Pitch grips, fielding and hitting drills from the pros

The pros share their expertise to help you improve your skills

May 18th, 2020

Following the current social guidelines during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means, in most cases, remaining at home in order to stay a safe distance away from others. But just because you’re spending a lot of time inside doesn’t mean you can’t still practice and improve your baseball skills.

That’s right: You don’t need a field, a bunch of teammates or even a bat or ball to work on your game.

“We can still take advantage and find ways to have fun, continue to get better and make it exciting,” said the recently retired Curtis Granderson, a three-time All-Star, “whether we’re by ourselves, with our family or with our siblings.”

There are plenty of specific individual drills and activities related to baseball that can help you get better. Here are some you can try in the comfort of your own home courtesy of some current and former players and coaches.

Granderson on how to ‘sock’ it
A veteran of 16 seasons in the big leagues, Granderson recalled how, as a youngster, he used to take a single sock and turn it into a makeshift ball. From there, you can put your “sock ball” to use for throwing at various targets to build up and maintain mechanics and arm strength, as well as hitting by tossing it in the air with one hand and using your other hand to act as a bat to swing at it.

“The cool thing about a sock,” Granderson explained in the first episode of Baseball At Home on his YouTube channel, “is if you throw it and hit something, most likely you’re not going to break it.”

In Episode 5 of Baseball At Home, Granderson demonstrated how to practice outfield drills from the comfort of your home. Granderson suggests tossing a sock ball to yourself to practice making catches while moving forward or backward and with your hand turned in different ways, as you would need to do while playing the outfield.

“Sometimes during Spring Training, we would actually do some of these drills without a glove,” Granderson said. “The thought process was, ‘If I can catch it barehanded, once I get the glove on I'll be able to catch it with the glove.’”

Granderson has you covered for non-baseball skills, too. Check out this five-minute at-home full body workout that will get your blood pumping.

Reynolds' swing program
If you're wondering how you can maintain your swing indoors, MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds has a program for that. Reynolds developed his swing program in high school after hearing Hall of Famer Rod Carew speak at a baseball camp. The two lessons Reynolds picked up from Carew? You have to be able to hit all the pitches in the strike zone, and strong hands and forearms are the keys to a quick swing.

Reynolds starts by choking up on the bat and taking five one-handed swings in a specific part of the zone, then switches hands and takes another five swings. He caps each rep by taking a normal, two-handed swing in the same zone. Reynolds then repeats this over and over -- five swings with one hand, five swings with the other, one two-handed swing -- in different parts of the zone.

Rizzo's fielding drill
Mariners No. 22 prospect Joe Rizzo, an infielder, has an infield drill that doesn't require much equipment at all. All you need is a glove, a ball and a partner to work with. Rizzo says it's a drill that can be done inside or outside -- and even in the rain.

He had his partner throw him the ball six times -- three times to his left, and three times to his right. The focus? Keeping your glove where you can see it, and working on your drop step.

Royals introduce "Big League Basics" series
The Royals' "Big League Basics" series on Twitter features short video tutorials from members of Kansas City's coaching staff to help young players improve while at home.

In Episode 5, coach John Mabry shared some tips and tricks for doing baseball drills in your backyard, including hitting balls off a makeshift tee, fielding tennis balls off a roof to practice judging fly-ball angles, and fielding grounders off a wall.

And Royals baserunning coordinator Damon Hollins stopped by to break down the first 90 feet, from home plate to first base. Hollins covers it all, from your mindset to proper balance to launching off those first crucial first steps for a "hard 90" down the line.

Dodgers streaming home workouts for fans
The Dodgers have launched a live workout series to help people stay active at home, hosted by team director of player performance Brandon McDaniel, who takes you through a half-hour workout that you can do at home, without needing special fitness equipment.

The Dodgers workout series streams live on the team's YouTube, Twitter and Facebook Live pages and is available afterward for viewing. Read more here >

Dempster on pitch grips, balance and control
Normally, Ryan Dempster -- an MLB Network analyst who pitched in The Show from 1998 to 2013 -- would be breaking down pitching footage and providing tutorials on site at Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J. This time, however, he’s in a different setting as he runs through pitch grips for a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, a slider and a changeup.

“They always talk about feel for pitchers, and it starts with your fingers, your hand and the baseball,” Dempster said in a video shot inside a bedroom. “So when you’re lying in bed, sitting on the couch … put a baseball in your hand and get comfortable with it.”

