Original Author: Mike McCarthy, Co-Founder – The Baseball Zone
Co-Author and Editor: Jayson Eljawhary
On the surface, indoor batting cages appear to only have one use to most of us, which of course is digging your heels in and hitting multiple pitches that cross the plate right down the middle. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many ways that you can enhance your sessions with indoor batting cages besides taking batting practice! Here are 5 basic ways that you can get more out of your time in an indoor batting cage this off-season:
More Than a Machine – Besides just stepping up to the plate and hacking away, the cage can be used to work on your timing and hit both the inside and outside pitch. Instead of standing in the same place all the time, alternate moving up and back in the batter’s box to simulate faster and slower (and high/low) pitches; or move left and right to simulate inside pitches and outside pitches. You will not get perfect BP pitches all the time in games, so you better make sure you get some practice on variations in the cage! Bunting practice can also be done off an automatic machine – like inside and outside pitches, you could practice your small ball game by bunting down the third and first base lines!
Catch a Pen with Purpose – For catchers, the pitching machine at an indoor cage can be an efficient form of practice without having to rely on a pitcher/throwing partner. By substituting a pitching machine for a live arm, you can more easily dictate the speed, location, and trajectory of a pitch as it arrives to the plate. The pitches can be set to come in quicker or slower, allowing you to work on reaction speed and timing. Depending on the facility, you may also be able to work on your receiving/framing skills on different pitch types, such as fastballs, breaking balls, and change ups – as players get older, catchers will start to see an increase in pitch movement, so seeing more pitches with depth vertically and horizontally will be more of an asset.
Preparing for the Inevitable – Alternatively, catchers can work on preparing for the inevitable moment that they must bounce out of their stance to corral a wild pitch. It is very easy for catchers to simply practice what happens when the ball is coming straight to their glove, but working on what happens when things don’t go according to plan is far less common.
Angling the pitching machine up can allow catchers to work on bouncing out of their stance to handle wild pitches or pitchouts, or you can work on your blocking by having the machine angled down to simulate pitches thrown in the dirt. If you struggle to throw out runners at 2nd base, indoor machines can also be used to work on your pop time, momentum, and transfer. These little details are significant on the field during the regular season and will always play a factor, and therefore should be practiced almost as routinely as regular bullpen sessions.
Digs and ‘Tweeners – In similar fashion, indoor batting cages can also allow infielders, especially first baseman, to work on digging throws out of the dirt and blocking balls. Again, it is easy to practice what is supposed to happen, but working on fielding errant throws from your infielders on the backhand and forehand in the off-season could end up earning you a few extra outs in the regular season. If you angle the pitching machine down even more, all infielders can get in some work on in-between hops or hard-hit ground balls. Alternatively, you can turn the machine up to help infielders improve their ability to handle the high throw, work on cutoffs/relays, and apply tags to baserunners.
#5: All Position Players
Breaking In a New Glove – this is not necessarily a practice method to improve, but a 5th and final way to get more use out of an indoor batting cage this off-season is by using it to break in your new glove. There are several other ways to do this, such as having your glove steamed, wrapping it tightly with a baseball inside, or using a hammer or glove shaping mallet. However, the simplest and most authentic way to break in a glove is to play catch! Not only will it help you get used to your new glove, but with time and reps, the glove will naturally take its’ form on your hand and provide you with a custom pocket that is specific to how you catch the ball.
Methods such as steaming your glove or using warm water may prove effective in the short-term but can be damaging to the leather and can cause the integrity of your laces to deteriorate sooner than later. Keep things simple and protect your investment by sticking to the old-fashioned sentiment of playing catch to break in your glove!
In conclusion, there are many different and creative ways to enhance your indoor training sessions. Baseball players at all levels attend the batting cages, but many of us limit ourselves to taking batting practice and working solely on hitting the perfect pitch. This is fine if you are working on hitting mechanics, such as momentum or rotation, but as your development continues you must expand your practice plan if you want to continue to be successful. The same concept applies for catchers and infielders, as there are usually very limited opportunities for off-season reps due to the weather not allowing for year-round baseball in Canada. If you are hungry enough, creative enough, and you have access to one, your possibilities are endless with what you can do in an indoor batting cage!