There’s a certain art to crafting that just-right batting lineup. Youth baseball coaches can begin their offensive strategy with this simple guide.
When it comes to youth baseball, few things are more important to players than their batting position.
Most kids enjoy leading off and others just want to be the cleanup player like their favorite pro. But not everyone is a perennial power hitter. No matter where a kid wants to appear in the batting lineup, there’s one universal truth: They all want to win.
Your batting lineup can vary widely by age group. During the formative years of T-ball and coach pitch (generally ages 8 and younger), there is nothing wrong with giving every player a chance to hit in those prime leadoff and cleanup spots. Let each kid hit in each position. This provides players with an even amount of at-bats and gives them an opportunity to learn.
When players reach the age in which a kid can pitch — typically by 10 or older — the lineup can become more defined.
Your leadoff should be one of your team’s best hitters and fastest players. The goal of any good leadoff hitter is to get on base, however they can. Your on-base percentage leader should fit well in the leadoff spot, if you’re keeping track of that stat. Remember, whether they hit the ball for contact or they walk, they’ve got to get on base.
Speed is a plus for this position. Don’t look for power in the leadoff — save power hitters for later when there are more baserunners positioned. If your kids are competing for this spot, remind them that the leadoff hitter usually only leads once.
The 2-spot player is on-deck at the start of the game and should be a fundamentally sound hitter. You must rely on them to make contact with the ball. The goal of the second hitter is to advance your leadoff player, as well as make it on-base themselves. Players who frequently strike out will kill momentum in this position.
Just as before, the 3 hole should be one of your team’s best hitters. This can be someone who has a great batting average and doesn’t lack power.
This position should be filled by a good all-around hitter who really gets the concept of batting against another player. You want the 3 hole to move players around, or drive in the first runs of the game. If you look at your stats and see a player with a comparatively high batting average, a couple doubles and several RBIs on the season, try batting them third.
One of the most admired spots in the batting lineup, the cleanup position is typically your most powerful hitter. In youth baseball, that doesn’t just mean the player that has a lot of homeruns.
The cleanup player hits the ball hard. Hard hits typically get through the infield and sometimes can get to an outfield gap or even past an unskilled outfielder. When this player steps to the plate, the infielders take a step back.
Sometimes the cleanup hitter doesn’t quite clear the bases — and that’s what the 5-spot is for. Like the cleanup position, the player batting fifth should have higher than average batting power. This player should not strike out as much as feast-or-famine cleanup hitter, but should still be able to crank out a few doubles or hard-hit singles.
When you examine your stat sheet, look for players who are hitting more than singles and are in the bottom half of all strikeouts (or who have a lower-than-average strikeout to at-bat ratio). Throughout the year, you’ll want to switch up your fourth and fifth positions. This will challenge your players and give you a better idea of who fits best in which role.
SPOTS 6 & 7
Unless you’re one lucky youth baseball coach, this is where you’ll probably reach a challenge in your lineup.
The 6 and 7 spots are important in your lineup, even if they don’t perform as well at the plate. A batting average of .200 or .225 can wreak havoc on the other team. Hope for singles from these players, or try putting a good bunter in this role.
If you’ve got players who are about equal in hitting ability, speed should be the deciding factor.
At the youth level, the 8 spot is ideal for developing hitters. In many cases, the 8 position is for a player who is the worst fundamental hitter on your team and strikes out the most. Remember, every team has a player who has not yet caught onto hitting.
This less-than-desirable spot is often reserved for the weakest hitter on the team—but we think the nine guy is worth extra consideration.
At the youth level, you should make it a habit to shuffle your 7 to 9-spot hitters, so you do not consistently send a negative message to any one player. The 9 spot should not go to your player who strikes out the most, but someone who you’ve seen scatter singles throughout the season. This player could jumpstart a middle inning for the top of the order.
BATTING THROUGH YOUR LINEUP
In many youth baseball organizations, your team must bat through the lineup. That is to say, if you have 12 kids on a team, all 12 must bat before you start at the top of the order. In these cases, we suggest you follow the above guidelines for positions 1 to 7 then rotate players 8 to 12, keeping them even on at-bats when the season closes.
Remember, your job as coach is to ensure your roster is having fun, developing skills and gaining confidence. Playing a less competitive team? Consider changing up your lineup to challenge your team and give everyone an opportunity. They may surprise you—and themselves.