Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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14U Baseball Performance Requirements

Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSSC*E and Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC

An earlier post discussed some of the major adjustments that youth baseball players have to make as they move up from 12U to 13U 1. This post, will examine the adjustments needed to be successful at 14U. The transition from 13U to 14U will require players to make big jumps in distance that can significantly impact performance. The adjustments at 14U are more difficult than those at 13U and could potentiallyexpose physical weaknesses and skill deficiencies that could affect performance at 14U and beyond.

Most 14U players will be playing on a 60/90 field for the first time with dimensions similar to what high school, college and professional athletes compete on. The mound is 60’ 6” from home plate, 6.5 feet farther than 13U, and 10.5 feet farther than 12U. The bases are also 10 feet farther than 13U and 20 feet farther than 12U. The increase inthe distance between the bases and between pitcher’s mound and home plate can bemajor challenges because most kids don’t grow physically and athletically in the same proportion as the skills needed to run, field, pitch, and throw at the new distances.

While puberty in boys usually starts between the ages of 9 and 14 and finishes by age 15 to 16, these dates don’t apply to everyone. Puberty starts when a boy’s body is ready and everyone grows at his own rate. Because puberty can vary considerably from boy to boy, it can often take 2-3 years for the body of some boys to catch up to the longer distances on the diamond. Height increases by 3-4% and weight by10% between the ages of 13 and 14 while the distance between home plate and pitcher’s mound and the distance between the bases increases by 12%.  

Unfortunately, increases in body weight can have a negative effect on the ability tomove quickly and control body weight. Improvements in strength, speed, agility, balance and coordination needed to be successful on the larger field are not achieved unless theincreases in body weight are not accompanied by increases in muscle strength. And, we know that increases in strength don’t fall from the ceiling and land on boys playing Fortnite. If players want to make sure that they are successful at 60/90, they have to put down the controls, pick up the jump rope, dumbbells, tubing, etc. and get started in a comprehensive, year-around fitness program between now and next season.

Boys increase in weight first and strength second so, if a boy gains 5-10 pounds, he can’t assume that he is going to be stronger. Mass that is not muscle can make a player slower, not stronger or faster. The Baltimore Orioles have a saying – “Fat birds don’t fly”. Fat is dead weight that limits the ability to run, jump, throw and control body weight.

Let’s look at some of the things that an increase in distance can affect. Data suggest that the average time from home to first base for a 14-year old (90-foot bases) is 4.55seconds or 19.8 fps. If you are an average 13U runner and don’t get faster, you will reach 1B 4-5 feet behind the average 14U runner. If you are a below average 13U runner, you will reach 1B 6-7 feet behind the average 14U runner.

Average fastball velocity for 13-year old pitchers is 65 mph (95.3 fps). Average for 14U pitchers is 70 mph (102.7 fps). It takes .57 seconds for a 65-mph fastball to travel 54-feet. A 70-mph fastball (102.7 fps) travels 60.5 feet in .59 seconds. If, however, you continue to throw at 65 mph, it will take .64 seconds for your fastball to travel 60’ 6”. This .05 second difference does not seem like much, but a 70-mph fastball will reach home plate (60.5 feet) 4-5 feet sooner than a 65-mph fastball. Hitters are at an advantage when facing below average pitchers because they have more time to determine if the slower pitch is a strike and start their swing. The faster you throw, the less time that a hitter has to evaluate and react to your fastball. An above average 14Upitcher throws approximately 70 mph and the hitter has only 0.59 seconds to react. An outstanding pitcher throws 75 mph and the hitter has 0.55 seconds to react.

The advantage for 14U pitchers is not only attributed to increases in pitching velocity, it is also affected by improvements in pitch control, pitch variety, bat composition, bat weight, and field dimensions.  Most 14U pitchers throw more strikes, throw better off-speed pitches, pitch to contact, and play with better fielders on a larger field.  Most 13U games are played with lighter, livelier drop 5 bats while 14U rules require heavier BBCOR bats that perform more like wood bats and can’t be lighter than drop 3. A weaker player hitting with a heavier, less lively bat will often have a slower swing speed which can limit the ability to get around on fastballs and make sold contact.  And, even with solid contact, balls that cleared the infield on 13U fields are often flares on bigger infields and 250 foot-extra base hits are routine fly balls in larger outfields.

As previously mentioned, the distance between pitcher’s mound and home plate for 14U pitchers is 6.5 feet farther than it is for 13U pitchers (60.5’ vs. 54’). For catchers, the distance is approximately 14 feet farther (127’ vs. 113’). Catchers have to throw approximately 14 feet farther, a 12% increase. 13U catchers who are bouncing the ball or just getting it to 2B at 113’ are going to find that it is harder for them to throw an additional 14 feet to 2B than it is for pitchers to throw 6.5 feet farther to home.

Distance is also a potential problem for 14U infielders, especially SS and 3B. Instead of throwing 99’ feet across the diamond, third basemen, will have to throw 127 feet on balls near the bag and 100 feet on balls in the hole. Shortstops will have to throw between 90 and 145 feet with 90-foot bases vs. 75 to 115 feet with 80-foot bases.

And, it doesn’t get any better for outfielders. The recommended dimensions for 13U diamonds are 265-feet down the line and 275-feet to center field. For 14U fields, the distances increase to 330-feet down the lines and 360-feet to centerfield. Outfielders not only have to throw farther; they have to cover more ground. An average 13U player should be able to throw 200-feet. The average for a 14U player is 225-feet, 12% farther. Outfielders with below average arm strength and running speed are going to find it harder to make throws and plays in the larger 14U outfields.

