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What is the right age to focus on a position (and what should that mean)?

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  • What is the right age to focus on a position (and what should that mean)?

    Curious what the forum thinks about this topic. I'm starting to struggle with it a little bit. We are 12u, Not much occurs by USSSA classifications here, but we are AAA level, I would say. Starting out our season with some success. Winning games on Sunday, but haven't gotten a tournament win yet (1 finals loss, 2 semis losses to eventual tourney winners). Decent efforts in all 3 losses. Overall, I'm feeling good about the team 1/3 of the way through our season: how the kids have progressed, how well they play together and support each other, parent harmony that far exceeds most teams, etc. All good.

    However, having reached the age where kids are now overlapping with school baseball, I am definitely feeling some angst on field positions. We tend to be pretty fluid where kids are playing. It is not at all unusual on our team for a kid to be in 3 or 4 positions in a 7 inning game, especially league games. Sundays usually get tighter. We definitely "move them around" more than our opponents, on average. I don't feel like the issue is a competitive one, where a kid or a parent is griping that they "deserve" a certain spot. It is more a situation where we have 3 kids who are probably best suited for 1st base and 3 more who are catcher primary (or were on their previous teams). There are only so many innings in a game. So, if you see a certain position as best fit for you and your best chance to play on your school team, it makes sense to want to get the bulk of your experience there. Doesn't it?

    I guess my question is, is it too early for such concerns? Does it ever really matter?

  • #2
    From the standpoint of winning games, it can help to specialize so they get more reps and more detailed instruction in the position. But it sounds like you're more concerned with player development (good for you!).

    Kids bodies changes as they grow and go through puberty so you don't really know what their best position will be at age 17 until they're 17. Given that, it's nice for a player to have exposure to many positions, and certainly both some infield, some outfield, and some pitching. That way, when the coach sees at the age of 16 or 17 that they have the ideal body type for a 3rd baseman and assigns it, they'll know something about how to play the position. It also elevates baseball IQ to play a variety of positions, as it helps understand where your teammates will be on different plays at a more intuitive level.

    As rec league coach - I liked doing some of both. For the first 2/3 of season I move kids around a lot and then for last 1/3 of season I get them focused in as being the main player at a particular position, and a backup at 1 or 2 others. That way they get the best of both worlds - understand the game and a variety of positions, but then start to get to see what it's like to get really good at one position.

    There was a 13u center fielder on my son's team this year that played almost entirely center field all season. Wow was he good at center field - way beyond anyone else I've ever seen playing that position before high school. He is the fastest guy on the team and our leadoff hitter for that reason as well. For him - maybe it was fine because he is losing interest in baseball so probably won't play HS baseball. He'll have fond memories of making numerous fantastic plays at that position, and know that if he ever takes up the game again, there's a place for him in CF. If he were going to continue on with baseball though, it would have been better to move him around some.

    Last edited by JoeG; 06-11-2018, 02:37 PM.

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    • #3
      I'd keep on moving them around, best to get experience at as many positions as possible. Sounds like you're doing that, which is great, no need for angst or second guessing IMO . In HS (even college), field positions are fluid, athletes (and for the most part hitters) play, even if it's not their normal/preferred position. Keep moving them around. I'd suggest if you have 3 catchers or 1B in your example, let them all have a game on the weekend, keep them sharp, but don't pigeon-hole them just yet. Leave that to a HS or college coach.

      Ty Cobb-"Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher."

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      • #4
        I think the best kid is the one who can be a utility player (i.e. play multiple: two to three positions). Even in College, players get moved around all the time, and definitely in HS. I don't think at 12U that you need kids to switch out all the time, but a kid who can play 1st, 3rd, and catcher is not uncommon. Also, having kids be able to play both SS and 2nd, and then even outfield is a good thing. If you overdo it, then it can be too hard to do some of the team and situational stuff with everybody, but there can still be a reasonable amount of it. For instance, we had a kid sign with an SEC school and also get drafted this past week as a catcher that played 3rd base for his HS team since that was where he best helped the team. Having a degree of flexibility helps.

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        • #5
          My oldest son will be in the 9th grade next year and has average speed. We never ever considered him a middle infielder when he played travel ball and he always played catcher 1st or 3rd. Occasionally saw some outfield but not much. Guess where he played in middle school the last 2 years and now playing summer ball as a soon to be freshman? That's right. Middle infield but our school is also very small so I would say it also depends on the size of the school.

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          • #6
            Not too early to think about this. My son's first season of 12U, he caught 90% of the innings. Season's after that he moved around, P, C, all the IF positions. Got to MS ball, tryouts declared 2nd base and P. Made the team, was moved to P and 3rd. Then P and 1st. Then P and CF. Now P and 1st. He's pretty fast, CF is a good spot for him, I wish he had more reps there at 12U and 15U. My point is, you are doing it right. They can guess where their son is going to play in HS, but my guess is that over 50% of them will be wrong. If you want to win, sure, play them where they are best suited right now. If you want to develop, then move them around and get them exposure to various positions.
            Never played baseball, just a dad of someone that loves to play. So take any advice I post with a grain of salt.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Viking0 View Post
              I think the best kid is the one who can be a utility player (i.e. play multiple: two to three positions). Even in College, players get moved around all the time, and definitely in HS. I don't think at 12U that you need kids to switch out all the time, but a kid who can play 1st, 3rd, and catcher is not uncommon. Also, having kids be able to play both SS and 2nd, and then even outfield is a good thing. If you overdo it, then it can be too hard to do some of the team and situational stuff with everybody, but there can still be a reasonable amount of it. For instance, we had a kid sign with an SEC school and also get drafted this past week as a catcher that played 3rd base for his HS team since that was where he best helped the team. Having a degree of flexibility helps.
              I agree that learning to play different positions can be helpful, but I would venture a guess that a majority of D1 3rd baseman and 2nd basemen played SS for a majority of their youth unless they were playing on the most elite TB teams where almost all kids were going to play D1.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Rastlet View Post
                My oldest son will be in the 9th grade next year and has average speed. We never ever considered him a middle infielder when he played travel ball and he always played catcher 1st or 3rd. Occasionally saw some outfield but not much. Guess where he played in middle school the last 2 years and now playing summer ball as a soon to be freshman? That's right. Middle infield but our school is also very small so I would say it also depends on the size of the school.
                You posted this as I was typing my post, perfect example.
                Never played baseball, just a dad of someone that loves to play. So take any advice I post with a grain of salt.