For his second instructional pitching video, Dempster took it up a notch and also moved to a different location: the kitchen.

“Maybe Mom and Dad don’t want you [practicing baseball] in the kitchen,” the two-time All-Star joked, “but that’s where I’m choosing today.”

The idea behind this drill? Working on balance and building a foundation with your legs. Dempster’s simple suggestion involves getting into the set position (as if a runner is on base) and going through the first part of your pitching motion by lifting your front leg up -- and then holding it in place once perpendicular to your torso before bringing it back down in place.

“You can do it by reps,” Dempster said. “Try to do five reps or 10 or 15, and then go into multiple sets of that. And if you really want to build up strength, you can hold it for a five-second count, a 10-second count, 30 seconds. Challenge yourself to get as strong as you can in that position.”

Looking to play catch while still practicing social distancing? All you need is a brick wall and some tape. Dempster suggests taping a makeshift strike zone on the wall and working on your control by trying to throw the ball in the zone as many times as possible.

"The great Mike Mussina always said ... 'Play catch with a purpose,'" Dempster said. "Well, that purpose is throwing strikes. And my purpose today is to see how many times I can throw this baseball inside of that strike zone. This is something you can do with a tennis ball, you can do it against the side of a garage, a brick wall, somewhere that you can get that access where you can just put a little bit of a strike zone in, and just work on that, keeping our arm going, so when they say, 'Play ball,' we're ready to go."

As a bonus, you'll also get a chance to practice fielding comebackers.

Cashman gets in on the fun
Even Brian Cashman is getting in on the home workout craze. The Yankees' general manager teamed up with club strength coach Brett McCabe in a retro 1980s-style video to introduce a series of workouts that the Yankees will share from their Twitter account.

McCabe's first exercise demonstration involved an item you almost certainly have at your house: a chair. That's all you need to do some dips, which are designed to isolate and strengthen your triceps while you stay indoors.

Hale on covering the whole plate
How about a little hitting help from a member of the reigning champions?

The current third-base coach for the Nationals, Chip Hale also played parts of seven MLB seasons from 1989-97, and he showed how to get in some hitting work with just a bat -- from the backyard of his house in Arizona.

In this “nine-zone drill,” the aim is to think of the strike zone like a tic-tac-toe board and check-swing three (or more) reps at each spot, starting up and away until you work all the way through to low and in. That way, you cover all nine zones and also build up core and forearm strength.

“You can go to four reps, you can go to five reps as you get stronger,” Hale said. “It’ll make your arms stronger and give you an idea where to hit the ball.”

Bowa on defensive hand-eye coordination and agility
If you’re seeking ways to enhance your glovework -- with or without needing a glove -- there are few better to learn from than Larry Bowa, a two-time Gold Glover and five-time All-Star during his career from 1970-85.

Bowa, who also managed six seasons in MLB, spent time working with the Phillies and infield coach Juan Castro this Spring Training.

“The drills I’m talking to you about,” Bowa said, “they do them in the big leagues.”

The difference, of course, is that if you’re working indoors like many have to right now, it may be safer to use a tennis ball rather than a baseball. As such, Bowa demonstrated a number of drills from a carpeted hallway in his home.

One of them focused on how to properly use your glove hand -- first without a glove and then with one -- to field and come through a ground ball, whether it’s rolled by a partner directly at you, to your glove side or to your backhand side. Another activity, called the “pick-up drill,” ensures your lower half -- namely, your feet, knees and legs -- are involved in getting low to properly catch grounders out in front of you.

Ripken on staying low as an infielder
An MLB Network analyst who spent a dozen years in the Majors, Bill Ripken took to a small outdoor area -- outfitted with a batch of baseballs, three cones, a few throwing targets and a pitching screen for caroming ground balls -- to provide a few key pointers to improve your infield defense.

In the first drill, Ripken showed how to work on moving your feet toward the target after fielding the ball.

“As infielders, we shuffle [our legs] -- we don’t cross,” Ripken said, while demonstrating his shuffling from cone to cone to gain momentum on throws.

Next, he moved to his knees to throw the ball off a pitching screen netting to field grounders.

“Notice how my hands are out in front of my body,” Ripken said, echoing what Bowa mentioned above.

Ripken then completed the same drill, only this time on his feet in an exaggerated low squatting position, stressing a wide base with your rear end low and, yep, hands out in front.

“If you do this right, you should feel something here,” Ripken said, pointing to his quads, “not here,” pointing this time to his lower back. “Your legs should burn a little bit.”