There are five physical tools that pro and college scouts look for when evaluating baseball talent: 1) the ability to hit; 2) the ability to hit with power; 3) running speed; 4) arm strength; and 5) fielding ability. While it’s important to score high on most or all of these tools, physical attributes aren’t the only factors that scouts look for. They also look for intangibles like passion, enthusiasm, dedication and the ability to win. They don’t look for just one special quality. Speed, for example, is important, but it’s not the sole requisite for success in baseball. A baseball game is not a track meet. Often time players with pure speed don’t know how to use it between the lines. They’re fast, but they can’t read a pitcher, steal a base, judge a fly ball or change directions quickly and under control. They are one-dimensional players, they can run fast, but they don’t know how to use their speed in game situations. A key to getting better and getting noticed is to develop as many tools as you possibly can.
Getting noticed and becoming a better player are two different things. Unfortunately, too many of today’s youth are playing baseball in the hope of getting a scholarship or large signing bonus. In previous generations, kids played for the love of the game. Baseball was America’s past time and it was something you played for fun and enjoyment. It was played in vacant lots and back yards. You didn’t need teamSnap,15 players, uniforms, team mothers, coaches, umpires and a stadium to organize a game. You did it because you loved the game and you wanted to get better. You played in pick-up games with baseballs, softballs, whiffle balls, tennis balls, cork balls and rag balls. When you lacked players, you made right field foul territory or an out. You played home run derby hitting left handed from second base. You played pepper, burnout, pickle, flys and rollers, work-up and 21.
Most kids today to play only under adult supervision, with adult coaches, in organized games, with scorekeepers, time limits, paid umpires and league rules. They play in expensive uniforms, in stadiums with lights, and win or lose, there’s always a free snow cone, hot dog or pizza after every game. Skills are developed indoors on a computer, Play Station, Xbox or tablet not outside in the elements. Young players would be wise to learn from the past.
There are a lot of things that you can do with a parent, sibling, friend or by yourself. Go outside and play catch with your brother, sister, parent or friend. Throw a ball against a wall to increase arm strength, accuracy and fielding ability. Hit whiffle balls or sock balls off a batting T. Toss a ball up in the air and see how many times you can catch it in a row. If you are lucky enough to have a throwback, rebound screen or sock net, you can practice hitting, throwing and fielding with a real baseball. You can ask your sibling(s) or invite two friends over to play pickle, pepper, knock out or tag. Yes, tag. Baseball is a game that requires acceleration, speed, agility, coordination, balance and change of direction and playing tag can help improve each of these qualities. You can also do it with your dog. Remember Rocky chasing the chicken? Dogs love to run and they can change directions direction on a dime.
If all else fails, you can always run. See how fast you can run around the house or get from tree to tree or other landmarks in your yard. Run forward, backwards and side-to-side. Practice running from one point to another and back to improve acceleration and change of direction. Miguel Tejada did this as a young boy in the Dominican Republic. He made a mark on the ground and then placed 5-6 baseballs in a semicircle approximately 10-15 feet away. Each ball was a at a slightly different distance from the start. He would sprint to the first ball, stop under control, pick it up, sprint back to the start, stop, drop the ball and then go after the next ball and so on. After he picked up all the balls, he would rest a few minutes and then do it again and again. Each time he picked up and returned a ball, he would stop on a different foot to ensure that he was able to start, stop and move in both directions when he had to field balls in the infield.
You don’t need a league, team or coach to practice. Sometimes you can do it on your own. Carlos Beltran, for example, grew up in Puerto Rico in a town that didn’t have a high school baseball team. He said that he would take a buck of balls and go to a local park where he would toss the ball to himself and hit righthanded. When the bucket was empty, he would sprint to each ball, pick it up and throw it back to home plate to work or arm strength and accuracy. Once he had thrown all the balls back, he would do it again hitting left handed. He spent hours in the park hitting right and left handed, sprinting to the balls and throwing them back.
Regardless of your circumstances, you should play the game for three reasons: 1) because you love the game; 2) to get better and 3) to have fun. The goal should be to become the best player you can be, and if, in the process, a college or pro scout sees you and offers you a scholarship or contract, great. Play with a passion and play to win. If you’re tools are good and you are part of the reason why your team wins, the accolades, scholarships and/or contracts will come. For now, have fun, get better and enjoy the game.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.