Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Athleticism or Skill?

In February when the NFL Combine was in full swing, I discussed the validity of evaluating athleticism and its correlation to the draft and future performance. Here we are in June and it’s time for Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft. This makes me want to revisit the idea of “athleticism” and ask the question: Should teams draft athletes and try and make them baseball players? Or, draft baseball players and attempt to improve their athleticism?

The answer: Yes

Let’s make 2 assumptions for the sake of this discussion. First, high school players have the raw athletic abilities needed for sports performance. They lack the sport-specific skill development and experience of the more expert player. In this discussion, the high school player would be considered the “athlete”. Second, the college player possesses greater playing experience and skill development. These athletes would be considered the “baseball player”.

According to Baseball References’ Draft Database, an analysis of the players from the 2000-2005 draft classes provides a couple of interesting points:

1. College position players are better bets to reach the Major League level than high school position players; and
2. High school pitchers are better bets to reach the Major League level than college pitchers.

As mentioned, the college position player has greater sport-specific skill development and possesses a broader base of playing experience to allow him to adjust and adapt to the professional levels. With regard to the pitchers, perhaps the high school athlete has less wear and tear on his throwing arm as a result of a younger age and less cumulative innings / pitches (Although this may be a topic for another time – youth travel baseball). More than likely, the high school player also participates in other sports. The multi-sport performer tends to be a more well-rounded athlete with the many physiological tools and traits needed in each arena.

When working with the high school pitcher, more emphasis should be placed on proper throwing mechanics and delivery efficiency, as well as, teaching the overall knowledge of the game (i.e. fastball command, development of off-speed pitches, pitch selection and sequences, and identifying hitters’ weaknesses, etc). Care should be taken not to neglect the young pitcher’s athletic gifts and continue to enhance and maintain these traits. However, the sport-specific skills take precedence.

The more experienced and developed collegiate position player, can use athletic development to aid and fine tune the performance of his sport-specific skills. Speed and agility drills may be used for balance and footwork enhancement, along with the overall improvement of fielding range and baserunning abilities. Development of lower extremity and core strength / power / stability may provide continued improvement with regard to bat speed and power at ball contact.

So, the answer to my introductory question seems to be “yes”. It just depends on what position the player is being drafted to perform.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

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