A Soft Toss Machine Is An Effective & Efficient Practice Aid
On the practice field or into a net in the back yard, soft toss is considered one of the best baseball coaching drills, and incorporating them into a player's practice is vital. A soft toss machine is an efficient tool that allows a player to focus on hitting mechanics while building a fluid and consistent swing. At the same time soft toss drills are effective in improving hand-eye coordination, timing, balance, adjusting to ball height,...or any area of the swing that might need improvement. Different fundamentals and areas of concern are worked on through repetition, and can be isolated utilizing any combination of drills. Paired with a net, a player can practice alone, or used with a teammate so while the hitter is working on their swing, the teammate is working on their fielding. Instructors & coaches find it is an incredibly effective teaching tool, and almost all of them incorporate several soft toss drills into their training and practice plans. Costing far less than even the lowest priced fastball or curveball pitching machine, the toss machine is considered a practice tool that is more practical than many other baseball training aids on the market. An investment in a soft toss machine allows the player to work on their swing anytime, and almost anywhere, without breaking the bank. Aside from individual player practice, soft toss machines are often used as a team hitting station or to warm up before games. Rich Aurilia, best known for his time as a San Fransisco Giant, was an All-Star shortstop and spent 14 years in the majors. During his time in MLB, he had this to say about soft toss drills:
“Being at the Major League level now, I still think some of the most important work I do takes place hitting off a tee or taking some soft toss. I like these drills because they slow things down. You don’t have to worry about the pitch coming toward you at a decent speed. You can just work at your own pace and break your swing down step by step.”
Here are a just couple of Unique drills to consider incorporating into your practices:
For the majority of soft toss drills, the player should set up 7 to 8 feet from the hitting net and at a 45-degree angle from the soft toss machine.
Line Drive Drill:
This drill will develop a swing for a line drive back up the middle.This drill should be used the majority of the time until players can repeat a fundamentally sound swing consistently. The pitch height adjustment should be set so the ball is tossed about level to the hitter's belt line to simulate a pitch down the middle. The batter's goal is to hit the ball on a straight line into the middle of the net or to the teammate positioned in front of them at a safe distance. See how many pitches the batter can hit on a line.
Short Bat, Single Hand Drill:
This is an excellent drill for developing bat speed. Holding a short one handed bat, the batter can either hit from a standing or kneeling position with one leg forward. This isolates the lower body causing the wrists to work harder. Set the interval between tosses to be as fast as the hitter can effectively swing. This drill takes some endurance, so as soon as one arm tires, switch the bat quickly to the other hand and keep going.
Swing Interval Progression Drill:
This is a fantastic way to build muscle memory. Hit 10- 15 balls with a long, comfortable interval between tosses. After the first 10 -15 balls, reload the soft toss machine and shorten the interval between tosses so the balls come a bit faster. Repeat this for a total of 3 cycles (or ~45 swings) each cycle a bit faster than the previous, the reverse the process for 3 more cycles, lengthening the interval between tosses each cycle.
Varied Placement Drill:
Position the toss machine and adjust the height of the toss to the settings the player is accustomed to and comfortable with. After the player has three hits that "feel right" from that placement, move the machine 6" to 8"forward. Vary the distance between the soft toss machine and the hitter in combination with 4"-6" adjustments to the left or right, and randomly selected ball height adjustments. If the hitter struggles on a placement reload the machine and hit a full cycle of 10 - 15 tosses from that spot. The drill is best performed with a coach or teammate moving and adjusting the machine to simulate pitches down the middle, on the outside corners, and inside. In addition to placement and height, the teammate or instructor should change up the timing using random intervals so the player becomes comfortable with unanticipated pitches.
Switch Hitter Drill:
Learning to hit from both sides of the plate is not something the young player is comfortable with, but being able to switch hit is a definite plus for any young hitter seeking higher gains in baseball or softball. However the younger the player, the more they are conscious of looking awkward or unsure. This is understandable, as it is not "natural" to them. This really isn't a "drill", but when practicing alone, the hitter should take a cycle of balls from the other side of the plate...by themselves...avoiding the imaginary snickering and judging expressions of their teammates at the awkwardness of hitting from their non-dominate side.
Double Play Drill:
This drill's purpose is to decrease the time of turning the double play by both getting the ball out of the glove quicker and perfecting the timing between the two players. Place the toss machine in front of either the shortstop or second baseman and place a catch net at first base. (The drill can also be performed by one player alone, fielding then tossing the ball to an imaginary second player). The drill is most effective when the toss interval is decreased in proportion to the degree of proficiency obtained.
Catcher's Bunt Drill:
The purpose of this drill is to both develop a quicker response to the bunt and the quick leg muscles to pounce on it. A catch net is stationed at first base and a loaded Wheeler Dealer is placed in such a manner as to duplicate the direction and distance of the bunt desired. The catcher's crouch is assumed in the catchers' box. When the Wheeler Dealer launches the ball, the catcher charges it, turns and throws into the catch net at first base. He or she then hurries back into the catchers' box, awaiting the next launch. This is repeated until the machine is empty. Initially, the toss is set at its slowest rate, but as the student becomes more conditioned, the time rate is decreased.
Slap Drill (Softball):
Soft toss drills are also effective for softball players and coaches too. By setting the frequency of the toss to a constant interval, the hitter is able to work on timing the approach to the ball. Timing the balls arrival with a smooth, clean approach then allows for a quick break to first. This is the secret of great slap hitting.
If You Don't Have A Soft Toss Machine, You Should!
A toss machine is an incredibly affordable, effective, and efficient hitting aid that allows a player to practice, anytime, anywhere...alone or with other players or coaches. Unique Sports offers some of the lowest prices online, will happily consult with you on the best soft toss pitching machine that will fit your needs, and to top it all off....we will ship it to you for FREE!Unique Sports is an invaluable on-line resource for team sales and scholastic sports programs across the country. Comprised of former athletes, current coaches, and sports enthusiasts that have hands on experience in the use and benefit of every product we sell. Our prices, selection, and quality are unbeatable - but our love of the game... that's what makes us UNIQUE!
- Jeff Kiley