Team Management and Culture Resources

 The Value Of Versatility

The Value of Versatility

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

Not so long ago, when a player was described as a utility man, it was a fancy way to call a backup on the bench, and not exactly a term of endearment by any means.  But thanks to Big Leaguers like Ben Zobrist, Marwin Gonzalez, Brock Holt, and even pitchers like Andrew Miller or Nate Eovaldi, the players who can play all over the diamond or handle various roles on the mound have quickly become some of the most valuable guys on their team’s roster.

Think back to the World Series last October, and it’s clear to see how valuable Red Sox starters Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, and Game Three super-human Eovaldi were coming out of the bullpen en route to winning that title over the Dodgers.  The Royals and Cubs both won rings in large part because of Zobrist’s ability to be penciled in anywhere with grass or dirt under his feet, so much so that he was named MVP of the 2016 Fall Classic. This past off-season, Gonzalez signed a 21 million-dollar contract with the Twins, and Holt was an American League All-Star in 2015.

Follow any Major League team in this day and age, and you’ll quickly see how many lineups are determined by matchups against the opposing club’s starting pitcher.  And watch any Big League game, and you’ll quickly see how many late game pinch-hit/pinch-run and defensive decisions are made to put a team in the best position to win. Utility players have quickly become some of the most important pieces of a team.

The game has adapted to appreciate players who can play all over the diamond, and you should, too.  When someone can play multiple positions, they are giving their manager multiple options of how to use them.  It’s never too early for players to prepare themselves for that day when a coach asks them to move to a spot outside of their normal comfort zone.

Here are just a few ways they can bridge that gap and shorten the learning curve:

Catchers can take fungos anywhere on the infield to become comfortable fielding ground balls. That practice will actually help them become more athletic behind the plate specifically on tag plays at home.  Infielders should move to the outfield during batting practice and simply work live off the bat to get a feel for reading and tracking fly balls.  Doing so will improve their ability to handle pop-ups when they move back on to the infield dirt.  Outfielders should always bounce around to all three spots to become interchangeable in centerfield or at one of the corners.  And lastly, all players can always throw on some gear and catch pitchers’ bullpens.  Every team needs an emergency catcher if in the event the two guys on the roster go down in one game, and anyone who can reliably catch in a game quickly becomes one of the most valuable on the entire roster because the position is the most challenging on the field.
Learning how to play a secondary position doesn’t mean you have to become a gold glover at a spot you have very little experience.  Rather all you need to be is reliable.  Reliable and trusting enough to make the routine play, to throw the ball to the correct base, and to be in the right spot on the field when you are supposed to be there.  Knowing all of the responsibilities of multiple positions will turn you into a smarter player in the grand scheme of the game.

So, the next time a coach asks you to play somewhere outside of your primary position, thank him; he is creating some versatility for you that will turn into value when you learn how to play just about anywhere, any day.

Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.

 Situational Advantages

Situational Advantages

Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses what to look out for in your opponent to give your team a game-changing edge. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

 Situaciones del Partido

Situaciones del Partido 

USA Baseball

Como  el “general del campo”, el receptor se involucre en casi todas las jugadas defensivas en el partido. A continuación se ve una variedad de situaciones para que un buen receptor debe estar preparado, cómo prepararse para ellas y cómo deben ejecutarse.


Asegura que no haya confusión entre el receptor, el lanzador y los jugadores del medio del cuadro.
Las señales deben esconderse bien de los entrenadores y los corredores opuestos.
Conoce las señales del entrenador y comunícaselas al lanzador.


El receptor tiene que llamar en voz alta las jugadas de toque para avisar a la defensa adónde tirar la pelota. El receptor es el único jugador que mira la jugada entera.
La ofensiva está entregando un out. ¡Asegura de tomarlo!
Cuando fildea un toque, el receptor debe llegar rápidamente a la pelota y saca la máscara.
Mientras llega a la pelota, el receptor debe controlarse con una base amplia.
Cuando sea posible, el receptor debe recoger la pelota con el pecho sobre la pelota.
Usa el guante cuando la pelota está rodando.
Usa la mano desprotegida cuando la pelota ha parado.


