10-Month Throwing Program For Youth Pitchers

Learn baseball pitcher throwing programs — bullpens, long toss, weighted balls and more

By Steven Ellis, former pro pitcher

Youth pitching program
ATTENTION PARENTS: While there aren't many pitching programs that are age-appropriate and safe for kids 7-14, there is one that provides youth pitchers with effective guidelines for strength training, pitching mechanics, and how to pitch faster in baseball. Click here to learn more about my youth pitching program.

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Pitchers' throwing program article

Let's talk about baseball throwing programs for pitchers...

Youth baseball pitchers can really benefit from a year-round throwing program. Studies show that throwing on a regular basis reduces a player's risk of unwarranted elbow and shoulder injuries.

From Little League to high school baseball, when pitchers make the effort to play catch consistently 8 to 10 months out of the year, their pitching performance increases while their risk of injury decreases.

This article lays out a game plan for creating a year-round throwing schedule for the youth pitcher, showing what time of year to throw, how much throwing is appropriate and how often.

But first, here are definitions to key components of the training charts:

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6 different types of throwing for pitchers

This throwing program for pitchers encompasses several types of throwing activities for developing good command of pitches, pitch movement, and arm strength:

1. FLAT GROUD THROWING – A basic type of catch used primarily to warm up the arm and get loose. Generally performed in the outfield during practice or prior to a game. Excellent for maintaining arm health and learning to throw with perfect mechanics.

Bartolo Colon long toss image MLB pitcher Bartolo Colon long tosses in the outfield before a game. Long tossing is an extended form of throwing that can be incorporated into a pitcher's throwing routines. ( Paul Gorbould)

2. LONG TOSS THROWING – An extended type of flat-ground throwing but at longer distances up to 250-300+ feet using a crow hop. You have moved back too far when you or your throwing partner breaks down mechanically. The key is to maintain parallel shoulders. Long toss is excellent for developing arm strength, stamina and "velocity endurance" or the ability to maintain first inning velocity in the later innings of a game.

Distance # of throws
45 ft 3-5 throws at 75% effort
60-75 ft 3-5 throws at 75% effort
90-135 ft 3-5 throws at 80-90% effort
150+ ft 30+ throws at 100% max effort (move back 5 feet every throw to your max goal distance)
60-75 ft 5 throws at 100% max effort

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3. SKILL WORK – Designated time for developing your pitches and improving your command. Throw with perfect mechanics always having a specific goal with each pitch. Goals include: 1) Movement, 2) Location, and 3) Movement with location. And it's done at the same distance as Flat Ground Throwing previously mentioned.

David Price throwing a bullpen image MLB pitcher David Price throws a bullpen in Spring Training. Bullpen throwing is a regular part of a pitcher's practice routines.

4. BULLPENS – 32 pitch and 56 pitch bullpen plans thrown at 60-90% max effort. Excellent for learning to throw all of your pitches with command and perfect mechanics in simulated game scenarios.

Remember, the purpose of throwing a bullpen is to get comfortable with your mechanics, your release point, the feel of your pitches and your mental approach. So every time a pitcher goes into a bullpen, he should do it with a specific goal in mind.

For example:

  • Working on your fastball command of the outside part of the plate keeping the ball down.
  • Working on getting to a good balance position, chin over your belt and weight on the ball of your foot.
  • Keeping the eyes and head level and everything going right at the plate.
  • Working on getting to a consistent landing position.

Challenge yourself to keep all pitches, and especially fastballs, from mid-thigh to the knees. 

Delivery # of throws Pitch/location
Stretch 4 FB In
  4 FB Out
Stretch 3 CH In
  3 CH Out
Stretch 3 CV/SL In
  3 CV/SL Out
Additional notes: Finish bullpen set with 12 game pitches (3 imaginary batters). Catcher calls pitches; catcher sets location. End on a "Strike!"

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Delivery # of throws Pitch/location
Stretch 5 FB In
  5 FB Out
Full Windup 5 FB In
  5 FB Out
Stretch 3 CH In
  3 CH Out
Full Windup 3 CH In
  3 CH Out
Stretch 3 CV/SL In
  3 CV/SL Out
Full Windup 3 CV/SL In
  3 CV/SL Out
Additional notes: Finish bullpen set with 12 game pitches (3 imaginary batters). Catcher calls pitches; catcher sets location. End on a "Strike!"

On a mobile device? Swipe to view more.

