Batting Cage tips
A batting cage machine can be an extremely useful tool when it comes to improving your swing. This ProSwing Tip of the Week will help you get the most out of a batting cage or pitching machine. Let’s first examine the difference between standard baseball drills and machine-based drills. Tee work, soft-toss, and overhand batting practice drills, in my opinion, are the best tools to become a better hitter. These allow you to break down each part of your swing, and correct any deficiencies one by one. A batting cage is more of a rapid fire drill, and relies heavily on timing and tracking. That being said, a batting cage or pitching machine can be beneficial in many ways. Unlike the former drills we spoke about, a machine can show some real velocity and get you “game-ready.” When you’re in the batter’s box and it’s you versus the pitcher, they won’t throw their fastball lightly.
There are two general skills that you must focus on when in a batting cage.
These are timing and tracking.
- Find the Ball – Depending on whether the machine shoots out the ball, or someone is feeding the ball into the machine, you need to see the baseball’s path before it’s fired out at you. Force your eyes find and follow the ball from the start of its journey all the way to being launched.
- Get Your Front Foot Down – This is the most important part of hitting off a machine. As we’ve stated in other Tips of the Week, hitting is made up of two components; rhythm and balance. A batting cage machine can severely disrupt your rhythm, balance, and timing if you’re unable to get your foot down in time. Make sure your load and stride don’t occur too late. (Click here for the Anatomy of the Swing video to learn how to load and stride) In the same regard, don’t stride too early and be forced to throw your hands at the pitch.
- Take A Pitch – Taking a pitch against a machine may sometimes have more value than swinging at one. Focus on your load, your stride; where is your body when the ball crosses the plate? Did your front side leak forward? I hope not! Remember, we want quality swings, not quantity.
- See the Ball – Once you have your timing down, it’s time to track the baseball. A batting cage machine will have more velocity than soft toss or batting practice, so let’s train your eyes. Try to see the ball from the release of the machine all the way to the back of the cage. Most batting cages will throw strikes down the middle, so this is a great opportunity to track and recognize that this is a pitch you want to hit. That way when you see that pitch in a game you won’t let it go!
- Take a Pitch | Part 2 – I’m sure you’re confused as to why you’re using a machine and I’m telling you to not swing! With tracking, it’s beneficial to see a few pitches all the way through.
Putting it All Together
- One Fluid Motion – We’ve worked on our timing and we’ve tracked a few pitches. Our front foot is getting down at the perfect time, we’re tracking the ball with our eyes, and we’re ready to hit. As we take our swings in the cage, we want to stay as fluid and smooth as possible. Let’s eliminate any jerking or quick movements that can come with timing a machine, and try to take our most natural swings in the cage.
- X Marks the Spot – When hitting in a batting cage, you want your hits to stay off of the side and top nets. These signify foul balls and pop outs, respectively. Your goal in a batting cage is to hit the ball back up the middle, or hit the left or right gap.
Let’s Play a Game
- No Friends, No Problem – Want to have a little competition? Put a coin in the machine and get ready. Take ten swings and monitor your progress; see how many line drives you can hit against the back net. Remember your score; then try to beat it with your next ten swings.
Hopping into a batting cage, cranking the machine up to 100m.p.h. and closing your eyes while you swing out of your shoes is not the best way to improve your swing. Many young athletes I know love to test their skill by putting a coin in the machine and hitting the fastest speed. This can severely disrupt your timing, change your bat path, and give you a plethora of bad habits. You CAN make yourself a better hitting in the cage, just make sure you follow the tips I’ve laid out for you. With proper use, a batting cage machine can improve your swing and better prepare you in game situations against real pitchers.
Q : My athlete does personal lessons frequently. When is the best time to use the batting cage machines? Before he goes for his lesson, after, or both?
A: A truly great question. There are two ways to look at this: Hitting before a lesson can be beneficial for recognizing certain deficiencies in your athlete’s swing. For instance, if your athlete is getting under every pitch and popping up, it’s good to recognize that and work on it right away with your instructor when it’s time for your lesson. Using a batting cage machine after your lesson is great because you can put everything you worked on in your lesson to the test. While baseball lessons will generally use front toss, tees, and batting practice as methods of training, a batting cage machine is a great litmus test to see if your athlete can put their swing together against some real velocity. My final answer would be that a batting cage machine should be used in addition to a personal baseball lesson! Sometimes before and sometimes after.