Si la pelota se tira a primera base, el receptor debe acercarse a la pelota del lado izquierdo.
El receptor debe darse un carril claro para tirar cuando tira a primera base.
Si la pelota se tira a segunda o tercera base, se debe tomar agresivamente una línea directa a la pelota.
Asegura de llegar a la pelota y mantener el momento hacia el blanco.
Mantener un buen ángulo de brazo (mano sobre codo) crea tiros más precisos.


Si la pelota se tira a tercera base, el receptor debe acercarse a la pelota del lado derecho. Cuánto más alineada con el lanzador está la pelota, más el receptor puede rodearla de la izquierda.
El receptor debe dar un paso más allá de la pelota con el pie derecho, estirarse para la pelota con ambas manos y alinear los hombros con el blanco para un tiro preciso.


El dedo de pie izquierdo del receptor debe apuntarse con el talón puesto en la esquina frontal izquierda del territorio de foul.
La máscara debe quedarse para la protección.
El receptor debe estar en una posición estable y atlética, y debe tratar de atrapar la pelota con dos manos.
El receptor debe quedarse en el plato a menos que el tiro lo lleve a otro lugar.
Se debe aguantar con las dos manos agarrando la pelota.
El camino del corredor al plato debe quitarse primero con las canilleras.
Mantén blanda la parte arriba del cuerpo para suavizar una colisión.


El receptor debe perseguir cada elevadito. Comunica con los jugadores del cuadro para llamar la pelota.
En caso de un elevadito en los alrededores generales, el receptor debe dar la espalda al campo y dejar suficiente espacio para que la pelota vuelve hacia el campo.
En caso de una jugada fuera del plato el receptor debe quitar la máscara. Cuando la pelota está cerca al plato, la máscara debe tirarse cuando la pelota alcanza su altura máxima.
Siempre intenta atrapar la pelota con las dos manos, aproximadamente a la altura de la cabeza.


En las jugadas forzadas o los comienzos de las doble matanzas, el receptor debe estar en una posición atlética y anticipar siempre un mal tiro.
El receptor debe mantener el pecho cuadrado al tiro que recibe.
En un out forzado, el receptor debe estar en el borde del plato y actuar como un defensor de primera base si es necesario.
En las doble matanzas, el receptor debe trabajar hacia el tiro y generar el momento hacia primera base.


El receptor debe posicionarse a horcajadas sobre la esquina exterior del plato.
Una vez que el brazo del lanzador empieza a moverse hacia el plato, el receptor puede empezar su juego de pies para alejarlos del bateador.
Anticipa siempre un mal lanzamiento.
Si se predice correctamente un intento de robar, haz un buen tiro y conseguir el out.


1. Paso lateral con el pie derecho.
2. Paso diagonal con el pie izquierdo hacia segunda base.
3. Paso corto con el pie derecho para alinearse con el tiro a segunda base.
4. Completar el juego de pies con el pie izquierdo pisando hacia el blanco para completar el tiro.


Siempre intenta impulsar al corredor de vuelta a tercera base.
Corre lo más fuerte posible, pero siempre quédate bajo control.
Haz un buen tiro a la altura del pecho. Nada de finta.
No dejes vacante el plato.

 Coach To Win Life, Not Games

Coach To Win Life, Not Games

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

Last month, a legend was laid to rest.  

A legend whose impact goes far beyond words; a legend who, through countless others, has impacted people he never even had a chance to meet. 

A couple years ago, a friend of mine had a pretty profound thought about what life was all about. He said, “we spend our entire lives selling tickets to our funeral.” Let that sink in for a second. For as somber as death can be, a funeral shows the lasting impact of how someone lived, through those to attend the services to pay their respects to the family.

Well, last month, Fred Hill sold out his funeral. 


In September of 1996, I set foot on the Rutgers campus as an immature freshman baseball player who thought he had the game of baseball and the game of life both figured out. And then I started being around Fred Hill just about every day for the next four years who made sure, many days louder than others, that I got to know how much I truly didn't know.

When I had originally committed to go to Rutgers and to play for Coach Hill, I did so without really having any idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that I was going to embark on a life-shaping journey with a man who, aside from my parents, would have the greatest influence on my life. He was a second father to me.

Over the past month since his passing, my mind has been flooded with the memories of the twenty-plus years that I was blessed to have this man in my life. Some have me laughing out loud just as easily as others bring tears to my eyes, knowing how much of his life he invested, in mine. What all of these memories had in common was how he was teaching us life through the game. He was ALWAYS teaching us life. And we didn’t even know it. 

