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Machines to help youth baseball coaches these days are pretty much standard. Hand-throwing thousands upon thousands of batting practice pitches can take a serious toll on dads’ arms. Luckily, coaches today have multiple options. In that vein, let’s explore the best pitching machine for Little League or other youth baseball operations.
As one could imagine with all the speedy advancements in technology nowadays, there is a great number of pitching machines available, with a great range of features, plus durability and ease of transport and storage as demanded by users.
Pitching machines are relatively heavy, and rather awkward in their shape, so lugging them around should be carefully considered. Then, of course, there is the ever-important miles-per-hour (velocity), or differing pitches to be thrown. Modern pitching machines can switch speeds, and hurl the most exotic of pitches.
Here, we look at pitching machines specifically for youth play, let’s say age 12 and under since that’s the top age for the Little League World Series. From age 13 and up, more advanced pitching machines probably are preferable. But for young or new baseball players, here’s a solid list to start from.
- JUGS Lite-Flite Machine for Baseball and Softball tops our list for its brand quality and solid features.
- Baseball insiders will appreciate the ATEC M3 Offensive Baseball Training Machine, with its focus on just that, training.
- Coaches who prefer simplicity should investigate the Heater Sports Base Hit Lite.
- Sports Attack Junior Hack Attack Baseball Pitching Machine offers the most tech advances along with pitch-type options
- Just starting out in Little League? See our tidbits on the Franklin Sports MLB Electronic Baseball Pitching Machine
- For those who dislike being too close to spinning wheels, see the lever action of the Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine 45
Why Buy a Pitching Machine for Little League Instruction?
Officially, Little League means the global organization that has established and managed youth baseball leagues since 1939. It is not the only league for young baseball players.
Used without capital letters, the term “little league” typically refers to any youth baseball operation ~ like any type of gauze pads stuck on small cuts are Band-Aids; or people say “Google it” to suggest doing an internet search.
“Little league” generally refers to youth baseball age 12 and younger. Sure, the Little League organization also has divisions for older kids. But it wasn’t always that way.
One of the first major competitors to Little League was PONY baseball ~ for Protect Our Nation’s Youth ~ established in 1951 for players age 13 and 14 to transition into high school ball (Little League at that time capped out at age 12; the division for players up to age 12 is what produces the global Little League World Series).
Today there also are what are called “Babe Ruth” or “Cal Ripken” leagues, private youth baseball leagues, youth baseball operations run by municipalities (“recreation ball”), and travel baseball teams. Yes, even travel ball has some teams for kids 12 and younger.
Anyway, any coach or dad of young players will quickly learn that teaching youngsters to hit is very, very hard. It requires a ton of repetitions, either in on-field batting practices, or in batting cages.
Batting cages can get expensive, space is limited, and it offers no help with defensive skills. On-field BP (as batting practice is known) allows pitchers to throw to hitters, and fielders to practice on live balls hit to them.
However, not every adult is good at pitching. They can hardly keep the velocity consistent, and God help most of them in terms of throwing strikes consistently. The ones that can do it are a rare breed.
And even they get sore arms from pitching BP. Hence, the invention of the pitching machine, an electronic gadget where you just feed it a ball and it hurls it to home plate for the batter.
For some of the reasons mentioned above:
- Consistency of pitches to batters, in terms of speed, and location
- Avoids adult arm pain and injury
- Can be used indoors or outdoors
- Keeps defenders involved in the practice
- Easily adjustable
- Many can be modified to also shoot balls to infielders or up to outfielders for defensive work
- Tend to speed practices along, since there are fewer takes by batters on poor pitches
- Did we mention consistency?
Thinking about a pitching machine for young baseball players, probably the first thing anyone will look at is price, followed by just how long you want the machine to last. Some pitching machines are very expensive, mainly due to all kinds of features to tweak pitches this way and that; but not all guarantee durability.
So think of your budget, then think of the age group. If it’s for very little kids, tee-ball to the division just out of tee ball, not much adjustment will be needed for speeds. It’s more about repetition, learning to time the swing, keeping your eye on the ball, follow-throughs, running out of the box, etc.
For older players, like ages 9 to 12, will need machines that can bump up the velocity, or even maybe make the balls bend like the breaking balls some pitchers will begin tinkering with at that age.
The older the players, the more potential for damage, from screaming line drives off the front. But probably the biggest culprit for damaging pitching machines is transport. They get jostled around in the backs of trucks, and basically banged around the more you move them.
If they are not solidly constructed, you might have problems. Then again, solid steel frames are heavy, and coaches quickly realize that it’s important to consider weight for any baseball practice gear.
Considering all this, we have reviewed numerous pitching machines, and came up with some top choices for every level of youth baseball play, under a number of considerations as outlined above.
