In the age of information, both players and coaches struggle with balancing the plethora of information we have and our ability to coach or play well on the field. Sometimes practicing the most basic skills of hitting fall through the cracks in our programs. I keep finding myself wondering if hitters prioritize thinking about their swing over picking up the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand. I will never stop trying to improve the swings of those I work with, or mine for that matter, but at the end of the day, we have to see the ball extremely well in the box to be an elite level baseball player.
Sounds ridiculous, I know. Of course you have to see the baseball well in order to have any chance of hitting it. Think about it though, how often do we consciously practice picking up the baseball? Even if you are lucky enough to have been introduced to some vision practice, how often do we get in the cage and have a round where all you do is concentrate as hard as you can on the baseball? When you’re standing in the batter’s box, that is your only job. The ability to pick up the baseball precedes any ability to swing at it. If we can’t see the ball, the pitch that’s thrown, or where it’s going to be, we have no chance at hitting the baseball.
Some examples of ways to practice looking at the baseball:
- Last round of the day: At the bare minimum, your last round in a hitting session should consist of queuing on nothing else but the baseball. You may have been working on bat path or lower half stuff earlier in the day, but now that you’re almost done, we need to get the eyes working. Focus on the ball, search for the seams. Have your pitcher throw breaking balls and different pitches to practice picking those up too.
- Take Rounds: Take rounds are great for practicing a variety of things including rhythm, load, and your vision. You know you’re not swinging so you shouldn’t be thinking about anything but locking in on that baseball with every part of your concentration.
- Colored balls: Use markers to color some balls and mix them into the pile. The possibilities are endless with colored balls. Pick a color and only hit that color, swing at color balls, take white ones, etc. Any drill that forces you to lock in on the baseball is practicing this basic skill every hitter needs
- Focal Point: Take notice as to where you are focusing before the pitcher has released the baseball. Many players of all levels who have heard this question often cannot answer it. Some guys have a soft focus of the whole pitcher, some focus in hard somewhere near his release point. As a high schooler, I was taught to lock in on the logo of the pitcher’s hat. The logo is roughly the same size as the ball and in close proximity to where the pitcher’s release point will be from the view of the hitter.
- Short Overhand Toss: Pretty self explanatory here, put the L screen about 6 steps away and throw it overhand to the hitter at a pace that makes it difficult for them. Hitters should struggle with this drill for a good amount of time. I personally started doing this drill this summer, it took my teammates and I about a week and a half to consistently hit the ball hard every round. We saw improvement when our hitting coach was stressing picking up the ball and picking a better pitch to drive.
On a final note, there’s a story going around that Miguel Cabrera gets headaches during his hitting sessions. He supposedly says it is from concentrating on the baseball so intently. I can’t find any reading on the subject, but knowing Cabrera as a hitter and his control of the strike zone, I like to think this is true and strive for this sort of deliberate practice as a player myself.