Pitching drills image Pitching drills for baseball pitchers are a great way to isolate specific areas of the pitching delivery to make mechanical adjustments and improvements.

5. DRILL WORK – Isolated repetitions for helping you learn to rotate late, sequence properly, and throw with good balance and posture. It takes about 2,000+ repetitions to change a habit. Drill Work = Hard Work.

Here are 33 videos of my best youth pitching drills.

Weighted baseballs image Studies have shown that pitchers who've done a weighted baseball program have been able to increase velocity.

6. WEIGHTED BASEBALLS – Here's an optional weighted ball throwing program that older pitchers may wish to consider using in the off-season 1-3 times per week for 6-8 weeks.

You'll need a lighter 4 oz baseball, a standard 5 oz baseball, and a heavier 6 oz baseball. Decker, Markwart and Driveline Baseball all offer quality weighted baseballs.

Weight Distance # of throws
5 oz 35-90+ ft
  • Warm up your arm for 5-8 minutes or 12-15+ throws at about 75% effort.
6 oz 70 ft
  • 20 throws at 100% max effort (overload phase).
4 oz 70 ft
  • 20 throws at 100% max effort (underload phase).
5 oz 70 ft
  • 20 throws at 100% max effort.
Additional notes: Crow-hop using 2 shuffle steps to close off the hips and promote good hip rotation. Keep the shoulders level and throw on a line. Aim at your throwing partner's chest.

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3 interval throwing phases for pitchers

Your off-season throwing routine should be separated into training phases or intervals relative to the upcoming baseball season:

1. Building Phase: Training phase following 1-2 months of active rest away from baseball. Focus on developing rock solid mechanics & gaining strength in key areas, i.e., core, throwing arm/elbow, lower body.

2. Skill Development Phase: Training phase prior to the start of the new season. The focus is to improve your pitch-ability, which includes your ability to throw hard & throw strikes, and, to consistently locate your pitches in and around the strike zone.

3. Maintenance Phase: Training phase during the baseball season. The average major leaguer loses 20% of his strength base by the end of the season. The goal is to maintain the strength & mechanical efficiency developed from the previous two training phases. Your throwing routine here will help you recover from outing to outing. Drill work will help you stay mechanically efficient.

These charts are based on a weekly training schedule. Use at your own discretion.

Pitcher throwing schedules for year-round baseball training

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Ages 16-19
Training Phase Time Frame Flat Ground Long Toss Skill Work Bullpens Drill Work
Active Rest Oct-Nov 0x 0x 0x 0x 0x
Building Dec-Jan 1-2x 1-2x 1-2x 0x 4-5x
Skill Development Feb-Mar 3-4x 3-4x 2-3x 1-2x 3-4x
Maintenance (In-Season) Apr-Aug 4-5x 4-5x 3-4x 2x 2-3x
Ages 13-15
Training Phase Time Frame Flat Ground Long Toss Skill Work Bullpens Drill Work
Active Rest Oct-Nov 0x 0x 0x 0x 0x
Building Dec-Jan 1-2x 1-2x 1x 0x 3-4x
Skill Development Feb-Mar 3-4x 3-4x 2-3x 1-2x 2-3x
Maintenance (In-Season) Apr-Aug 4-5x 4-5x 2-3x 2x 2-3x
Ages 10-12
Training Phase Time Frame Flat Ground Long Toss Skill Work Bullpens Drill Work
Active Rest Oct-Nov 0x 0x 0x 0x 0x
Building Dec-Jan 1-2x 1-2x 0x 0x 3x
Skill Development Feb-Mar 2-3x 2-3x 1-2x 1-2x 2-3x
Maintenance (In-Season) Apr-Aug 3-4x 3-4x 2-3x 1-2x 2x
Ages 7-9
Training Phase Time Frame Flat Ground Long Toss Skill Work Bullpens Drill Work
Active Rest Oct-Nov 0x 0x 0x 0x 0x
Building Dec-Jan 1-2x 1-2x 0x 0x 2x
Skill Development Feb-Mar 2x 2x 1-2x 1x 2x
Maintenance (In-Season) Apr-Aug 2-3x 2-3x 1-2x 1x 1x

How to make throwing sessions more productive

A great way to take full advantage of time spent playing catch and throwing bullpens is by using video.

You can give your son or your pitchers great verbal feedback, but unless they actually see what they are doing frame-by-frame, the chances they will be able to fix a mechanical flaw or change a bad habit are very slim.

