Avoiding Overuse at Showcases

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1307/bbshowcases.htm

For high school-age prospects, dreams of playing in the major leagues or at the collegiate level start with one common thread: getting noticed. And players will do almost anything to make that happen.

With that in mind, USA Baseball is advising student-athletes and coaches to be leery of tryouts or showcase events designed to put players in front of college and Major League scouts. Without any rules or regulations in place to standardize these events, nearly anyone can put one on. Dr. James Andrews, a noted Alabama-based orthopedist and the medical director for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, has been especially vocal with these warnings, saying that too often the events are run by “rugged entrepreneurs looking for a baseball buck.” He claims these non-baseball people often charge exorbitant participation fees and place minimal emphasis on athlete safety.

Showcase events are usually modeled after the professional tryout system in which players execute the fundamentals re-quired by their position, including throwing, fielding, hitting, and pitching. The throwing and pitching elements are of particular concern to Andrews. “In these situations, the pitcher uses maximal effort to ‘light up’ the gun to impress coaches and scouts,” he says in a report for the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee. “A pitcher may be at risk of injury if: he is not properly rested, he is out of season, he comes to the showcase with previous reoccurring pain in his elbow or shoulder, he doesn’t warm up properly, he tries to do too much related to fastball velocity, and/or he tries to do too much related to breaking pitches.

“Pitching two innings for a 17- or 18-year-old pitcher would seem to be a light chore,” Andrews adds in his report. “But pitching to light up the radar gun and get hitters out in front of potential employers increases adrenaline production for any young pitcher. Pitching during the off-season in these circumstances could be injurious, and potentially career threatening.”

Andrews also says catchers are at risk. He says that after one particular showcase event, an injured catcher reported being asked to make 100 throws to second base within 200 seconds.

One thing to examine is whether instruction is provided and whether the events are designed to turn a profit. Andrews admits there are some events that provide positive examples, and points to summer events hosted by the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association (ALABCA). Coaches can use them as an example when advising players of what to look for in a showcase.

The ALABCA’s June events attract nearly 700 players to the association’s underclassman regional workouts, which are one-day skills trials held at strategic locations around the state. From those trials, 25 athletes are selected to attend the three-day All-Star Weekend of Workouts and Games, which consists of an educational seminar; a day of training, skill testing, and instruction; and four games in front of 50 to 60 college coaches and professional scouts. The one-day workout costs players $20. The three-day all-star weekend costs $150, which includes room and board at the host university.

For the educational seminar, the ALABCA brings in an NCAA compliance officer and coaches from Division I, II, and III, junior colleges, and the NAIA who talk for five to seven minutes about the realities of competing at their level, and what their institutions can offer. An athletic trainer gives examples of exercises and routines for year-round baseball-specific conditioning, and players spend a session with former big-leaguer Lou Thornton.

Keeping athletes safe during the event is a point of emphasis. “We’re not going to hurt a kid. We’re only going to throw the pitchers for a couple innings each overall, with a maximum of three innings,” says Barry Dean, Executive Director of the ALABCA. “We’re not trying to win the games, just trying to let the coaches see them. In two innings, you can see what a kid can do. And during our one-day workout to get to the all-star weekend, pitchers only throw 11 pitches in the bullpen: five fastballs, three breaking balls, and three change-ups.

“We’ve even removed ‘showcase’ from the event name, because of the negative connotation that has arisen from other events,” continues Dean. “Ours is an all-star weekend because we do all of those other things, and it’s more than just players showcasing their skills.”