1. Best Pitching Machine for Little League Overall ~ JUGS Lite-Flight Machine for Baseball and Softball
You could go with any number of models from this premiere maker of pitching machines, but the JUGS Lite-Flite Machine for Baseball and Softball provides something for everyone, at a decent price. Those new to buying pitching machines will learn quickly that they come in a dizzying range of prices; but with the Flite-Lite, JUGS seems to have hit the sweet spot.
Lightweight at 35 lbs., the Lite Flite offers a great variety of options, for pitches up to 85 mph from 25 feet away. Coaches can easily switch between baseballs or softballs, and also can adjust to toss curveballs and sliders (that bend both ways).
The nit-picky may balk at the machine’s inability to hurl real baseballs ~ only JUGS Lite Flite or Bulldog polyballs, or Whiffle balls, can be used ~ but insisting on the feel of real balls off the bat might mean boosting the product’s cost. The softer balls might be advantageous for younger hitters anyway; they can be less fearful of breaking pitches than having rock-hard regulation balls coming right at them.
- Weight: 35 lbs.
- Recommended for ages 8 to adult
- Speed adjusted by dial
- Powered by 110-volt A/C
- 36-degree swivel
What We Like
- Up to 85 mph, from 25 feet away
- Switch-and-Play knobs to adjust from baseballs to softballs in seconds
- Ability to deliver top-level breaking pitches, to both right- and left-handed hitters
- Swivel-design base, for 360-degree versatility to also use for training with fly balls, ground balls, and pop-ups
- Solid baseball-friendly manufacturer with solid track record
- 2-year warranty
Not So Much
- Allowing use of regulation baseballs would be a nice touch.
- JUGS or Whiffle balls must be purchased separately.
2. Best Pitching Machine for Little League and Beyond ~ ATEC M3 Offensive Baseball Training Machine
For the very, very serious young baseball player, and if cost is no big deal, then definitely look into the M3 Offensive Baseball Training Machine by AREC. Formerly known as the Casey Pro before rebranding to M Series, the M3 takes the features that made the previous models popular, and added a few new twists certain to appeal to baseball insiders.
The M3’s metal frame design is valued for its durability; and it’s top speed works well for players transitioning from batting cages to on-field hitting practice. Speeds and pitch types are easily adjusted. And, unlike the ATEC M2, the M3 tosses real baseballs.
Probably the top feature here is the 3-wheeled design, and the concave nature of the edges of the wheels. You can notice how they are indented inward, which allows more contact with balls, ensuring accuracy. The third wheel gives this product an upward or downward option, which is a big deal for older players.
- Weight: 160 lbs.
- Speeds up to 105 mph – or into the top range of college and major league pitchers
- Adjustability to throw fastballs, curveballs, and sliders, both to lefties and righties
- Easy-access panel to change pitches by just turning dials
- Durable steel frame with wide-base tripod to soften recoil and protect accuracy
- 60 inches tall, 4 feet wide (at legs)
What We Like
- Ability to throw real baseballs (not only dimpled or foam balls, though those can be used too)
- 3 wheels, with concave edges, to better grip balls and improve pitch accuracy
- Wide tripod base to ease recoil and maintain accuracy
- High-definition ball chute to allow instant and unblemished view during pitch cycle
- Ease and speed of selecting and changing pitch types and speeds
- Official pitching machine of Major League Baseball
Not So Much
- Pricing well into four figures means, the adult buyer best be darned sure his (or her) player is in the game for the long haul.
- At 160 lbs., it’s among the heaviest pitching machines that are lifted in and out of cars.
3. Best Pitching Machine for Little League for Simplicity ~ Heater Sports Base Hit Lite
Many Little League coaches of young players are less interested in the bells whistles of expensive pitching machines, favoring instead anything that just gets a ball over the plate for hitters to hack at. If that’s you, then let us introduce you to the Heater Sports Base Hit Lite.
This light little machine on a tripod tosses real baseballs up to 45 mph (from 46 feet away); or Heater Lite balls up to 80 mph. The head can be tilted to allow fly ball or ground ball practice, up to 200 feet away. The single, 6-inch wheel projecting the balls is enclosed for user safety.
The cool thing is how this really is a simple plug-and-play machine. No huge spinning wheels to worry about, or fussing with a lot of knobs. The automatic ball feeder is a nice touch for new coaches who dislike constantly having to drop a ball into the chute, over and over. (The auto feeder drops a ball every 8 seconds, and is removable).
- Weight: 15.75 lbs.