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                • #9
                  From my experience coaching travel/weekend tournaments (10u-14u), you need depth at positions so inevitably, players play more than one position -at least 2 not including pitcher assuming your team has 11-12 players. I do prefer for players to learn 2 positions and know it well (pitcher and catcher being separate). In terms of preparing for the next level (HS), most of my IF can play at least 3 spots in the IF except for the lefty F3 Not all my IF have quite the reach I'd want out of an F3 and not all have the arm strength for F5, so there are limits. Also, I have an OF that is awful in the IF, so I gave up. He's successful at CF/RF so that's where he goes. I've got an MIF that watches clouds in the OF, so we don't place him there.

                  I try to limit movement between innings except to accommodate pitcher/catcher/bench but this tends to work out with 2 (sometimes 3) players playing each position each game or 2. To be honest, my approach to moving kids around is more of a necessity than really trying to spread it around, but it works out to the same in the end.

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                  • #10
                    My team is 13U, our kids have a primary and secondary position, plus most of them pitch. All of them play school ball, but most of them played only 1 position for their school team. We try and move kids around on Saturday, on Sundays we'll usually play kids in their best position and then adjust for whoever is throwing.

                    For the most part, I wish that more kids had played in the outfield when they were younger. I have 5 kids who can play a decent SS but only 2 true outfielders. Outfield play has killed us at times.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mistersean View Post

                      For the most part, I wish that more kids had played in the outfield when they were younger. I have 5 kids who can play a decent SS but only 2 true outfielders. Outfield play has killed us at times.
                      This is where kids not going out and playing with their pals at the park anymore is a detriment imo.

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                      • #12
                        Other than pitcher or catcher a player doesn’t need to focus on a position other than infielder or outfielder. Even then a player can get switched at any time.

                        Any time a kid goes up a level chances are most of the players were shortstops or centerfielders at the previous level. Hit and be athletic. You will never have to worry about playing.

                        Even catchers shoukd learn another position. What if he gets to high school and a stud catcher moves to town?

                        When a a kid gets to high school it helps if he can play outfield. A freshman or a soph rarely moves an upperclassman out of a position. If the younger player can play corner outfield and hit he might play varsity.
                        Last edited by JettSixty; 06-11-2018, 06:42 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by JettSixty View Post
                          Other than pitcher or catcher a player doesn’t need to focus on a position other than infielder or outfielder. Even then a player can get switched at any time.

                          Any time a kid goes up a level chances are most of the players were shortstops or centerfielders at the previous level. Hit and be athletic. You will never have to worry about playing.

                          Even catchers shoukd learn another position. What if he gets to high school and a stud catcher moves to town?

                          When a a kid gets to high school it helps if he can play outfield. A freshman or a soph rarely moves an upperclassman out of a position. If the younger player can play corner outfield and hit he might play varsity.
                          I agree with this but would stipulate that at my my son's HS you've got to be a burner to play OF. My son was a very good MS/TB OF but with pretty average speed. I saw the handwriting and the wall and started him focusing on C.
                          Put your junk in your pocket!

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                          • #14
                            I think for development it is always better to play the tougher position as long as possible. it sounds like a cliche that everyone wants to play short but in reality as SS can easily also play third and second but a third baseman won't often be given the chance to play short. and likewise a CF can easily play right but vice versa it can be tough.

                            thus for recruiting or draft it is always good to play in the catcher, short, CF axis vs being a corner guy. specializing can be good at some point but only if it is a premium position. If you specialize at left field oder even first base you better really rake.

                            I think for HS it is good if you play at least a second position to give the coach more options. if you are a 1B at least try to be if not solid at least playable in the OF for example. if you are a SS or CF only that is less of a problem because the coach will just assume you can play the lesser postions.
                            I now have my own non commercial blog about training for batspeed and power using my training experience in baseball and track and field.

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                            • #15
                              Jett is spot on. Alot of your position players at the college level were up the middle players in HS. Although my memory is a bit fuzzy, I remember watching Vanderbilt in the postseason a few years ago. It was mentioned on the broadcast that their 1B was recruited there to be a SS, but Vandy just happened to have a guy named Dansby Swanson at short. The 1B was a hitter, so he had to be in lineup. He had to wait his turn for SS, so "welcome to 1B son".

                              I'd suspect that a good number of pitchers at the college level were top of the order hitters on their HS teams as well. Watching the Arky/SC super regional over the last few days, several of SC pitchers were kids that I'm familiar with, and a couple that my son has played against in the past. They were 2 thru 4 hitters in their HS lineup, big bats.

                              It's a game of athletes (and hitters) at the HS level and above for position players, more so than a specific position. That's why it's good to have a working knowledge of multiple positions. You increase your chances and value.
                              Ty Cobb-"Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher."

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