Everything You Ever
Wanted To Know
About Catching But
Were Afraid to Ask
The Art of Catching
Welcome to The Art of Catching. I have put together this article to give
catchers of all ages a place to hone their skills.
One of the most important positions on the baseball field is the catcher. A
catcher needs to be the team leader. The role of a catcher is to be able to
anticipate all situations before they occur and react appropriately. Catching
is a very cerebral position. All beginning catchers should be made aware of
the responsibilities that go along with the position. The final piece of a
championship puzzle could depend on how solid the team is behind the plate.
The objective of this article is to take a beginning or experienced catcher
through all the steps necessary in becoming a proficient, well rounded
catcher. This step-by-step approach will leave no stone unturned. It is my
hope that this will provide a complete teaching base for catchers of all ages.
The Role Of A Catcher
The catcher must be the teams leader. They have the entire field in front of
them and are able to read and react to every situation. While the ball is in
play, they are the only position that never has there back turned towards the
Everything must go through the catcher. They are responsible for calling
pitches, keeping up the pace of the game, reacting to all situations, and also
being an on-field psychologist. They must be able to get everything out of
their pitchers and their teammates.
You've heard the old cliche that a championship team must be strong up the
middle. That begins with the catcher. A teams destiny can lie in the hands of
their catchers. If a team is short on talent, experience, and desire behind
the plate, then there championship hopes have diminished. Conversely, if a
team has a fierce competitor that will be able to inspire the team and
motivate them to new heights, than the possibility of greatness will exist.
A catcher must be able to anticipate all situations from bunt defense to relay
communications. The catcher must take into account the speed of the runner,
the playing conditions, the type of athletes involved, the game situations,
the playing surface, and other important aspects. A catcher must have had
enough drilling and practice that they do not have to think about the
situation in much detail. They must be able to react and respond to the
The catcher has to be the toughest guy in the yard. He must take command and
demand respect and performance from his pitching staff and other position
players. When a crucial situation arises, the catcher must step-up and take
charge of the game.
An area that is commonly overlooked when teaching young catchers is sign
giving. It is just assumed that a player will be able to flash a few fingers
and be on his way. This couldn't be further from the truth. I have seen many
catchers that are not proficient at sign giving. A small problem such as this
can lead to game time problems.
A catcher should give slow, controlled finger movements. There is no need to
rush. The pitcher should be able to see the signs easily and in a relaxed
manner. The catchers hand should be placed back against the cup. The fingers
should be pointing down. If the fingers are at an angle, it will hard to see
from 60 feet 6 inches. The last thing you want to have happen is for a catcher
to call a change-up and have the pitcher get confused and throw a slider.
Setting Up For Pitches
A sure give-away to a hitter is for a catcher to give their signs and
immediately set up inside or outside. A catcher should give the sign and
location for the pitch they want called and move to location as the pitcher
begins his motion. An important point is for the catcher to get the glove up
and give the pitcher a target as early as possible. Again, don't give away
location too early. More so, give the pitcher a reference point to immediately
focus in on.
When a catcher is setting up for a fastball to be thrown right down the
middle, the catcher should cheat slightly to the backhand side. The reason for
this is it is easier to move and catch an errant pitch to your glove hand side
than it is to your backhand side. Unless you are calling for a pitch up in the
strike zone, your glove should target the bottom of the zone. If the target is
mid-thigh and your pitcher hits his target the ball may land 400 feet away, if
the target is at the knee, the pitcher has a greater chance of success if they
hit their spots.
Once the pitcher gets ahead in the count, the catcher should set up for
pitches differently than if the pitcher is behind in the count. If an outside
pitch is called, the catcher should set up off the plate about three inches.
Having command of the strike zone will increase the chances of the umpire
giving you the outer half. The same holds true for the inside pitch. The only
difference is that instead of setting up three inches off the plate, you only
need to set up one inch off the plate. It is important to remember one of the
cardinal sins of baseball; never hit the batter when you have them down in the
Once a pitcher falls behind in the count it takes away some of the latitude
from the umpire and the catcher. If the catcher calls for a pitch away, they
need to set up on the plate. You want the pitcher to hit the outer third or
the black. Again, the same holds true for the inside pitch. You don't want to
fall behind even further. Set up on the corner and give the target on the
When a breaking ball is called, the catcher can still cheat slightly to the
backhand side. They must again target the bottom of the zone. The glove must
be at the knees. Mentally, the catcher must assume the ball will be in the
dirt. Always be ready to block all balls in the dirt.
