By Chris McKnight
As a former college coach for 19 years, I have had the opportunity to observe many young hitters at various stages of development. During this time a couple of key points always stood out when working with this age group and I would like to share them with you.
Bat Selection: Many younger players believe bigger is better, but in baseball that is not the case. You want to select a bat that the player can handle very easily. I like to have the player place the bat in his strongest hand, and lift it shoulder length, facing his palm up to the sky. If the player can do this without the bat dropping down significantly, the weight should be OK. As for length, the bat should come up to a little below the player’s hip, but keep in mind that the shorter the bat, the better control the player will have. Most stores have test models you can swing and test out, so I would recommend doing this and seeing if the player has any difficulty swinging the bat.
Proper Grip: The bat should be held in what I like to call the door-knocking knuckles. You can ask younger players to look at their hands before picking up a bat and pretend they are knocking on a door. Have them show you what knuckles they are using. These are the knuckles that you want to have lined up on the bat. When I have our “Rookies” at camp, (5 and 6 year-olds), I like to demonstrate this alignment using a pair of white batting gloves with a black magic marker drawn across the door-knocking knuckles. I believe the visual aspect of this really helps the younger players understand the concept. I would not go into lengthy explanation as to why this grip is important, (so that players can roll their wrists on contact), otherwise you may get players trying to accomplish the rolling of the wrists as the primary objective. I also like to have the bat held somewhat loosely in the hand, so they are not choking it before swinging. Hands will tighten up on contact anyway, and players who choke the bat will lose the freedom of their arms and wrists.
Stance: If you watch a Major League Baseball game, you will see numerous stances throughout the lineup. I don’t believe that there is one correct way to teach a stance, but rather some guidelines to use when explaining it to younger players.
The feet should be a little wider than the shoulders – almost a 50/50 balance of the player’s weight.
Knees should be flexed. I like to tell the players to think about skiing, going downhill and having that flex in the knees.
Hand position: I prefer the top hand on the bat to be facing the pitcher at all times, so that a player could wave to the pitcher with that hand. I believe that the further your hand drifts, the more difficult it becomes to get your bat into the contact zone.
I like to have the back elbow relaxed during the stance. I feel that if your back elbow remains up it will slow down your swing and also create tension in your arm.
Head position is probably the most important aspect of the stance and one on which there really is no compromise. The player’s head must be in an upright position with both eyes facing the pitcher. Younger players have a tendency to tilt the head when starting their stance because it is comfortable. Keeping your head erect and both eyes focused on the pitcher may be less comfortable for youngsters, but it is essential. As we discuss some drills in upcoming newsletters you will see why this is a “must” in becoming a successful hitter.
Although Major League hitters all have different stances, they do have exceptional hands, superior vision skills and are the best in the world when it comes to hitting. I would not recommend trying to copy the way they swing, but use some parts of what you see them do to demonstrate the above points. I have always told my players that if they hit .400 with their bat in their mouth, I would not change their swing. You can over-coach players who just have natural skill. Let them swing!
Chris McKnight was an Associate Scout for the Baltimore Orioles organization from 2015-2018 and for the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 2008-2015. Chris is also a former 20 year NCAA Collegiate Coach at Frostburg State University and Dowling College. Chris is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and The Virginia Baseball Coaches Association where he serves on the Advisory Board.