At the major league level, pitchers and catchers get a head start on spring training preparations.
This year, Wisconsin’s high school baseball teams are following suit.
Under new WIAA regulations, many area pitchers and catchers reported for duty Monday—which was also the official first day of practice for high school softball teams. Baseball pitchers and catchers can get up to five two-hour sessions in before practice officially starts next Monday.
“Between the compressed time frame of the Wisconsin high school spring schedule and the cold weather, you’re putting a lot of stress on players earlier than you should,” Janesville Parker coach Brian Martin said. “You look at major league spring training, if it takes them that long to get ready, how long should it take a high school pitcher who maybe played basketball or wrestled (this winter)?
“So, without this extra week, you’d be looking at eight days from the first day of practice until our first scheduled game. That’s not enough time to get ready to go out and pitch. This will be beneficial for pitchers and their health.”
The early start has long been lobbied for by the state’s coaches.
The new measure comes one year after the WIAA implemented new rules regarding pitch counts that limited hurlers from throwing more than 100 pitches in an outing and structured how many days of rest are necessary between outings.
“The next logical move was to give the kids some extra time before the season starts to get their arms in shape,” Janesville Craig coach Victor Herbst said. “It was probably a good common-sense move.
“A lot of the kids have already been throwing (in open gyms), so it might not be a make-or-break thing, but this will be a little more controlled than them just going out and playing catch and things like that.”
WIAA rules stipulate what exactly the pitchers and catchers can do during the instructional sessions.
The only equipment allowed is balls, gloves, catcher’s gear and portable pitching mounds. Bats, tees, batting cages and pitching machines, for instance, are prohibited.
That should be enough to keep anyone from doing any type of hitting work, which isn’t allowed during this week. Pitching programs can only include: warm-ups, stretching, calisthenics, weight training, running, conditioning exercises and throwing. Players cannot work on fielding, covering bases or pick-off moves.
And teams cannot use the preseason sessions for any type of tryouts or cuts.
“With the pitching rules coming in last year, we had more guys that we put on the mound earlier to try and find more depth,” Herbst said. “This is about keeping kids arms from getting sore or hurt. To me, the earlier they get to work, the better for them. It should help some teams find some depth, and that’s not bad for anybody.”
Can teams declare just about everyone on their potential rosters as a pitcher or catcher?
Yes. But as long as programs follow the outlined rules, this week’s sessions will be focused on conditioning and will be a far cry from next week’s first official practices.
And with weather sometimes dictating a need to play four, five or six games in a single week, teams need all the arms they can get.
Martin pointed to senior Sam Garvoille as an example of a type of player who could benefit from early pitching instruction. Garvoille was a second-team all-Big Eight Conference outfielder last year but also blossomed into one of the Vikings’ best pitchers, sporting a 2.82 ERA.
“Until last year, he hadn’t pitched since Little League,” Martin said. “So you don’t know what you’re going to find. Everyone’s going to get a chance, especially with the young guys.
“We’re going to give them a chance, and we’re going to find out.”
The first day high school baseball games can be played is March 27.