When he was always on our case about this or that, he was teaching us the importance of always doing things the right way.  Every time it was above 32 degrees and he had us playing an intersquad game in the University’s basketball arena parking lot, he was teaching us to take advantage of what we had, rather than complaining about what we didn’t.  When he kicked someone out of practice for showing up on time, he was teaching us accountability… and to always be early! When he benched someone for not hustling, he was teaching us that we owed it to ourselves and our team to give our best effort, all the time, in everything we do. 

When he would be the last one to leave the field because he was picking up garbage in the dugout he was actually teaching us how to be humble without ever feeling like we were too good to do something. And every time this ridiculously successful guy who won championships, coached All-Americans, and developed Major Leaguers asked US questions about the game and how HE could get better, he taught us how we should always be learning, no matter how much we knew. 

He is THE reason why I am a coach today. Coach Hill saw something in me before I was even ready to see it in myself upon the sudden end to my playing career. He gave me a second life in baseball, but more importantly, he gave me purpose to my life beyond baseball. If I can have just a tiny fraction of the impact on others that Fred Hill has had on me, my life will be a resounding success.


Fred Hill turned me into a decent baseball player. And Fred Hill mentored me to become a pretty good baseball coach. But above all else, Fred Hill took me in as an immature 17 year-old kid, and over the course of the next 23 years right up until his passing, helped shape me into the man I am today.

Coach Hill may no longer be with us physically, but he will forever live inside of me, and countless other former players, coaches, friends, colleagues, and most importantly, family members whose lives he profoundly impacted, just by being Moose. While his coaching tree is impressive, it pales in comparison to the size of his life tree which has roots that go deep into the center of the earth and branches that can be seen for miles.

Over the course of his Hall of Fame coaching career, Fred Hill picked up over 1,000 victories on the diamond.  Without question, he taught us how to win games.  But for as successful he was as a coach; his true measure can be found in how well he taught us how to win life.

Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.

 Training and Transfer (Part II)

Training and Transfer (Part II) 

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

In Training and Transfer Part I, we discussed simple applications on how to improve how we carry our practice into the games effectively to perform and how competing makes players respect the game. In this part, we will discuss adding layers to the simple applications to take your on-field training to another level.

Train to the Truth 

The expression TRAIN TO THE TRUTH is simply doing things at game speed in our training with game-like focus and intent on all reps. We partly hit it already with our challenging and competitive hitting practice. We can now expand our focus to team fundamentals blended with hitting, defense and baserunning. We call this segment of practice a couple of different things. Sometimes we refer to it as the Jungle. Trevor Regan hits the analogy well and I use it in my thinking constantly. If you train at the zoo all day but have to perform in the Jungle at night, you are in for a hard time. Think about a lion who is born and raised in the zoo where everything is given to him daily. He never taps into or trains his speed, hunting, and aggression instincts. If that lion is put out into the Jungle after being brought up in the zoo, he is not going to perform or live long for that matter! If your training is more zoo than jungle, re-evaluate it. The speed of the Jungle will overwhelm your players if they have not been there. The other word we use when blending our work is our Fundamedley. This is a simple set up that starts with an I-screen or an L-screen. We have 2 groups of defense and offense, and a coach pitching behind the screen with a pitcher on the mound. This is a live scrimmage that is scripted out on paper but the action it produces is all unpredictable like the game is. For example, inning 1 may begin with a runner on second base and 0 outs and let the inning run from there. We are now situationally hitting, defending, and baserunning with whatever happens. The coach is using a full mix of pitches from up close to simulate reaction times of high velocity. Inning 2 may start with runners on first and second and no outs. Again, the coach will then run his defense, the other coach will run the offense and play it live from there. The beauty of the Fundamedley is the coaches are getting game speed reps also. Adding layers to all this, we will use a scoreboard to give the inning and score and counts, which is the information that dictates our decision making on the field. This GRILL (GAME LIKE DRILL) can be used in endless ways. And most importantly, the environment we have set up has again forced players to RESPECT THE REP. Get out of the ZOO and start living in the JUNGLE in your training. The transfer and performance come game time will reflect more and more where you live the most! Warning: the action that takes place in the Jungle may be messy at times. This is good! Learning is messy and recognizing when a group/individual is learning and allow this messiness to take place is showing maturity as a coach. When your work is clean it is telling you that players have learned this already and they need more. Be prepared to add layers to whatever they do because they learn at an incredible rate of speed! 

