There is an untested assumption in youth baseball, and it's that you have to be "tall" to play this game. This is only half true. I wanted to list out some tips for smaller ballplayers for this reason.
Are you the smallest kid on your team? Good because based on what I have seen, it's not the size of your body, but the size of your heart, skill-set, and desire that will have the biggest impact at the end of the day. The list below proves this.
It starts with one very important question.
Can you outplay your competition day in and day out?
Rather, can you outperform not only your opponent but your teammates that you're competing for playing time with?
Smaller Big League Ballplayers
You don't have to be 6 feet to play at a high level.
You might say, "Hey, they're a lot of college coaches who would disagree"...and I'd say, "take a look at this list of players under six foot playing at the highest level of baseball."
- Jose Altuve - 5"6
- Mookie Betts - 5"9
- Ozzie Albeis - 5"8
- Yadier Molina - 5'11
- Andrew Benintendi - 5'10
- Jose Ramirez - 5'9
- Justin Turner - 5"11
- Kolten Wong - 5'9
- Jean Segura - 5'10
- Khris Davis - 5"11
- Yoenis Cespedes - 5'10
- Ichiro Suzuki - 5"8
- Dustin Pedroia - 5"9
- David Eckstein - 5"7
There are dozens of players at the major league level playing on a daily basis who grew up either not being the biggest player on their team as well as players who were always the smallest player on their ball club.
The reality is, being tall does help...especially when being projected as a professional athlete, but it is not a deal-breaker.
The truth is, the coaches or recruiters that overlook a ballplayer based solely on height or size are absolutely missing the boat.
If you can play, you will play.
The list above is full of smaller guys who can just flat out play.
Smaller players that can play, are winners and energy bringers. They change the tempo of the game in more ways than one.
The put the ball in play and can hit one over the fence when the time is right. They steal bases, make the routine and tough plays.
Here's the thing.
The Body Will Catch Up!
Young ballplayers grow and develop in different ways at different phases in their early development.
The idea is to be patient while letting the mind and body adapt.
In many ways, late bloomers have a huge advantage.
If they have been able to compete and persevere through the times on the ball field when they were not physically developed or competitive then they will have a toughness that will support them when they get real opportunities to perform on the field...
...when it's their time to truly shine.
"For smaller players, with the right attitude, in almost all cases, there best days are still ahead."
Being tall has projection. So it helps because it gives you extra looks at a tryout or showcase. But it's not the deciding factor in how much playing time you earn ultimately.
No team has ever won a championship because they recruited players only 6 feet or above. They won because they had players who could out-compete their competition.
If you're a smaller ballplayer and you don't have the advantage of physical projection based on height, you have to be labeled as a player who:
- Is a true gamer
- Makes teammates better
- Plays both sides of the field well
- Has good instincts
- Runs bases well
- Puts the ball in play
- Is a great competitor
- Has a great attitude and body language
- Superior Pitch Recognition
- Off the charts toughness
- Understands the fundamentals
- Process-oriented with a growth mind-set
- Short memory
- Is strong
Let's break these tips for smaller ballplayer principles down a bit.
Being a Gamer
A Gamer is a player who competes with calm focus. Has a nice tempo on offense and defense and knows how to anticipate and adjusts to certain situations.
For example, a gamer will battle with two strikes and put the ball in play to put pressure on the defense, give teammates a good look at the pitcher, make the pitcher work their pitch count.
Essentially, a Gamer consistently puts up Quality At-Bats.
Be a Gamer.
Making Teammates Better
Ever heard that "hitting is contagious"? A player who never misses out on an opportunity to make their teammates better. Giving good soft toss in the cage to help their teammate find their swing. Being the first one out of the dug to give a high five after a sacrifice fly or bunt.
Making your teammates better means finding ways to win without hitting for the cycle.
Make your teammates better. Build them up. Pick them up.
Playing Both Sides of The Field Well
You have a tough at-bat. The umpire made a ball call or you hit a line drive in the gap, and it would have been a double but the centerfield made a diving play. You got robbed, and now you're frustrated.
The question is, how long are you frustrated for? Do you take it out on the field? Is your mind on your last at-bat, or are you focused on the most important pitch of the game? The pitch that's happening now.
Play both sides of the field well.
Having Good Instincts
It's really hard to play this game with good instincts let alone with average to below-average instincts.
Knowing when to be aggressive or selective. Taking the extra base. Getting the "good hop". Hitting your cut-off. Taking controlled, aggressive swings with count leverage or posting up when you know a breaking ball is coming...
...these are all signs of a ballplayer with good instincts. It's what scouts look for when assessing whether a player can make the adjustment to the next level.
Have good instincts.
Running The Bases Well
This is very closely related to having good instincts. Going from 1st to 3rd. Scoring from 1st. Stealing bases by getting good reads off the pitcher, knowing when to tag...are all ways to change the tempo of the game and is one of the most common ways smaller players stand out on the field.
Run the bases well.
Putting The Ball In Play
It's very hard to win ball games by relying solely on the long ball (home runs)...and without them, it's impossible to score without a base runner.
Strikeouts are useless. Putting the pressure on the defense, and making the pitcher work...
...puts the law of averages in your favor when you get a chance to really perform.
