With more than 30 years of experience at every level of the game, Ken Bolek, Director of the IMG Academy baseball program, knows how to develop baseball players. He uses the following drills to help players of all skill levels improve on the diamond:
Wheel drill (outfielders)
Purpose: The ability to track down balls in the gap requires more than just speed. Elite outfielders know that the first step they take to a ball is critical to whether or not they will make the catch. This drill will help you take the proper first step in any direction.
Setup: Place eight cones evenly separated in a circle, each 10 feet apart from the player in the middle, with the coach outside the circle with a ball. The outfielder sets himself in the âreadyâ position - head up, back straight, knees flexed, weight on the balls of his feet.
Drill: The coach motions with a ball to a cone or yell out a specific cone. The player focuses on the first step in that direction, but takes two or three more to complete the motion.
If the direction is to the front or sides, the proper first step is a crossover. When the lead foot lands, it should be pointed directly at the cone, with the trailing foot pivoting. When taking the first step, think of a vertical line going from the ground up through the lead knee. The chest should be in front of the line for proper stride length.
If the direction is to the back, the first step is a drop step. Always drop step to the glove side, where you have more extension for your shoulder and arm on balls hit straight over you.
Note: The coach can either throw the ball up and behind the player (player uses drop step) or roll it on the ground in front (player uses crossover step).
Reading a pitcher (baserunners)
Purpose: Just like successful outfielders, the best base-stealers rely on their eyes as much as their legs. By keying on certain habits of pitchers, a runner can often get an idea of whether a pitcher is planning on going to the plate or attempt a pickoff.
Setup: During drills and intrasquad scrimmages, put small pieces of tape on the back of the pitcher's left shoulder, knee and heel (opposite for left-handers) on which runners can focus.
Drill: The runner should focus on small parts of a pitcher (hence the tape), not the pitcher's whole body, and start analyzing the pitcher from the ground up. If it's a right-handed pitcher throwing from the stretch, look for small movements like lifting his left heel first, bending his left knee first or moving his left shoulder slightly. Other hints as to where the pitcher is going include lifting his chin or going home after a certain number of looks to first. Sometimes finding a pitcher's tendencies can take a number of pitches.
For left-handed pitchers, look at the kick foot. If a left-hander swings his kick foot past the back edge of the pitching rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter (unless he is throwing to second base). You can also look for the upside-down âVâ formed between the pitcher's legs during his motion. If you can see the âVâ, he can still go to first. Once the âVâ closes, he must go home.
Many base-stealers are comfortable keying off the back shoulder by watching the position of the back shoulder as the pitching hand is separating from the glove. If the shoulder remains on plane to the plate, he will go to the plate. If the shoulder moves, he will go to the first base.
7-Ball Drill (hitters)
Purpose: Demonstrate strike zone awareness and solidify in-and-out zone integrity.
Setup: Place seven baseballs touching across the front edge of home plate to establish entire width of strike zone, with a coach throwing from behind a pitching screen.
Drill: The batter takes full batting or soft-toss practice. After each pitch, he has to call out the number where the pitch was located (e.g. 1 for the ball on the farthest inside of the plate, 7 for the ball on the farthest outside edge).
Pivot Drill (hitters)
Purpose: Utilize proper rear leg pivot during core rotation to maximize power potential.
Setup: Place a rectangular object (block of wood, cardboard box, etc.) about the height of an ankle along the batter's rear foot.
Drill: The batter takes full batting or soft-toss practice. As the batter swings and pivots the back foot, the object should remain stationary. No part of the back foot should be touching the object during the swing or follow through.
Mirror Drill (hitters)
Purpose: Visually establish basic body and bat angles in stance and after stride. This is an advanced drill that requires a batter to already know proper stance and swing mechanics.
Setup: Position a batter at the plate with a full-body mirror in front and to the side. The mirror should have horizontal and vertical reference lines to help with alignment.
Drill: The batter should get into their stance and use both mirrors to ensure the proper angles. With the mirrors, the correct angles can be seen, as angles cannot be felt. The batter should establish a stance and take a stride, all while watching individual body parts like the feet, knees, hips, shoulders, arms and hands to ensure correct positioning.
Back Toss Drill (hitters)
Purpose: Eliminate body drift for improved swing plane and power.
Setup: The batter establishes a normal stance while a teammate or coach positions themselves behind the plate.
Drill: The coach/teammate tosses balls at various points - high and low, inside and outside - of the strike zone. The batter keeps full concentration on the ball during load and stride and drives the ball with a normal swing. The batter should remain aware to stay back during the swing and not to âdriftâ forward with hips and/or upper body.