- Speeds up to 80 mph with manufacturer’s balls, or 45 mph with real baseballs
- Variable velocity control
- 48 inches tall, and feet wide at base of legs
- For players age 5 years and up
- Powered by A/C
What We Like
- Automatic ball feeder
- Easy assembly and transport (with quick-attach knobs connecting tubular steel legs
- Composite housing protecting pitching machine wheel and motor
- 1-year warranty
Not So Much
- Low top speeds, may be unfit for older or advanced baseball players.
4. Best Pitching Machine for Pitch Type Variety ~ Sports Attack Junior Hack Attack Baseball Pitching Machine
For gadget lovers, the Junior Hack Attack Baseball Pitching Machine by Hack Attack is like the iPhone 20. Even its look tells you it means business: all futuristic with control knobs everywhere and a sleek, space-age look. It sure could intimidate passersby.
All the tech lets it throw any type of ball, and probably the most diverse option of pitches than any machine, including right- and left-handed curves and sliders, plus the split-fingered and knuckle balls. Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon called it “by far the best machine on the market.”
Perhaps the neatest part is how easy it is to change pitch types and speeds between every single pitch to a batter in practice ~ emulating real play. This is a machine to upgrade from the same old straight balls of batting cages. Simple knob turns can move pitches around the strike zone ~ and the throwing head can pivot to pop fly balls as long as 250 feet!
- Weight: 95.9 lbs.
- Height: 35.2 inches; width ranges from 23.07 to 21.26 inches
- 3-wheel design to allow ball movement up and down as well as sideways
- Only pitching machine that can convert to throw special 7.5-inch diameter vision training ball
- Legs can unsocket, and unit rolls on transporting wheels
What We Like
- Options to throw darn near every pitch including knuckleballs and split-finger fastballs
- Ease of changing pitch types, speeds and locations
- Power to toss balls at major league velocities, and fly balls up to 250 feet long
Not So Much
- Heavy weight
- High price
5. Best Starter Pitching Machine for Little League ~ Franklin Sports MLB Electronic Baseball Pitching Machine
Franklin offers the MLB Electronic Baseball Pitching Machine in the same vein as many of its other products: focused on beginning baseball players. This manufacturer of affordable gloves and other youngsters’ baseball gear offers a pitching machine for beginners.
It uses only Franklin’s light, hard plastic balls, and they recommend using only plastic bats, so this machine is essentially a soft-toss tool. Still, with ability to time pitches 7 seconds apart, and adjust for distance, the MLB Electronic Pitching Machine is excellent for repetitions and getting a feel for bat on ball.
Not only that, at up to 9 balls at a time, a young player can get in reps alone, by simply filling the chute and letting the timed deliveries come. Very light, this mostly plastic machine runs on 6 D batteries, so transport and setup are about as easy as it comes. At a very low price, it can quickly become a young player’s best friend.
- Weight: 15 lbs.
- Height: (Assembled) Nearly 10 inches in height, width range 7.75 to 9.5 inches
- Maximum pitch speed: 20 mph
- Balls: comes with 6; additional 8-packs are available for $7.99 each
- 3-angle adjustable pitch heights
- Recommended for players age 4 to 12
What We Like
- Very portable
- No power cords
- Red light in front indicating pitch is coming
- Auto pitches 9 balls at a time, 7 seconds apart
Not So Much
- Can’t use baseballs, tennis balls or even Wiffle balls
- Probably not so durable
6. Best Pitching Machine to Skip the Spinning Wheels ~ Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine 45 (Blue Flame)
To swim against the current of wheel-spinning pitching machines there is the unique Ultimate Pitching Machine 45 by Louisville Slugger. The famed wood bat manufacturer got bold with this arm-slinging contraption ~ which works well enough to be named official pitching machine of PONY Baseball and Babe Ruth League.
Two features really make this pitching machine stand out. First, it is totally manual, so no need for power cords and plugs or batteries. This and its very light weight at 25 lbs. Makes the UPM 45 among the most easily mobile of pitching machines.
Second, you can use any type of ball. Hard baseballs, fastpitch softballs, slowpitch softballs, dimple balls, light flight, plastic ~ and even volleyballs or soccer balls! It’s great for a variety of drills, but may not be solid for higher-level players. It chucks hard balls up to 45 mph, and hucks light flight and plastic balls up to 60 mph.
- Weight: 11.9 lbs.
- 32 inches tall, and 14- or 6-inches wide in places
- Mechanical lever action resembles human arm snap to pitch
- Velocity up to 45 mph with regulation baseballs and softballs
- Velocity up to 60 mph with light-weight practice baseballs and softballs
What We Like
- Lower end of mid-price range. Not discount or affordable, but not break-the-bank expensive
- Great to set up to use for a variety of drills; accurate with fly balls and ground balls
- Made of sturdy hard metal
Not So Much
- Maybe too light, and short, to maintain aim through repetitions
- Lever joint could be prone to wear