Strikeouts are not okay. Put the ball in play.
Being A Great Competitor
Being a better competitor than you are a ballplayer means knowing when you need to dig your heels in, take a deep breath while focusing on the result that you want instead of the result that you don't want.
One thing about this game is for certain. You're going to get kicked in the teeth. How you respond to adversity will dictate how quickly you bounce back from setbacks.
Being able to perform under pressure or adversity is how you become a great competitor.
Be a better competitor than you are a ballplayer.
Good Body Language
I once spoke with a college baseball recruiter on what their recruiting process was like.
Here's what he said.
"I like to show up early and get there before the team bus arrives. Then I wait for the bus door to open to see how the player I'm going to watch gets off the bus. I want to see how he interacts with his teammates. How he warms up and takes pregame infield and batting practice...
...once the game starts, I'm not interested in whether they go 4-4 or pitch a shut out. I want to see how they play the game. Their rhythm. How do they deal with adversity? When they strike out, do they kick dirt with shoulders slouched?
After an error, are they playing on their heels or do they dig in and become even more aggressive?
These are all things I look for that may seem counter-intuitive. Most players and parents think that I'm impressed by "production", but I'm not. I want to identify the intangibles."
Look - I get it. Not getting hits is no fun. Making an error is frustrating. You're going to get emotional especially if you're passionate about winning.
The question is how long do you get mad for?
My advice is, be mad for one pitch. Then it's time to hit the reset button.
Never let them see you sweat.
Have great body language.
Superior Pitch Recognition
Here's what having superior pitch recognition does for you. It allows you to:
- Have a plan B when your mechanics break down
- Implement what you learned in practice & training, into the actual game.
I don't care how good you are. Your mechanics will need maintenance.
Your timing will be off and you'll have to go back to the drawing board.
When your swing feels off, the only thing you have left is your ability to compete and see the ball as well as you can.
This is why training your pitch recognition is such an important aspect to your game.
If you're not seeing the ball as well as you can, how are you going to implement what you're learning in batting practice into the game?
You can't. Good baseball vision allows you to implement your adjustments.
One thing all smaller guys have is the ability to put the bat on the ball, consistently.
Have superior pitch recognition.
Discussions on the importance of being mentally tough have been shared by so many advanced baseball coaches that we could write a book on their quotes as thick as the bible.
Instead, I'll leave you with one sentence and a quote that will serve as a legit tip for small ballplayers.
Mental toughness is being able to focus on the result that you want instead of the result that you don't want while at the same time, dealing with adversity, doubt and the unknown.
"The #1 skill missing from today’s athlete is mental toughness. Refusing to hold oneself accountable to individual & team goals.
Blaming others for circumstances. Not fighting through adversity. Pouting & poor body language. Physical skills can only take you so far.
Get tough." - Trent Mongero @coachmongero
Being mentally tough is just another advantage once you've learned how to leverage it as a tool
Be mentally tough.
Understanding the Fundamentals
When Payton Manning was being shadowed for a thought piece on his success, the person shadowing noticed the type of drills he was doing were the same drills a 10-year-old Pee Wee quarterback would be doing.
Basic drills working on the prime fundamentals.
Youth player. Pro guy or a bonafide big leaguer. Nothing changes.
Your mastery of the basic fundamentals is what will take you to the next level.
If you're not fundamentally sound, you will underachieve.
Understand the fundamentals.
The Process & Growth Mindset
We all want to be the next Mike Trout, and we all want to be him yesterday.
We want the microwave. Not the oven.
No one is born being a big leaguer and Hall of Famers aren't created overnight.
It takes time. Not being the star on your team or the best player in the league isn't the end of the world.
Instead of comparing yourself to another player today, compare yourself to who you were yesterday.
A player who's a little bit better. Stronger, faster and smarter.
Just because you're not where you want to be, that doesn't mean with the right strategy and enough work, you can't get there.
You can and you will if you stay in the process.
Stay in the process. Have a growth mindset.
Baseball is a game of failure. How you deal with not getting hits, errors, or a bad call will dictate how quickly you will be at making adjustments on both sides of the field.
Every day is a new day. A new chance to figure out how to help your team win. A new game full of at-bats and chances to hit the ball hard or cheer for your teammates.
You have to train yourself to move on from your struggles and hit the reset button.
The next pitch is always the most important pitch of the game.
The past is the past.
Keep a short memory.
Build & Cultivate Strength
So you have proof now that you don't have to be 6 foot to play in the big leagues...
...but you do need to be strong. Strong hands, wrists, and core. There's no way around it. If you are not strong, you will struggle when competing against players who've put the time and energy in the gym.
This is even more important for smaller guys. Strength is how they compensate for their size.
Build strength anyway that you can. Compound lifts. Yoga. Eating clean. Getting enough sleep.
None of the other above tips for smaller ballplayers matter if you don't have strength.
Build and cultivate strength.
In all, this is about being a better competitor than you are a ballplayer.
Truly learn how to compete.
Dig deep when your team needs you. Know when to be aggressive and when to be selective. Take good swings in hitter's counts. Swing at strikes when you're behind in the count. Build your teammates and above all...
We make this game much more complicated at times.
At the end of the day, this is just a game. It's meant to be played.
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