When the pitcher gets ahead in the count and a breaking ball is called, the
catcher will set up on the plate and want the ball in the dirt. You want to
try to get the hitter to chase the breaking ball and get himself out. Again,
be ready to block all balls in the dirt. When the pitcher is behind in the
count, the catcher should set up on the plate and target the bottom of the
zone. In this case we want a rhythm breaking ball thrown for a strike. An
important tip to the pitcher and the catcher; if you are going to miss, miss
down and toward location. You won't get hurt if you miss down. However, if you
miss up in the zone, bad things will happen.
A catcher can assume two different types of stances. One is used without
runners on base and less than two strikes, and one is with two strikes on the
hitter or runners on base. For the most part, both stances have similar
qualities. The major difference is preparing your body to block pitches at the
Without runners on base and less than two strikes on a hitter, the catcher
will have their weight resting on their instep. A catchers center of gravity
should not allow them to get caught lunging at pitches or falling forward.
The feet should be tow-to instep with each other. For a right-handed catcher,
the left foot should be slightly ahead of the right foot. Balance should be
evenly distributed over both feet. This will allow you to shift in any
direction without any obstruction.
The glove arm should assume a relaxed position. The fingers should be pointed
up and be tension free. The elbow should rest under or slightly angled away,
not to the side of the hand so that the fingers are horizontal. The catchers
elbow should also rest slightly outside the knee.
There are few different positions for the throwing arm to rest without runners
on base and with less than two strikes. The most important aspect is to keep
it out of harms way. It can either rest behind the back or the leg.
Your brain should be focused. You must maintain your intensity for the entire
game. The team can't afford to have a lapse in concentration from their
catcher. Be ready for all situations that could occur.
With a runner on base, or with no runners on and two strikes, the catcher must
make an adjustment. There is no change in weight, feet placement and glove arm
positioning. However, there are other changes with the throwing arm, feet
placement, and brain functions.
The throwing arm should move from behind you body to behind the glove. Place a
closed fist behind your glove. There may be a fear that the hand will be hit
by a foul ball. However, foul balls change plains. If you closed hand is
behind you glove as you attempt to catch the baseball, you will be protected.
The major advantage for placing your throwing hand begin your glove is to
better facilitate a quicker glove to the hand exchange when you need to throw.
if your throwing arm is placed behind your back or leg, it will take you
longer to exchange the ball from your glove to your hand and throw, as opposed
to having the throwing hand right next to your glove.
Don't sacrifice your target. A common idea is for the catcher to raise up in
their stance into a "more athletic" position. However, when you do this you
also put your glove in a higher position. This gives a pitcher a higher target
and also gives him a false sense of security. Keep the target low and be
prepared to block all balls in the dirt, retrieve all balls in the dirt, throw
all retrieved balls, and be prepared for any situation.
The most important aspect of framing is to frame strikes and borderline
pitches. Don't waste your time or the umpires by trying to frame balls that
are not in the zone. Simply catch the ball and return it to the pitcher and
get ready for the next pitch. By framing pitches that are not strikes, you
make yourself look like a bad catcher, and may make the umpire look bad. If
you make the umpire look bad, he will not be anxious to help you on a
One key to framing is to catch the top half, bottom half and side half of the
ball. When you catch the ball, you should show the umpire the other half of
the baseball. For example, if the pitch is on the inner half of the plate, you
should catch the left side of the ball (assuming a right handed batter) and
show the umpire the right side of the ball. The rest is true for pitches up,
down, and out. Couple that with a weight shift and you have mastered the
beginning skills of framing. It is most effective if the catcher can move
their body with the baseball. A catcher can sway on their ankles and move with
It is very important to beat the baseball to the spot of contact. By this I do
not mean extend your hand and arm so far as to get hit by a swinging bat.
Don't let the ball control you. Beat the ball to the spot and stick it. Make
sure you do not hold the pitch for too long. This may upset an umpire. He may
think you are showing him up by holding a frame for a long time. Keep the
umpire on your side. Also, don't allow the baseball to knock you glove around.
Be firm with your frame.
Your glove arm should be tension free and relaxed. It should not fully extend
when the ball is caught. Trust you eyes, the ball will come to you. As it
approaches, your wrist should relax. There can be a slight glove drop or turn
in order to relax the hand. Do not allow your glove to fall too far. A slight
wrist drop or turn is appropriate for relaxing the hand for contact.
This skill can win or lose a tight game. One misconception is that blocking a
ball in the dirt is a catchers only requirement. Not only is it important to
block the pitch, but also to properly retrieve the baseball and get your body
in a position to throw out a runner trying to advance. It must be stressed to
catchers not to admire their work when they block the baseball. Catchers need
to get up and pounce on the ball.
When blocking a baseball it is important to get both knees on the ground as
quickly as possible. You do not want to hop up and then hit the ground, but
drop to your knees immediately. The direction of the ball will dictate whether
or not you will need to push off in any direction. This is done with your
feet. You must get an aggressive push off with your legs toward the direction
of the baseball. The next movement is to put your glove back against your cup
with your fingers down, not the back of your hand down. If your fingers are
down and the back of your hand is against your cup, you have set up a barrier
for the ball to bounce off. If your hand is on the ground, you have created a
ramp for the ball to hit and continue in a forward motion. The ball will have
an opportunity to continue its forward movement and possibly get away from the
catcher. During this time your throwing hand must be placed behind your glove.
This will protect your hand from injury and help square up your body to the
A catcher must also protect their throat and neck. To do this the catcher must
take their chin and tuck it into their chest. They should not drop their head
down, just their chin. Dropping the head will cause the catcher to loose track
of the baseball. By only dropping the chin, the catcher will still be able to
visually track the baseball.
A catcher needs to be flexible. They need to be able to sit on the ground in
the blocking position. The lower they are to the ground, the less area the
ball has to get under the catcher.
A catcher should attempt to block all balls in the dirt when there are runners
on base or when there are two strikes on the hitter. When a dropped third
strike occurs, a hitter may try to advance to first base if it is unoccupied.
A catcher should make it as easy on their pitcher as possible. If the pitcher
can get a hitter to chase a pitch in the dirt, they should be rewarded with a
As there are different types of pitches that will be thrown, their are
different ways to block these pitches. The goal in blocking is to block all
balls so that they will hit you in the center of your chest and drop
harmlessly in front of you. Do not try to catch a ball that is in the dirt.
Trouble starts when a catcher tries to catch the bouncing ball and misses. The
result is a ball back to the screen and the advancement of runners on base.
When a fastball is thrown in the dirt the catcher should maneuver their body
in front of the baseball and block it back to the middle of the field. Their
body should be perpendicular to the ball. If the ball is blocked correctly,
off the middle of the chest protector, the ball will hit and return to the
direction from which it came from.
Depending on whether or not a right handed or a left handed pitcher is
throwing will dictate which direction a catcher will turn their body to adjust
for the spin of a breaking ball. Therefore, blocking the breaking ball
requires some thought and preparation.
As you look at home plate from the pitchers mound, a right handers' breaking
ball will hit the ground and spin right, a left handers' breaking ball will
hit the ground and spin left. A catcher must angle their body to adjust for
the spin of the baseball. They must push off with the opposite leg and drive
their body over to meet the baseball and block the baseball back towards the
middle of the field. An aggressive push with the opposite leg is crucial. They
must be able to beat the ball to the spot and block the baseball.
There will come a time when even the best catcher will be unable to block a
fastball or breaking ball that is throw way outside or inside. The catcher
will not have a chance to get their body in front of the baseball. This is
where the goalie save comes into play. This technique is used primarily for
the ball towards the backhand side of the catcher. The catcher will push off
hard with the back foot and drag the glove across the ground. You should turn
the glove over and get out as far as you can. The leg you initially pushed off
from will drag across the ground and assist you in getting to your feet
quickly, after you get a glove or body on the ball. Basically, you throw
everything you have at the ball in an attempt to stop or slow a poorly thrown
ball. A variation of this will come on a pitch thrown towards your glove side.
The mechanics are the same only this time you have an open glove. The goal is
the same, stop the ball.
