Thursday March 14
If you've read anything about the future of MLB baseball, a big topic that has come up is the use of Edgertronic cameras. These cameras capture everything in slow-motion and show all the small movements players make when they are swinging, fielding, or pitching. These cameras have definitely proven their worth as evidence by the Houston Astros rebuild along with many other organizations installing these highly technical pieces of equipment. However, that is at the professional level. What about at the high school level, or youth level? Is there a place for cameras there?
The short answer is yes. They don't need to be cameras worth thousands of dollars, but an iphone would suffice. Seeing is believing, and a player might not be able to feel it, but if they can see the action it might help them cue a better pattern. While that is definitely helpful, the biggest drawback that players/coaches might see is paralysis by analysis.
Players might get in their own head about a certain movement or two, which could cause them to worry more so about that particular action than actually playing! It's a bad state of affairs when a player cannot concentrate on the action as a whole, but instead is concerned over a single body part. So, what is our suggestion at NLB?
Practice is the time to work on that particular skill, NOT THE GAMES! There are plenty of constraint drills that a player can perform in practice to work on any deficiency in their bio-mechanics. When playing in the game, worry about competing! Obviously players have some cues that they like to think about when they are in the game. Just don't let those cues overtake the big picture! Whether it's executing a pitch, hitting the ball, or making a throw to a base. Try to set aside time in practice for working on weaknesses and deficiencies, and in the games compete to the best of your ability.
J.D. Martinez is known for watching hours of film on certain pitchers. He too claims that it is a "double edged sword" and that he tries not to over think too much!
Friday March 8th
In less than two weeks high school tryouts will begin. We can almost guarantee that during that first week pitchers will be asked to throw a bullpen. Most likely the pitcher will get up on the mound, throw their regular dose of fastballs, mix in some off-speed pitches, and when coach asks how it feels the pitcher replies "good" without giving it really any second thought and then will move on with the rest of practice.
Take a look at the video below of Corey Kluber
This is a Cy Young winner, and one of the best pitchers in the league, who is taking this bullpen as seriously as though he's back in the 2016 World Series. That's how players get better! When a player is approaching their bullpen they should have a plan or purpose behind each and every pitch. Whether it gets executed is irrelevant. The point is to challenge yourself. Here are a few ideas to try and progress.
1) Off-Speed bullpen. Most of the time fastballs are the pitch of choice for a bullpen. Work on throwing a change-up, curve ball, or slider for a majority of the bullpen. Being able to execute those pitches in hitters counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-1) can be a huge advantage. Being comfortable throwing those pitches whenever will pay dividends.
2) Sequence bullpen. Have a progression that you go through. Fastball out, Fastball in, Change up, Fastball up, Curve ball, then repeat. Odds are that in a game you won't want to throw the same pitch in the same spot every time. Practice throwing a fastball, and then follow it up with a good change-up. That might be a situation a pitcher sees in their games!
3) Vary your timing and control the run game. Don't be the guy who comes set, takes a deep breath and throws it after one second 25 times in a row! That is so unrealistic that if you kept that timing throughout the game umpires will start to give the runner 2nd base automatically just to speed the game up! Vary how long you come set before delivering the pitch. Even mix in a pick-off move!
Again, pitchers can and should come up with their own routines. Personally I always practiced having my slider on the outside corner, and curve ball on the inside as a "get me over." Be creative with who you are as a pitcher and own it! Most importantly get better with each and every bullpen so that come game time you're prepared!
Monday March 4th
High School baseball in Minnesota is expected to open up in Minnesota on April 8th, which is approximately five weeks away! However... After February set a number of snow fall records, and March opened up with a snow storm and three straight sub zero days baseball in the North Star state in April looks highly unlikely. Or is it? We looked back at how January, February, and March temperatures/snowfall correlated into having practices and games outside in April
|Jan 2009||Feb 2009||Mar 2009||Apr 2009|
|Jan 2010||Feb 2010||Mar 2010||Apr 2010|
|Jan 2011||Feb 2011||Mar 2011||Apr 2011|
|Jan 2012||Feb 2012||Mar 2012||Apr 2012|
|Jan 2013||Feb 2013||Mar 2013||Apr 2013|
|Jan 2014||Feb 2014||Mar 2014||Apr 2014|
|Jan 2015||Feb 2015||Mar 2015||Apr 2015|
|Jan 2016||Feb 2016||Mar 2016||Apr 2016|
|Jan 2017||Feb 2017||Mar 2017||Apr 2017|
|Jan 2018||Feb 2018||Mar 2018||Apr 2018|
Unfortunately there are some decently strong correlations. That means association teams might not get outdoor practices before games, and high school teams could be postponing games until May! If there is a year we are trending with, it would have to be the 2014 season. Very cold January and February, with a healthy amount of snow. Also April of 2014 was 5 degrees colder than average, so parents and players be prepared to bundle up!