The Gap 

The messiness of learning we are talking about was described by our Mental Conditioning Director, Bernie Holliday as The Gap. The Gap is that area just beyond their current abilities. Go beyond The Gap and you are killing confidence. Push ‘em into that gap and there is stretching and growing that is happening. Players are figuring it out. Whether it is a new mechanic or a decision-making play, there is sure to be messiness involved here. That is the art of coaching, knowing where they are as a group and as individuals and pushing them just beyond. The analogy to learning may be lifting weights with a partner and having him help you through those last 2 reps. The last 2 reps got you into the gap and got you stronger. Getting players into the Gap = Learning = Transfer!

Training Beyond the Truth 

Daniel Coyle’s book entitled “The Talent Code” inspired this next segment of training several years back. In the book, he studied how the Brazilians had so consistently dominated the soccer world, discovered the game of futsal, and how it became a breeding ground for super skilled soccer players. Futsal is essentially the game of soccer played on a much smaller field. Everything happens much faster (decision-making and skills) than on a bigger field so that when they go back to the big field, the game is slowed down while actually playing and thinking at a greater speed. I ended up thinking about doing the fundamedley of bunting on it with 70-foot bases. The results were amazing. The field was so messy and fast (learning is messy!!!) but in just a short time it got cleaner as players learned quickly. This shrunken game of bunt defense created some challenging skill work, decision-making, and helped them slow the game down come game time. It’s okay to make the training even more challenging than what they may face because now we are building real confidence. Training beyond the truth = faster processing = transfer! Another example of this is the use of handballs (not to be confused with racquet balls) with infielders. While coaching at Duke back in 2006, Sean McNally used handballs to sharpen the skills of infielders. The handballs training (done with and without a glove) was actually hop reading and decision making on steroids as it was beyond the speed of the game they would face. Once the defenders were recalibrated to normal game speed and space, the common feedback that we would get from players was how much slower the game was to them. The handball work is not limited to the infielders. Handballs infiltrated our big-league camp last year and were used in the pitchers fielding practice (pfp) development of the pitchers. They have been used in the catching and outfield areas as well. Warning: the use of handballs can be messy at times. That is okay, they are learning! 

Expecting to Teach and Teaching Creates More Transfer 

Friend and colleague Andy Bass shared a study with me by Daou, Lohse, and Miller in 2016 entitled “Expecting To Teach Enhances Motor Learning and Information Processing During Practice.” It was done with a large number of golfers and the premise of the study was to determine or measure the transfer benefits of having to teach a skill and then perform it. The interesting twist, however, was that when the players who were told they were going to have to teach putting and its details the following day they then were told they did not have to. Remarkably the group who were told they were going to have to teach putting far outperformed the other group in terms of learning and transfer. The act of preparing to teach a skill deepened the learning and led to greater transfer when performing the skill. I have used this method with my players but have allowed them to actually teach. Now the phenomenon that was exposed in this study is real, but I believe the actual teaching aspect takes it to another level. I have found that the player or players doing the teaching are completely engaged, and witnessing players teaching players is a wonderful thing. I have done this in all phases of the game and also including some culture building exercises. A great example of this on the baseball side is using the players to teach a fundamental and give them a one-day advance to prepare. I will usually have gone through all the fundamentals and training once before turning it over to the players. They will be required to give the explanation verbally and then show it using either whiteboard or video. I have also used the players to teach Pirates core convictions with explanations and videos and preparation all left to them. Generally, the players will knock it out of the park and the other byproduct of using this method is more ownership of their development. Along the same lines of teaching and expecting to teach, I have assigned players to break down different areas of the game postgame, letting them know beforehand to be ready to debrief post game what they have seen. The amount of engagement of the players is phenomenal as they are now watching intensely and learning as well. If you find the feedback lacks certain things, then we as coaches can fill in the cracks when needed. Players will astound you as to what they see and know if we allow it. Most importantly, we have found out exactly where they are and where we can now take them. Allowing players to teach one another = deeper learning = more ownership = transfer! Warning: If you choose to allow the players into the teaching you and your staff will also be learning! Players see things we do not and if we do not show them, we learn from them we have not truly given them permission to learn from us! 

Turgeon is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is the Coordinator of Instruction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech.