Articles


Exploding to Elite Baseball

Jordan 6.4

Jordan Quarton of Curacao explodes to 6.42 in the 60

Caribbean players are changing the game of baseball. Of all the terms to describe their unique brand of baseball, the most common term is explosion. The way they train and the way they play is at a much greater velocity than the standard set in the US. Hard working Americans who play all the way through college find that the road stops on their last college game. Years of overlooking explosive training is the primary reason.

There are 1,487 college baseball teams (298 D-1) each with about 25 players, thus about 37,000 college ball players. Every year, the vast majority are deemed unworthy of being drafted by MLB and statistically no undrafted collegean will ever play an inning of a major league game. Statistically, only 3% -5% of best college players – those who get drafted – have a chance of ever playing in MLB. Of those fortunate 1,000 players drafted by MLB each June, 95% will stay in the minors, most of them never making it out of single A ball.

Compare that with Caribbean players. About 40% of the 850 or so players in major league baseball are Caribbean guys. They are chosen to play professional baseball in the US for one reason: the chances of them making it all the way to the top are very high. A key reason for this is that they tend to be highly explosive in the way they play the game. They train for the game with much more explosive exercise. It starts out as little guys, as I pointed out in my first article on this, Caribbean Baseball Invasion.

Caribbean boys tend to be very well suited to play the game. Caribbean life and society combine to develop little boys into great athletes and especially great baseball players. By the time they reach age 12 or 13 the best ones are selected to move up the baseball ladder. This is when they are chosen to play for elite teams from which the many baseball academies shop from. These teams play a very high level of baseball.

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Skinny Caribbean boys play on beat up fields with beat up equipment

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State of the art academies such as this one in Puerto Rico are springing up to fully develop the boys physically and academically

At about age 14 the best of the best players are chosen to be in an academy or taken in by a buscon. These “hunters” are the Caribbean agent/coach/surrogate fathers who develop the boys so they can be signed by MLB agents or have their contract sold to an independent academy if the price is right. The buscons range from A to Z in care and development for the young boys. The best buscons feed the boys well, bring them in to live with their family, coach them, and polish up their baseball skills. Buscons pay for travel, equipment, even specialized training. In return they take about ¼ to ½ of the signing bonus the boy gets. If no one signs the boy, the buscon gets nothing. Sadly, there are many buscons who are more like parasites the way they abuse the youngsters and cheat their way to wealth.

The private academies are strictly business, with hours of baseball every day and a token of time on academics.The exceptions are few and do a remarkable job of educating and molding the boys. The Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico is usually mentioned as the best independent academy by most scouts. Most academies teach and teach baseball plus rudimentary strength training. The better academies such as Beltran spend hours in classrooms to complement high quality training. The worst academies come with headmasters right out of Oliver Twist, with extensive baseball but feeding spegetti, rice, roots, and precious little protein.

All of the Caribbean boys share a fight with the clock. At age 16 international baseball players are faced with being chosen by MLB to attend an MLB team academy, or to wait and later come to the US and play for a college. After age 16 the window of opportunity of signing with MLB is narrow. In the Caribbean, both the private academies and buscons market the boys off to MLB teams who cannot sign nor pay for the boys until July 2 of their 16th year. This applies only for international players, as US and Puerto Rico players are subject to the June draft restricted to a minimum age of 18.

International free agents are pretty much done with school on their 16th birthday, often several years before that. Foreign boys who play college ball here later go into the MLB draft when (and if) their time comes, either after one year of community college or three years of university. They are considered hot property up to age 22. Those who stay on college teams until their fourth year are typically valued much less, often considered a liability due to their advanced age of 23 years! The glaring exception to this is Cuba, where top ball players are welcome up to age 30.

When 16 year old players are signed, there is a price tag. For example, 16 year old Dominican Jomar Reyes signed a contract with Baltimore for $350,000 in 2014. Then there is the expected $3.45 million bonus for the top 16 year old Dominican, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Many of the boys I work with sign for around $100,000 to $200,000 signing bonus.

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Every MLB team now has a multi-million dollar Dominican academy such as this by the Padres

With scouts roaming throughout the Caribbean on the lookout for baseball talent, they find it all around. Explosiveness is highly valued by scouts and comes in abundance from the Caribbean guys. These skinny boys are often very fast at 15 years of age, typically raw in running mechanics and training practices, at least this is what I notice.

I coach the Carlos Guillan Academy guys who come to train in the Miami area each spring. The academy is in Venezuela but they usually have a mix of players from the Dominican Republic as well as Venezuelans. Their overall level of speed and explosion is simply amazing. This spring I trained a dozen Guillan Academy boys who had private showcases in front of scouts from the Padres, Giants, and several other teams. The players showed some blistering speed. One ran 6.4, three ran 6.5, another ran 6.6. Even the power hitter of the group ran 6.7. Pitchers regularly throw over 90, and one pitcher (later signed by the Angels) ran 6.7 electric timed. They were all 15 year olds with just one aged 16.