Tuesday February 26th
Choosing the right bat is always a hassle as youth players continue to get older. There are certain stamps that bats need in order to be legal. There are also weight differential requirements for certain age groups. What makes this selection process also difficult is that bats certainly aren't cheap! Here are a couple of ways to make sure you are making the right choice.
1) If your player doesn't know what size bat they want, always err on the lighter side! This one is critical for players. They need to be able to have good bat speed in order to hit the ball harder and farther. The biggest factors for having a high exit velocity are possessing high bat speed, but also being able to hit the barrel. Players who have good control of their bat, are more likely to hit the barrel and scorch line drive and deep fly balls.
2) Make sure of the certification!! This one may seem obvious, but rules change with these bats a LOT! Make sure that when you are making an investment that you are buying the right one. Check out the rules at MBL, or even MYAS. Make sure that the bat is regulation so that you aren't buying one that will sit in the garage all summer.
Tony Gwynn was known for using a shorter bat. His was only about 32 inches!
Wednesday February 20th
"Can I throw a curve ball?" is a question we commonly get at NLB from some of our youth pitchers. Some of the time we laugh it off and say no because it's a 9 year old, who doesn't even have the arm strength to throw one! Most of the time though it comes from the 12u-14u age group. For some it's the first year that they can legally throw curve balls, and some of them have never been taught. So when asked this question here are a couple of ideas to consider.
1) It might be more important to develop a change-up. The change-up is a pitch that is hard to master, but once a pitcher has one it's effects can be deadly. Hitters have difficulty discerning between the fastball and change-up due to both pitches spinning in a similar fashion. Timing for hitters becomes an issue and this makes the pitcher that much harder to hit.
A great way for a pitcher to develop the change-up is to play "change-up catch" When warming up before a game, or practice work on holding the ball like a change-up and trying to throw it to your partner. This helps promote accuracy and lets players get a feel for a good grip that they should have!
2) Curve balls do NOT correlate to Tommy John. There is a stigma that youth players who throw curve balls are going to require more Tommy John surgery. James Andrews and Glenn Flesig of the American Sports Medicine Institute studied numerous pitchers from the youth levels to the MLB. Their conclusion through this study was that elbow torque on fastballs had a higher indicator of Tommy John surgery as opposed to throwing curve balls. An article in Sports Illustrated cited their research and is listed HERE.
If a player is throwing with correct mechanics and uses the curve ball responsibly there should be no issue. However, having players develop fastball command as well as a change-up may benefit them further down the road. It's tough to tell a player that at their age because throwing a curve ball is fun. Watching the ball move like that is exciting and typically can get a lot of swings and misses.
Overall, throwing a curve ball is not going to be detrimental to a players development/health. At NLB we just want to make sure that if a player decides to throw one, or not to throw one they are doing so with a purpose and have a plan on how to use or not use it!
Johan Santana used a devastating change-up in order to win the AL Cy Young in both 2004 and 2006
Current FSN commentator Bert Blyleven used a nasty curve to secure his place in the Hall of Fame
Monday February 11th
The NLB summer club team for 15u/16u players is designed as a player development program. Our number one goal throughout the summer is to build the complete player on both the physical and mental side of the game.
The best way for us to get players to improve is through practice. We are going to be practicing a lot throughout the week. Whether it's at our outdoor practices, hitting sessions, throwing program, or open hitting days we want players who are committed to bettering themselves throughout this two month season. We also offer unlimited facility access because the players we want to attract are the ones that come in on their own time and want to get better. Success for our players will not be dictated by how we perform in tournaments. It's based on how well our guys compete in practice in an effort to improve their skills.
That's why we are looking for players that want to compete every single day. Guys that have good at bats, work hard in the field, and run the bases well. Pitchers also need to be able to pound the zone with confidence and attack hitters every time they step on the mound. Whether they are throwing a bullpen, or pitching against a nationally ranked team in one of our tournaments they need to be fearless.
At NLB we have always believed that the key to success is in the training. Players will not progress in their abilities if they buy into the hype of "tournament exposure." Those that get caught up in the allure of the nice field/stadium and not the sweat that comes before the bright lights are doomed to mediocrity.
