In baseball, the catcher serves a number of important roles: receiving/framing, blocking, throwing, directing cuts/relays, calling pitches, setting defensive plays for bunts or first and third situations, even calling the game at times. A good catcher is often a defensive field general for a team. This is a learned skill that starts in youth baseball. Young catchers must learn the proper fundamentals with stances, receiving and framing, blocking and throwing, and much more.
Over the last few years something new has been creeping into baseball at the professional level and therefore the youth levels as well. This is catching with one knee down. At the professional level this is being driven by statistics that support the idea that catchers can convert borderline low pitches into strikes more easily with this stance. And anything that the pros do, you can bet the youth are going to try it.
Clearly there are proponents and detractors of this approach to catching. The aforementioned act of stealing low strikes is a proponent, along with making it easier for catchers to block pitches in certain areas, mainly middle-down. There is clearly plenty of support to the idea that the lower the catcher is, the better.
On the other hand, this style of catching could make lateral movement difficult for some catchers. It takes considerable athleticism to move from a position where the left knee is down (in anticipation of receiving a pitch down in/around the zone) to pushing off that same leg to move to the first base side of the plate to get to a pitch that is in the dirt. It also takes a great deal of athleticism to move from the one knee down position to exploding up and making a quick yet powerful throw to second base. Catchers at the professional level are generally very athletic, or at least sufficient at these particular movements—but this doesn’t necessarily mean that high school and youth catchers are. Coaches, therefore, are tasked with the responsibility to find what works best for their players.
Should youth catchers use the one-knee approach?
The author has been to youth catching clinics where eight- and nine-year-old catchers are being taught the one-knee-down approach. The question on if this should be done goes back to the purpose of the approach; convert borderline low pitches into strikes. At a given level of play, is the catcher seeing these types of pitches? In other words, is this a need? At eight and nine years old, the answer is probably no. Let’s be honest, nine-year-olds typically have one pitch and it’s the one we hope can get over the plate!
On the other hand, there may be an expectation for this starting in high school and certainly college. In that case it may be beneficial to start preparing 13-14-year-old catchers to supplement their traditional catching stances with the “new” one so that they are ready when they get there. In this situation, it would be important for the coach to establish a philosophy for this. For example, use the one-knee-down approach when there are no runners on base, and move to the traditional style when runners are on.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the matter, when it comes to catcher preparation, it’s still important to focus on the basic skills of receiving/framing, primary/secondary stances (whatever you teach, teach it well!), blocking, throwing, and understanding game situations and pitch-calling, if necessary. Over time, as the level of play changes, it’s important to adapt the youth catcher’s skills to reflect what they are seeing. After all, if they see it on TV, they’re going to try it for themselves. Good luck!