At this point it is important not to admire your work. Don't allow yourself to
be satisfied with a great block. It is now time to retrieve and get your body
in a position to throw.
First, locate the ball and quickly get to your feet. From the blocked position
it is important to clear your hands from the middle of your body. It should be
done by exploding your hands and arms in opposite directions. Do not lift your
hands up and out in front of your body. The baseball can get caught up in your
hands or arms if your first movement is out towards the pitcher. If your
movement is away from your body, you decrease the chance of making contact
with the baseball and increase the chance of keeping the ball in front of you.
Next, you should round the ball. Get your chest over the baseball and in a
position to scoop up the baseball. Note, we have yet to look for the runner
that may be trying to advance. The single most important aspect at this stage
is to get to the ball first, then check the runner. A common error is to check
the runner first. If you see the runner go, you may panic, or get in a hurry,
and not retrieve the ball correctly. Get the ball first and then check the
runner. Besides, if the rest of your teammates are paying attention, you will
hear them yelling "runner".
Never pick up the baseball with only the glove or only the bare hand. The hand
and glove must work together. This can be referred to as "raking" the
baseball. A common error is made when a catcher tries to pick the ball up with
only one hand. If the ball is not fielded the first time, the catcher may
panic and continue having trouble picking up the ball, kick the ball, or field
it and make a bad throw because they are in a hurry. Two hands will give you a
greater opportunity to field the ball the first time.
As you rake the ball, you should be angling your body to the base the runner
could be advancing to. You should get your feet set, your mind ready to throw
and now find the runner. If the runner is trying to advance, throw a strike to
the bag. If the runner is not going to advance but is leaning, throw behind
him. The key is be ready to throw to any base. Want to throw the runner out.
Take pride in blocking, retrieving and throwing the baseball effectively. This
can make a difference in the outcome of the game. A good catcher wants to call
a breaking ball in the dirt with two strikes and the winning or trying run on
third. The pitcher must have confidence in the catcher to get the job done,
and the catcher must have confidence in themselves.
Throws To Second Base
There are two types of throwing footwork that I will address: jump pivot and
load and throw. Each type will be determined by the location of the pitch and
the arm strength of the individual.
If a ball is thrown right down the middle of the plate or towards the
forehand, a catcher that does not posses great arm strength will utilize the
jump pivot. The jump pivot allows for a quicker release and is recommended for
catchers with quick hands and a lack of great arm strength. The catcher will
quickly shift their feet from parallel to second, to perpendicular to second.
Important note, the catcher will not move toward the right handed hitter or
away from the left handed hitter. Their back foot will end up where their
backside started, while their front foot will end up where their glove
A common error is for the catcher to move towards their glove and fall off
balance. The catcher should assume a pole is running throughout the middle of
their body. They want to shift around the pole, not spin away from the pole.
Another key is to make sure the catcher does not stand straight up on their
first movement. Stay low and in a strong, athletic position. This will assist
the catcher in staying on top of the baseball and throwing downhill toward the
If a ball is thrown right down the middle of the plate or towards the
backhand, a catcher that possesses arm strength will utilize the load and
throw. Catch the baseball while shifting weight to the back leg. Again, the
catcher must square their body to second. The catcher must still utilize a
quick glove/hand exchange with the baseball and stay low to the ground in a
strong, athletic position. The catcher must get into a position where weight
is on the back leg and the shoulders are squared to the base they are
throwing. If the alignment is off, or the catcher has already stood up, the
power that they possess in their throwing arm is lost.
It is important to mention at this time that a catcher must be proficient at
both skills. The location of the baseball will dictate which footwork you use.
The only exception is on a ball thrown to the middle of the catchers body. On
this throw, the catcher will determine which throwing footwork will be best
Throws To Third Base
A catcher can utilize three methods of throwing to third base. They can take a
jab step towards the backhand, throw over a right handed hitter, or shuffle
behind a right handed hitter. The location of the pitch, height of the hitter,
and arm strength and size of the catcher will determine which throw is best.
On pitches that take the catcher toward their backhand, the jab step is an
appropriate throwing position. The catcher will simply take a jab step with
their outside foot, plant their foot, stay low, point the shoulders to third,
and make a strong and accurate throw. This will clear you from the hitter and
give the catcher a lane to throw in.