Roy Halladay was known for his tireless work ethic. His training regiment was legendary among teammates and it helped propel him to a HOF career!
Friday February 8th
Basically every kid is on social media. Whether it's Twitter or Instagram kids are constantly on their phones looking at what their friends, celebrities, or other accounts are providing in terms of content. While some parents aren't thrilled with their kids constantly scrolling there are some benefits to these accounts. Especially when it comes to baseball.
The first one is PitchingNinja. It's run by Rob Friedman and is definitely a good follow. Most of his content is showing highlights of MLB pitchers. The other piece that he does really well is quoting pitchers. These quotes typically deal with the mental side of pitching, which can be good for young pitchers to read about!
Another one is the FlatgroundApp which was created by Rob Friedman. It's purpose is to expose young pitchers who want to get offered a scholarship, or picked up by a professional team. I wouldn't recommend following this account because there is SO MUCH CONTENT!!! However, scrolling through occasionally could be beneficial. Players can see how hard they need to throw in order to make it to the next level. Also on some of the threads people will give advice about mechanics, which can educate anyone who reads them.
There are plenty of other accounts that players can/should follow for pitchers. Not all of it is going to be 100% accurate, or even appropriate. (foul language) However, it does keep kids engaged in the game throughout the entire year. At least when they are looking at their phone during school they are getting some mental reps for baseball!
Astros All-Star Lance McCullers will frequently interact with fans on Twitter! It's great to see him using his platform to help out the younger generation
Saturday February 2nd
On Thursday with Winter Club we did velocity testing for the 2nd time this winter. Our goal was to see how much improvement players have made in a little over a month. Overall we were happy with the results we obtained! While NLB hasn't done a ton of this "testing" in the past, we believe that it can be important for certain players to have this data. Here a few reasons why we think testing can be a useful tool.
Reason #1- Validates (or invalidates) training methods. How do we know if what we are doing is effective? We can always go to the numbers. If we continue to see progress in what our players are able to accomplish, then we will keep building on those core principles. Same thing if we don't see the results. In that case we go back and reevaluate what we should be doing. It's a good barometer for coaches.
Reason #2- Kids can see progress. As much as coaches can give a solid game plan on what to practice, it's really the kids who earn their gains. We want them to see with their own eyes that they are getting better. Numbers never lie, and players will believe the increase in their athleticism, throwing, or hitting when a number is staring them right in the face.
Reason #3- Puts players in a stressful spot. A lot of kids really want to hit a certain number. When that's the case their focus gets dialed in, adrenaline starts pumping, and the nerves kick in. Simulating that type of environment is helpful to players and makes it as game like as possible!
Trevor Bauer will routinely post videos of himself training his velocity!
Tuesday January 29
It's everyone's (least) favorite time of the year. Tryouts! It's definitely a time of anxiety for both players and parents. This post is dedicated to exploring some of the important things to think about as we move into the tryout process as well as the aftermath.
Physical Preparation- At NLB we would highly recommend any of our programs/individual lessons to help players to improve their skills. It's important to get that muscle memory back after a long off-season. If NLB doesn't work for your family try and find open time at any of the local domes (Edina, Chanhassen, Minnetonka etc). Getting repetitions is key and players should try to throw, hit, and field a baseball in 2019 prior to their tryout!!!
Mental Preparation- Have a positive attitude towards the process. The evaluators/coaches aren't looking to criticize players and find deficiencies. They are looking to assess the player. Let's say in the infield portion of tryouts a player throws 3 baseballs low to the first basemen. Those throws aren't going to be the only thing that they see. Did they get their glove out front? Did they get in a good stance? Did they move their feet when going towards your target? Did they show a good attitude even after a bad throw? THAT'S what matters!
Aftermath- Once the teams are selected here are a couple of things that can be helpful moving forward
1) It's okay to be sad. It's a perfectly natural emotion. Players might be playing with teammates that they don't know yet. They also have to go to school the next day and see all of the kids who maybe did make the team they wanted. At NLB we won't pretend like the situation isn't hard for kids at this age. Parents also have friendships/connections that they will be missing out on during the summer games. The important part for both players/parents is to not dwell on it for too long. The same thing goes for those who did make a certain team. Be happy that you are on that team, and make sure you are sensitive to those who didn't.
