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As pitching coaches and trainers have studied and learned more about the science of throwing a baseball, pitching velocities at the college and pro level have increased at a swift pace. The same is true for the high school game as more and more teenagers are throwing harder than ever before.
Still, being able to throw 90 mph from the mound is a tall feat for a high school pitcher as players who can pitch 90 mph and above rank in the top 5% of high school pitchers in the world.
Why has velocity increased in recent years?
Kids are bigger, faster, and stronger these days thanks to advanced training methods for younger athletes. Not too long ago, the thought that strength training for baseball players was counterintuitive was widely accepted. Many believed that weight training would make players too bulky and that flexibility was key when it came to velocity.
Nowadays, flexibility is still an important component of training for pitchers, but research has shown that specific weight training methods can be of benefit to young pitchers both for added velocity and increased durability. Explosive movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, etc. have shown to strengthen the muscles that pitchers use the most in the pitching motion.
It is hard to find a pitching coach or a personal trainer these days that does not accept the notion that pitchers should participate in weight training — safely — throughout the offseason and even during their season.
Another reason many believe that pitchers are starting to throw harder at younger ages is the growth of a company called Driveline Baseball. Driveline specializes in baseball development at all ages using scientifically studied methods to both increase a player’s performance and limit their risk of injury.
2020 National League Cy Young Award Winner Trevor Bauer is one of the many professional pitchers to put Driveline’s methodology on the map. Their strength training methods, throwing programs, and recovery techniques were considered to be taboo about ten years ago when
Bauer burst onto the scene out of UCLA, but professional teams and college programs across the country began utilizing the company’s techniques about five years ago. Its popularity has now seeped into the high school and youth level with teams taking advantage of Driveline’s Youth Programs.
It is not uncommon to show up to a high school game 30 minutes prior to gametime and notice the starting pitcher throwing the company’s trademarked Plyocare balls into a wall or seeing yesterday’s starting pitcher bouncing a ball off a Driveline mini trampoline.
As stated earlier, their methods are not ordinary, but they have proven to increase velocity for those who invest in it. For more information about Driveline Baseball, visit their website.
Does throwing 90 MPH guarantee a high school pitcher a Division 1 scholarship?
About ten years ago, a high school pitcher who could throw the ball 90 mph would likely be destined for an NCAA Division 1 baseball scholarship. That pitcher may even garner some attention from some pro scouts depending on his size and athletic ability.
However, this day in age, throwing 90 mph is a great way for a high school pitcher to put himself in position to play at the division 1 level, but it is not a sure bet.
According to ncaasports.org, about 9% of high school baseball players go on to play some level of college baseball. Less than 2% go on to play Division 1 baseball.
Throwing 90 mph puts a high school pitcher in the top 5% of all high school players, so that means there are still 3% of those pitchers who find themselves playing at a Division 2, Division 3, Junior College, or NAIA program.
This proves that coaches look for more than just velocity when recruiting pitchers.
What do college coaches look for when recruiting pitchers?
Other than velocity, college coaches look at a pitcher’s ability to throw strikes, throw offspeed, his athletic ability, and his projectability.
Some coaches put more of an emphasis on strike-throwing when it comes to recruiting high school pitchers than others. Some coaches believe more in their ability to train strength and velocity, therefore they value pitchers who have a natural ability to throw strikes with the thought process being that with proper training they will add velocity in the future.
Others believe more in their ability to teach pitchers to throw strikes, so they may look for recruits with natural arm strength thinking that they can teach them to throw strikes down the road.
While velocity has always been and remains an important aspect of pitching, the old adage that velocity is nothing without offspeed is still true today. Like strike-throwing, some coaches value natural offspeed-throwers more than others. Some coaches strictly look at arm-strength thinking that they can teach the pitcher to improve his offspeed when he gets on campus.
While pitchers sometimes get the reputation of being bad athletes, many college coaches look for athletic pitchers when they are recruiting. Good athletes tend to be more likely to adapt to the advanced training methods typically used today.
Many college pitchers in today’s game also played the field and hit for their high school teams proving that athleticism is a valuable part of pitching today.
Maybe the most prominent word in the scouting world today is projectability. Many college coaches are more concerned about how a player will perform when he gets to college than what he is as a high school player. When it comes to pitching, things such as size, athletic ability, arm strength, and even experience play into estimating a player’s projectability.
Because of this, a college coach may offer a scholarship opportunity to a high school pitcher who throws 85 mph over one who throws 90 mph if the 85 mph thrower has more projectability (sometimes called a higher ceiling) than the pitcher who throws 90 mph.
All of these factors contribute to the scouting process of a high school pitcher. Velocity is definitely an important piece to the puzzle. Rarely will you see a college or pro scout evaluate a pitcher without a radar gun.
However, it is not the only piece to the puzzle and high school pitchers should train other aspects of their game, not just velocity.
Frequently Asked Questions
How hard does a high school pitcher need to throw to get drafted?
Like college recruiting, velocity varies when it comes to making the jump from high school to professional baseball. High School pitchers drafted in the first few rounds of the draft often throw in the low to mid 90s at the least.
Some high schoolers in the later rounds may get drafted based on projectability despite only throwing in the upper 80s or low 90s. Again, this can vary depending on several factors.
Does throwing harder put a high school pitcher at an increased risk of injury?
Not necessarily. If higher velocities were achieved with a stringent, year-long training program without proper recovery techniques, then increased risk of injury is likely. However, if a young pitcher with sound mechanics gains velocity through training, recovery, and natural growth, then injury is not always guaranteed to follow.
USA Baseball’s Pitch Smart recommendations, a team of sports doctors who collaborated to create safe pitching guidelines for young baseball players, says, “It is important that all pitchers establish proper mechanics and throwing techniques before trying to increase their velocity.” They list several other factors that relate to increased risk of injury on this website.
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