Sports science research is very clear on the value of accurate feedback. A pitcher who can see himself doing things correctly is a critical part of changing a habit and making meaningful improvements.

When a pitcher sees what his fault is rather than hears it from a parent, coach or instructor, his brain is able to send signals to his muscles to help correct the error. Just hearing it rather than seeing it has little impact. This is why making meaningful improvement does not normally occur during most pitching practice sessions. Instead, the pitcher will tend to revert back to his old way.

Using video doesn't have to be complicated either. I'm not talking about doing a full-blown pitching video analysis with the latest Trackman technology that measures spin rate and velocity, etc. You can simply use your iPhone camera. (For the best results, record the throwing video horizontally, and get a $40 tripod stand to stabilize it. It's well worth it.)

Creating better throwing habits

In addition to using video to analyze a pitcher's mechanics, most young baseball players do not fully understand the incredible amount of practice required to make a mechanical change.

A change will not occur if you are only practicing once or twice a week.

If a pitcher is going to make adjustments and improvements, he must think about and visualize what the correction looks like prior to each practice pitch. Then he must have meaningful feedback (from video) so he can judge what actions need to be adjusted.

Many pitching faults can be improved rather quickly by using "playing catch" sessions as the change tool.

Playing catch is generally not stressful and allows a lot of repetitions in a rather short amount of time over several days, weeks and months. There's no reason most pitchers shouldn't be throwing 5-6 times per week, and an easy 10-15 minutes of catch can be the perfect way to do this.

7 pitching faults that can be improved by playing catch

Remember, in order for any throwing session to be effective, it has to be done with a purpose. Here are 7 common faults that can be improved while playing catch:

  1. Landing position - The knee and foot are facing the target or slightly angled but not blocked off.

  2. Lead arm action - Not pulling the glove arm in front of the shoulder until landing.

  3. Timing of back foot action to front foot landing - Getting up on the ball of the foot just as the front foot is landing (but not letting the back heel come up too early).

  4. Over-rotation of hip/trunk - Direct front shoulder and front hip at the target.

  5. Starting feet positions - Both feet parallel and not staggered in order to move sideways.

  6. Leg swinging - Keep lead leg bent with foot under knee during stride. Let hip carry the leg into landing.

  7. Low elbow position - Make sure pitcher is not turning the ball as he takes it out of his glove. Let throwing elbow lift and extend forearm and ball up to shoulder height by landing, but not sooner.

Of course, there are other faults you can also improve while playing catch. Challenge yourself to name others which you could systematically improve over time.

Are pitchers throwing enough?

Before I conclude, I want to leave you with something to think about...

We always, ALWAYS hear concerns about baseball pitchers throwing too much. But may I offer a counterpoint that most pitchers may, in fact, be throwing far too little?

With the dramatic rise in pitching injuries in recent years, there's a lot of emphasis in youth baseball on protecting pitchers' arms by limiting their throwing off the mound.

The idea is that we can protect a pitcher and save his arm by having him throw less in practice than in a game.

But if a pitcher is only pitching 30-50 pitches in a bullpen, how does that prepare him to pitch 80-100 pitches in a game?

It does not.

If a runner is training for a marathon (26.2 miles), but only runs 5K's (3.1 miles) once or twice a week, how do you think he'll do?

My guess is he'll end up having to walk some, if not all, of the second half of the race.

So every starting pitcher is always pitching with a 50-70 pitch training deficit. 

This is a mistake that has clearly not worked well in youth baseball, as there are more arm injuries today than ever before.

Pitching and playing catch have very little in common from a training prespective. One is a throwing activity on flat ground at less than 50% game speed while the other is game intensity pitching from a mound that's sloped 10 degrees.

One is slow and controlled while the other is one of the most explosive and stressful acts in all of sports.

If you want to save a pitcher's arm and help him remain injury free, you'd better make sure he is able to throw a lot of pitches at game intensity from a mound in practice so that he's fit to pitch come game time.


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Youth pitching program

If your son is a pitcher, you're going to love this guide...

While there aren't many pitching workouts that are age-appropriate and safe for kids 7-14, there is one that provides youth pitchers with a daily routine to improve mechanics, increase functional strength and keep their throwing arm healthy.

If you believe good mechanics, good physical fitness and a good throwing regimen are crucial to your son's arm health, velocity and success, click here to learn more about my youth pitching program.

Learn more

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READ THIS NEXT: Arm Care Program For The Youth Pitcher

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