2) The goal is player development. Associations don't place kids on certain teams to make them feel good or bad about themselves. The outcome that they want is for players to become the best they can be. Sometimes the best place to for that player to grow is at AAA, AA, A, or house/rec. Whatever team a player is on, if they continue to work hard and bring a good attitude throughout the season they will see their skills grow.
Again, we know this is a tough time for everyone involved. We wish nothing but the best for coaches, evaluators, parents, and players. Hopefully this gets everyone excited for baseball season!
Saturday January 26
A lot of times the first thing that coaches talk about when evaluating catchers is their arm. Pop times are really "pop"ular when describing a catcher. Same goes with how well they can block the ball and not allow any passed balls. However, there is another element to catching that can't always be calculated with a number (unless it's the MLB, which has a stat for everything!) That skill is framing.
Our last blog post talked about how important counts are for the hitter. By the same measure, they are just as important for the pitcher. Suppose it's a 1-1 count, and a borderline comes across. A good catcher can turn that into a strike and make it a 1-2 count, while a below average catcher allows the count to return into the favor of the hitter at 2-1. The difference for the hitter in those two counts is over .100 pts! So now we have to ask ourselves how do we get better at it?
A lot of it has to do with repetition and anticipation. Catchers have to be willing to work on their craft and be able to listen to coaches/teammates who talk to them about their technique. Also catchers have to anticipate what's coming and how they are going to frame a certain pitch. Knowing if they have to try and bring a low pitch up, or an outside pitch in is crucial in getting the umpire's call. Catchers who can consistently snag borderline strikes are a huge asset and can help swing the outcomes of games. One pitch at a time!
Tyler Flowers is one of the best in the game at framing. His work behind the dish (along with Kurt Suzuki) helped propel the Braves to a surprising division title
Tuesday January 22
On the right hand side (or below this paragraph for those on a mobile device) you can see a chart of batting averages from the MLB this season against every count.
Biggest stat that stood out to us at NLB is the batting average after 2 strikes. As Gene would say "stick a fork in 'em!!" So what do these numbers tell us?
1) Be aggressive! Hitters aren't doing themselves any favors in purposely "taking a strike" That might be the best pitch during an at-bat! If hitters wait for a strike to be thrown to them every single at bat, it could cause a lot of headaches.
2) Don't miss pitches! How many times have you heard your teammates complain about a bad 3rd strike call? Here's something that you should ask that individual: "What did you do with the first 2 strikes?"
Strike 1: Take a strike
Strike 2: Fouled off a fat pitch down the middle
Hitters need to make sure that they drive every good pitch that they see. Otherwise they are at the mercy of the pitcher and the umpire.
We acknowledge that there are certain times to take a strike. However, the numbers on the chart show the advantages of being aggressive and trying to hit a good pitch to hit.
Joe Mauer is well known for being patient at the plate. Even he only hit .249 at the plate with two strikes
Thursday January 17th
At our Youth Pitching Camp this past Tuesday we introduced our 6th/7th graders to pick-offs. For many of them, this is the first year in which leading off is legal and they now have another element added to the game. Whether it's your first year with leading off, or you're a high school player here are some ideas to think about in regards to controlling the run game.
1) Not every pick-off attempt has to be an out. The pitchers goal should not be to get the runner out every time. Their goal is to keep the runner close, and not let them get a good jump. If the pitcher can do that, they have done their job!
2) Vary timing. This timing is from the moment a pitcher comes set, to the time they deliver the pitch. Example
Pitch #1: 3 Seconds
Pitch #2: 5 Seconds
Pitch #3: 1 Second
Pitch #4: 5 Seconds
By doing this it doesn't allow the runner to time the pitcher. It makes them uncomfortable, and they don't know when to take their secondary lead, or even steal.
3) Attack the hitter. We don't want pitchers to think "I have to throw this ball as quickly as I can so the runner doesn't steal" (At NLB we believe in the slide step, but we don't want pitchers to compromise their mechanics) That's not a pitchers job. His job is to keep the runner close, and make sure they don't get a good jump. Pitchers just need to give the catcher a chance to throw the runner out.
For pitchers both young and old these philosophies apply. Watch Max Scherzer as he preps for games. Continue to develop this skill as a player and practice it when you can. It will pay dividends for both your ERA and your team!
Andy Pettitte was notorious for his pick-off move.
Martin Maldonado threw out an astonishing 48% of base runners last season. THAT's giving your catcher a chance!