The good news is that research shows that most 13U players should be able throw faster and farther next year. The average 13-year old should increase fastball velocity by 1.5 mph by age 14 just by getting older. Likewise, a 1-inch increase in stride length should provide an additional 1.2 mph in velocity. Additional increases have been associated with increases in leg and core strength and improvements in pitching mechanics. For max results, 13U players need to start working out now to ensure that they can throw hard enough, throw far enough, run fast enough, hit hard enough and move efficiently enough to compete next season.

Start now because adaptation takes time. You can’t microwave improvement. You can’t wait until the week or month before the season to start training. Increases in strength, for example, take at least 2-3 months. Improvements in speed and agility take at least 8 weeks when training sessions are held 3-4 times per week, longer with less frequent training sessions. Flexibility is improved day-to-day, i.e., you have to work on it almost every day and it can take at least 2-6 months to see improvements in most and as long as 12 months in some. Improvements in work capacity can take 8 weeks or more.

Training needs to be specific. You can’t train for strength and improve speed. There is no “universal” workout that will improve every energy system and physical attribute needed to excel in any sport. Move body weight, free weights, dumbbells and/or tubing for muscular strength and endurance. Run fast for speed. Start, stop and change directions for agility, balance and coordination. Hop, skip, sprint, and jump for power. Run intervals and shuttles for work capacity. Work on 1-2 things each day, e.g. speed and strength, and work on everything 2-3 times per week.  Get in and get out quickly. You should be able to see significant improvements working as little as 20-30 minutes per day. Limit the number of exercises and movements to only those that you need to do to get better in baseball. Focus on what you need to do to get better in baseball. Limit or omit the things that would be nice to do.

While a comprehensive conditioning program is beyond the scope of this post, readers can find valuable conditioning information in the many of the references on this site2-10.

The primary take-aways from this post are:

Baseball on a small field is very much like baseball on a large field. If players are taught the correct fundamentals on small fields, they will use the same fundamentals on large fields and vice versa
One of the first things that coaches and parents will notice is that some 14U boys don’t have the body control, arm strength, and running speed to compete on a larger field.
Arm strength and foot speed usually set players apart. If a player can’t run the bases quickly, get to balls in the gaps, make the throws needed to get outs in the infield or reach the cutoff man from the outfield in practice, it’s going to be very hard to be successful in game situations. A strong arm is critical on the big field. Even a second baseman needs to be able to throw the ball.
Coaches and parents will also notice that some of the boys who drove the ball at 12 and 13 don’t have the strength, power and swing mechanics to drive the ball deep into outfield. Getting stronger to get the bat around and smash line drives is a pre-requisite at every level of play, not just 14U.
Because the field is bigger, routine outs are easier to make provided players use proper footwork and don’t rush their throws. Footwork, which was hard for some coaches to teach and players to develop on smaller fields, is more important on big fields.
Because the field is bigger and many players can throw and catch, creating chaos like the “Bad News Bears” on the base paths is less likely to produce positive results. For some teams, the longer base paths can take a lot of the “running” that was successful on smaller diamonds with less experienced players out of the game.
While you don’t have to be a genius to play the game, – there is no place on the scoreboard for IQ – players have to be tuned in and understand what to do and how to do it in certain situations. Lack of attention and dazing off between pitches can cause one mistake to become two or more and take a team out of contention. Situations like runners on first and third, first and second, pickoffs, hitting the cut-off man, deciding when to take off on a ball in the dirt, checking runners on groundballs, backing up bases, etc., are essential for successful team and personal performance.
14U can be stressful for players and parents, especially if they realize that they didn’t develop the physical requirements and performance skills at lower levelsneeded to compete on a 60/90 field.
14U is often when players start getting moved from their favorite position and place in the batting order that they have occupied all their life. The steady handed SS who doesn’t have the range or arm strength to play on the left side are moved to 2B or the outfield. Outfielders who aren’t fast enough to cover the ground in CF are moved to the corners.
Successful players and teams are able to compete on 60/90 fields because they shrink the field with speed, arm strength, and power, three things many boys moving up 90/60 don’t have. Solid fielding mechanics in the middle of the infield and center field, for example, while important, cannot compensate for lack of speed and range to get to balls, lack of arm strength to make proper throws, etc.
Good high school players develop good speed, power, and arm strength. Better players excel because they are able shrink the field with their speed, arm strength, and power.
Because the game gets faster at each level, there are more chances for errors atthe higher levels and greater risk of exposing weaker players with inadequate preparation.
Singles hitters at 13U tend to struggle on a 60/90field. Power hitters find that fly balls get caught on bigger fields. Line drives rule the game.
Many pitchers find that they can’t blow the ball by hitters from 60’ 6” like they did at shorter distances. The successful ones realize that they are not going to strike out 10 or more per game from 60’ 6”, and learn to pitch to contact, and get ground balls, fly balls, pop-ups and a few Ks.
Heavier BBCOR bats perform like wood bats and can cause weaker, less skilled hitters to have a slower swing speed which can limit the ability to get around on fastballs and make sold contact.  And, even with solid contact, balls that cleared the infield on 13U fields are often flares on bigger infields and 250 foot-extra base hits are routine fly balls in larger outfields. Just as players have to get bigger, faster and stronger to adjust to 60/90 fields, they also have to make the gains needed to overcome the limitations imposed by the BBCOR bats.

References

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Gene Coleman is a S&C consultant for the Texas Rangers, Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org. Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC, is the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers.

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