On a pitch that is down the middle, the catcher can use one of two methods.
First, depending on whether there is a right or left handed hitter, and how
tall the right handed hitter is in relation to the catcher, the catcher could
plant the back leg, step towards third with the front leg and throw over the
top of the hitter. The object is to have a lane to throw in without the hitter
getting in the way and disrupting the throw. If the hitter is taller than the
catcher or the pitch takes the catcher towards the forehand side, the catcher
can utilize a quick shuffle outside the hitter and create a throwing lane.
Again, stay low, athletic, square the body to the base and make a strong and
accurate throw to third.
A catcher must able to anticipate multiple situations. One of these situations
is fielding a bunt. There are several factors that must be taken into account
before a hitter even steps into the box. The catcher must recognize the speed
of the runner, the athlete on the mound, the condition of the playing surface,
the game situation (tied, up, down, early in the game or late in the game),
and eventually factor in the speed of the bunted baseball before deciding
which base to throw to. The catcher must take charge of the defense.
A catcher should attempt to field all bunted balls. The entire field is in
front of them and they can make a quick, early decision. If the ball is
fielded down the first base line or towards the middle of the field, the
catcher should take a direct line to the baseball, rake the ball in with both
the hand and glove, set their feet, stay low and athletic, and make a strong
and accurate throw to the intended base.
If a ball is bunted down the third base line the catcher has two forms of
footwork. One method is to stay on the inside of the ball (opposite of the
foul line), step over the ball, rake, spin the head and body, locate the base
to throw to, plant your feet and make a strong and accurate throw. The other
method is to round the baseball, staying on the outside (on or near the foul
line), rake, plant and throw. The coach must allow their catcher to be an
The step-over technique is the most natural and recommended form of fielding
bunts down the third base line. However, there are some individuals who have
the ability to quickly round the ball, field it, and make a strong throw. A
coach needs to be flexible. If the catcher can perform this skill they should
be allowed to show off the athleticism, not handcuffed into a method that most
Plays At The Plate
One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the play at the plate. When you
think of some of the most famous plays in major league baseball, great throws
to nail a runner or violent collisions at home plate always show up on the
highlight reels. A catcher must always assume a bad throw to the plate.
In their mind they must be ready to move in any direction to catch a thrown
ball, or be ready to drop to their knees and block a poorly thrown ball to
keep runners from advancing and still giving yourself a chance to pick up the
ball and tag out the runner. The catcher must keep the ball in front of them
at all cost.
When setting up for a throw to the plate, a catcher should put the foot on the
third base line. Their knee should be pointing directly at the runner. If
their knee is pointed away from the runner and a collision occurs, there is a
greater chance the catcher will be injured. If their knee is pointed at the
runner, there is more of a base and less give in the knee.
After catching the ball, the catcher should attempt to tag the runner with
both hands; hand on ball, ball in glove. If it appears a collision is going to
occur the catcher should lower their center of gravity and stay low. Just like
in football, low man usually wins.
After you have tagged out the runner, get out of the way and find any other
runners that may be on base. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in the play
so much that you lose track of other runners on base. Tag out the runner
trying to score and look for the next victim. What to throw the baseball. Want
to make the next play. Always stay focused on the game.
One important point that must be mentioned is the catcher should leave their
mask on. An excuse for taking off the mask is that the catcher feels they can
see the ball better without the mask on. With that philosophy the catcher
should never wear a mask. If you can catch balls from a pitcher 60 feet away
and not have problems seeing the baseball, you should be able to see a throw
from the outfield. It is also a safety precaution. If the ball is short and
takes a bad hop, an injury to the face and head could occur. Safety comes
first. Protect yourself from injury at all times in as many ways possible.
An overlooked area by some coaches and players is a catcher's preparation in
the bullpen. For a catcher who will spend most of their day in the pen, this
is their game time. This is their opportunity to get better and work on every
phase of their game. To do this a catcher must wear full gear in the pen. If
you catch with only a mask than how will you get better on blocking balls in
You have to go full speed in the bullpen, it helps the pitcher get game ready
and makes you better. Time spent in the bullpen is not time to feel sorry for
yourself because you're not in the game, but to improve your overall game so
that you will be the one behind the plate and your catching partner will spend
their days in the pen. Take pride in yourself and your work ethic.
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