Those choosing to take the college route also come with amazing baseball talent and speed. In May, an 18 year old Curacao player, Jordan Quarton, came to work with me before joining his Florida summer ball team and after that, heading off to community college. He was a highly explosive outfielder whose best 60 in Curacao was 6.58 hand timed. (Hand timing isn’t accurate, typically 15/100 faster than accurate electronic timing.) Within one week of teaching basic speed and starting mechanics, he ran 6.42 electronic.

Jordan is a great example of Caribbean talent. I watched him play a meaningless game and hit into what appeared to be a routine double play. But he jolted down the basepath and literally dove on his belly to first, beating out the ball by a nanosecond. I can’t tell you how many times I see other guys just give up on the same play. This isn’t unsuual of Caribbean elite players. In July another Curacao boy (16 years old) whose best 60 was 6.72 came in for just one day of teaching him how to run and start. The next day in front of scouts from the Orioles, he ran 6.56 at a private showcase. But it isn’t just blinding speed. Caribbean boys tend to have extraordinary bat speed, and with their lean buy highly athletic frame can crush the ball. They field the ball in attack mode, exploding in the first step. Then they throw hard and accurately, like guys 10 years older than them.

Polishing up explosiveness

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Jordan Quarton training explosive starts resisted by a bungee cord

Before the Caribbean guys are shown to MLB and college scouts, they work to polish up the areas where they can improve explosive performance, knowing fully how explosiveness is valued by scouts. Mechanics help them a lot, as scouts like to see an anthelte who exhibits great body control in movement. Over the years I have found that tremendous speed and explosion can be gained from sessions of dynamic flexibility to replace the antique jog and stretch baseball warmup. The Caribbean athletes I work with get a large daily dose of my dynamic flexibility program.

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Much of explosiveness comes from training the hips to be highly flexible 

After several decades of teaching explosion, it is clear to me that the drills and workouts need to be exciting, stimulating, compelling to the athletes. An area where great changes come in baseball performance can be found in emphasis on speed and explosion using simple devices. I like to use playground balls for reaction and explode to the ball drills. Paint sticks from Walmart are great to teach maximizing the length of the first few steps. I have found that a variety of weighted medicine balls used on the field produce noticable changes within weeks of use. Heave them, smash them, even toss them in the air with the feet. The body learns to thrust, jolt, explode with them. When training the Caribbean guys, the most fun and excitement comes at the tale end of practice using med balls.

By training guys to be explosive and light on their feet, it is amazing to see how fast these guys respond. In no time the sound of “thud, thud, thud” is replaced by the sound of “tic, tic, tic.” This may seem silly to those who don’t understand the importance of foot interaction to the ground. Major league teams spend a boatload of money on pro prospects, and they associate thudding feet with slow guys who only hit. Unless a guy can hit like Miguel Cabrera, he better have light feet and fast motion. There is only one place where the human body interacts with the ground for explosive motion, and it is the feet. Light feet are quick feet, and these get rewarded with fat signing bonuses.

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25 years ago I taught arm action when coaching with the Dallas Cowboys because it is easy to learn, and easy to apply to making the body move faster

Arm action is yet another area I like to focus with Caribbean pro prospects. It is easy to do, easy to understand, and gets instant results. Inefficient and careless arm action is bad in speed, but horrible for baseball, where it is very difficult to get things right in such a short distance. Work on ultra high speed arm action drills with the arms kept in the “L” or right angle just to get them to keep them under control. Since we aren’t dogs or cats, we don’t use the arms on the ground.

The arms are a triggering and controlling device. Arm action needs to be kept with the hands close to the hips, never way up in front the way it is for track runners. To permit the arms to be above chest level is great if you are finishing the 200 meter dash. If you are trying to beat out an infield hit and sprinting 30 yards, I teach the players keep the hands close to the hips and lots of emphasis on the elbow punch back motion. Quick arm action helps the feet spend a tiny bit less time on the ground, and the 16 or so steps that it takes to get to first base will be a tiny bit faster. The results will get you in gear much sooner, and better at beating out close plays at first. Fast and controlled arm action lights the fuse of human explosiveness.

Train explosively to compete with these guys

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 Explosively heave medicine ball from one foot then the other

Accept it, Caribbean guys are here to stay, will account for ever greater numbers in MLB. They have a great deal to teach you. Besides, they have overcome so much just to get here they will love to make friends with you, maybe learn some more English, and pick up a few hints from you on adjusting to life in the US. Get rid of all the negative steryotypes and enjoy the ride.

Parents and coaches need to understand the tectonic shift that has come to the grand ol’ game. It absolutely will be played with more explosive action and by more athletic players. Unfortunately, playing more and more and more baseball will produce the same slow results. What is essential is to change how players prepare for the game. Those who are more explosive will play in college and beyond. If explosion is not part of the training, there are thousands of Caribbean guys ready and able to step in.

Train for explosion. Get rid of every plodding distance conditioning run, remove every bodybuilding exercise you do, eleminate every half speed run on the bases. For all those seeking to play at the top level of baseball, there is no chance of success without explosive training. The flood of Caribbean guys will play and you’ll sit unless you change the way you train, and change it very early in life.

Load, explode, rest, repeat.

© Randy Smythe, 2015