toward first base.
When fielding pop-ups, you need to find the ball and remove your mask, keeping it in hand, and turn back to the infield. Next, get under the ball and throw your mask away. You must call the ball at the point of climax. As the catcher, you need to remember that infielders have priority over the catcher on pop-ups because it is easier for them to catch.
HOLDING RUNNERS ON
As the catcher, you need to keep runners off balance. You need to be accurate, quick and strong. You need to be able to make snap throws. It is important to make the runners think. To hold runners on, the catcher must always communicate with infielders on pick-offs.
BEING A LEADER
As the catcher, you are the field general. You must be loud and direct. You always need to know the situation and direct others to act appropriately. You anchor the team from behind the plate. You must be the leader.
Catching is by far the most difficult and challenging position to play. Moreover, a catcher must realize that this position requires more than just physical skills. It also requires a catcher, to have 'leadership skills because they are an extension of the coach on the diamond. A wise person once said, "If it were easy everyone would do it." Well catching is certainly not something everyone can do.
Ed Herrmann was a former MLB all-star catcher, who now scouts, tutors and coaches kids of all ages. His website is www.edherrmann.com.