Monday January 14th
If you follow our Instagram account, you may have noticed that from November-December we highlighted one of our newer programs. It was our Bat Speed Program constructed by NLB instructor David Robins. The overall concept of this program is that players train with us 3x a week and swing a variety of weighted bats. These sessions are intense and challenging for the players. At the end of the program they can see that all of their hard work paid off.
Every player saw an increase in their exit velocity, as well as overall swing pattern. As a witness to the entire process it was very rewarding to see. Each player came in wanting to get better, and they took what David told them and applied it to their swing. The biggest question that most people want to have answered is why does this work? What allowed all 5 players who participated to see progress?
The biggest reason is the type of training that takes place with this program. It's commonly referred to as "Overload and Underload Training" The goal is to build strength by swinging the "overload" bats, and speed by swinging the "underload" bats. The body is able to improve its capabilities through this training, and this allows the player to create a more efficient and quicker bat.
Secondly, David has had a number of years executing this program as a player, and now is beginning to implement it as a coach. He knows exactly what to look for, and how each player is able to correct any deficiencies that that may have. "The weighted bats definitely expose weaknesses a player may have" said coach Robins, "you can see it in their swing." David works with each player individually on what they need to do in order to be a more complete hitter. These training sessions are in small groups, which allows for individual teaching moments to occur.
This type of training isn't new or experimental. Olympic athletes also use this type of training to boost their performance. At NLB we are hoping to see some of the benefits from this type of training, so that our players can continue to develop. Our next session starts January 21st!
Phil Mickelson also uses this type of training! He swings drivers that weight 20% more and 20% less to help improve his game
First Bat Speed Group
Thursday January 10th
If you follow the NFL, one of the hottest names in the league is Patrick Mahomes. The 2nd year player from Kansas City (Shoutout Kerry Ligtenberg) has dazzled many with his incredible throwing abilities. From no-look passes to sidearm missiles he has been the talk of the league. Check out THIS throw to Tyreek Hill in the preseason!
The Ringer recently published an article about the MVP candidate and his legendary long tossing ability. Before games he warms up by throwing the football 80 yards! For Mahomes it's all about routine. "Until I get those long tosses in, I haven’t loosened up my arm. I haven’t gotten my arm going. It’s the same as if someone runs and loosens their legs. It’s my pattern.” Mahomes learned about all of this from his father Patrick Sr. who was a MLB pitcher (he even pitched for the Twins!) He credits his dad for teaching him about long toss because it helped build "arm strength, accuracy, and touch" according to Mahomes.
At NLB we also believe in the value of long toss. We want our players to stretch their arms out when throwing the baseball. Long toss is about challenging players and allowing them to grow by testing their limits. We will continue to implement long toss into our programs for player development and encourage players to work on this skill on their own.
To view the entire Ringer article click HERE
Mahomes was also drafted in the MLB at age 18
Monday January 7th
Most of the time when the coach says "batting practice" players get excited. They know that coach will be throwing easy pitches towards home plate, and nary a barrel will be missed. Hard hit line drives and deep gap shots are the norm and everyone feels better about themselves. Normal batting practice will always be a facet of training, but can be enhanced with a higher velocity being thrown.
This past Sunday at Winter Club hitting one of our hitting stations involved a coach (Adam Weisenburger) throwing gas in our large tunnel. The goal was to simulate the velocity players typically see in a game. The results for our hitters were underwhelming. Not many were able to square up the baseball consistently and batting averages plummeted. Which is exactly what we want.
NLB Coaches David Robins and Mickey Leius both spoke about their experiences in college with velocity BP. Robins shared how pitchers would throw from 50-55ft away to help the hitters get used to faster pitching. Leius added that their pitching machines could simulate 100+mph. "After hitting on those, it made 90mph pitchers look like they were throwing 80." There are a couple of reasons why we want to practice hitting at these higher speeds.
1) It forces hitters to make an adjustment. If the hitter is consistently late and unable to hit the ball hard, it shows that they may have a deficiency in their swing. Hitters also can learn a lot more from failing in this type of training as opposed to mashing softly thrown pitches.
2) It creates a challenge. BP can become monotonous after a while, and players sometimes lose their intensity. With velocity BP though each pitch is a new challenge. It puts the hitter in a game like situation where all of their senses are wired, because their objective is now a lot more difficult.
At NLB we will continue to use front toss and normal BP to help train hitters feel their swing and teach proper sequencing of a good swing. Adding velocity BP to our training regiment is just another way we feel we can help develop and grow our hitters.
Legendary DH Edgar Martinez was notorious for hitting tennis balls at 150+ mph in preparation for games