Switching Gears: Converting Position Players to Pitchers How many times in the past have you looked at your shortstop or right fielders arm during infield and said, I got to get this guy on the mound! Then you put him there and what does he do? His velocity drops, control decreases, and self-confidence suffer. Then, you ask yourself, What was I thinking? Having experienced this situation many times, I have found this to be very frustrating. In my current coaching situation, we are always in need of quality pitchers with strong arms. So, in our program, it is very important that the players with the strongest arms pitch. After a few failed attempts at the conversion, like the situation above, I asked myself, What am I doing wrong?
By: Jerry Kreber, Assistant Coach Omaha Central HS
After contemplating the problem of converting players, I formulated a few obstacles that make it hard for high school players to overcome the fear of pitching. First, position players have a hard time getting used to throwing from a stationary position. In the field, players get to gained ground toward the target by shuffling their feet after the catch. This allows them to throw with more velocity. On the mound, the pitcher must generate their own momentum by bending their rear leg and pushing off the rubber. Secondly, position players seemed to struggle with throwing downhill off the mound. On flat ground, position players are able to tilt the front up and pull down to generate a line drive throw. On the mound, the player must duplicate these mechanics, but learn to release later because of the significant drop in height. Many times, control is a major issue with any pitcher; let alone someone who is trying it for the first time. Position players must learn to let their weight get out in front of them, so the lower body can generate forward movement allowing the arm to gain speed. Lastly, the position player must get over throwing while a hitter is standing in the box. In my experience, this is probably the hardest hurdle for the player to get over. Throwing inaccurate balls in the field does not have the same consequences as throwing off the mound. Often, players get scared of throwing pass balls or hitting the batter to really reach back and throw at their maximum level. Not throwing with the highest level of intensity usually creates poor results by lowering pitch velocity, maintaining consistent control, and executing breaking pitches.
Consequently, what can a coach do to successfully convert a position player into an effective pitcher? The following are themes coaches can use to help create a smooth transition for position players becoming pitchers:
Patience is the hardest and most important theme a coach can provide to a transitioning player. When a coach changes a players position it usually means the team is in need of something different. Even though these needs are important, coaches must remember that players will struggle when they are inexperienced at a task. The more confidence a coach can show a converted player, the better the player will feel about pitching. 2. Persistence
The coach must challenge the player in make pitching improvements every day. There must be a detailed plan that a converting player can follow to help improve their skills. The coach must instill the player with the belief that improvements will not be generated overnight. By doing daily work, pitchers should see results in their delivery improve gradually, not all at once. By promoting persistence, the coach tries to prevent building frustration of players who do not see immediate results in velocity, command, or control.3. Repetition
Players, who are converting to pitching, must follow a detailed plan to help with their skills development. Therefore, a coach must have mechanical drills, throwing sessions, and conditioning exercises schedule for players on a daily basis. A coach cannot expect a player, who is new to pitching, to be effective if a daily plan is not provided. Once the plan is presented to the player, they must commit to performing all the drills and throwing routines set by the coach. Backward chaining is a possible method of teaching a player to pitch from release to the start of the delivery. It has been proven to improve pitchers performance on the mound. Batting practice is an activity that an inexperience pitcher can use to master throwing off a mound and to a batter. Dry mechanical drills and towel drills are another way to reinforce good mechanics once the pitcher has established them. The most important reason for getting extensive repetition is duplicating efficient mechanics constantly so the body is learning and mastering the proper motor skills throwing a baseball off the pitching mound. 4. Increased Pressure
Once good baseline mechanics and throwing progressions have been established, coaches need to turn up the pressure on these converting pitchers. Pitching is a high stress position, since they control the entire outcome of the game. In practice, these converted pitchers must be placed in scrimmages, where there is pressure on them to successfully execute pitches. Again, this allows players to slowly get used to the idea of pitching in a game. In the bullpen, there is little pressure put on pitchers to execute because the activity lacks game-type feel, like holding actual runners or fear of throwing wild pitches. A scrimmage situation, especially with runners on base, will give converted pitchers a chance to experience a game-like sensation.5. Challenges
As the converted pitchers development increases, they must continue to set goals to improve. The coach must help pitchers evaluate what is a realistic goal to set. Once a goal is achieved, the coach must continue helping pitchers make new goals so they are always working toward a key objective. A converted pitchers goal may include velocity increases, accuracy enhancement, or improved game statistics.