Tips to Improve Your Skills as a Catcher from Pro Coach Mike Falsetti

Tristan: Alright! Welcome in everyone. We have with us on the line, a very special guest. He's coach Mike Falsetti. It's calling in, hailing in from the windy city here. He runs the organization Catchers Capital out there. He's a former professional catcher himself. Coach, how are we doing tonight?

Michael: Great. How are you?

Tristan: Fantastic. Appreciate you making the time here. Appreciate you being able to join us as always. I'm not gonna lie, in terms of this podcast, one of the first baseball minded folks we're talking to, so we're excited for sure. And I know our young players out there are as well. So let's just get right into it.

We always want to hear the story of the folks that we invite on this podcast. Sort of how they got to where they are today. Let me ask you, let me ask you this. What age did you start playing baseball and when did you decide you wanted to go pro?

Michael: Well, I started a long as I can remember, probably around three years old. Started playing T-ball for a few years before my time or before the age groups, playing up a few ages and then developed the love for the game very early on. And by the age of seven or eight, with the love I had for the game, with the words that were coming out of other people's mouths, the coaches, the dads, the other players, they saw I had something special. So that reiterated in my mind that I actually had a chance to become a professional baseball player. So ever since then, that was my one and only goal.

And went through high school. I was a early highly touted prospect. Went Division One, went to JuCo, went to finish off at a Division Two school, Belmont Abbey in North Carolina. And senior year I had an injury. So it wasn't really working out with the draft or anything. So then I ended up, I had to make the decision, am I done or do I still want to pursue this dream that I had?

And I ended up going to a showcase out in California and I ended up getting a professional contract in the Independent baseball league, the Frontier League in the Midwest. And from then on, I played another five years. I just finished my last year in southern Maryland in the Atlantic League, which that was pretty interesting with all the new rule changes, that was a completely different game. But yeah, and here I am now.

"in high school, throwing runners out was my forte"

Tristan: That's that. So you, it sounds like you decided real early on, made the commitment and went into it. So did you find yourself, were you kind of a step ahead of everyone in high school and in those earlier stages maybe before you made the leap to go play college and play pro?

Michael: Yes. I would consider that. Especially defensively. Like in high school, throwing runners out was my forte. And offensively I was pretty good, but I got away with a lot of issues that ended up coming up in professional baseball. But yeah, I was considered a step ahead and that only added to my solidification of actually pursuing that dream.

Craig: Yeah. So as a catcher in high school, you know, especially as you demonstrate a defensive prowess and throwing out runners, don't teams just kind of start to learn that a little bit, and maybe you're not seeing as many stolen base attempts. I mean, don't they adjust?

Michael: Yeah, they adjust. That's one thing I kind of prided myself on, especially at the younger ages, in high school and in college, is that in between innings when you take your little, your warm up throw, I would take it at game speed. I would be, I would tell them, "Hey, this is what you got to deal with, so you might as well not do it."

Tristan: Show them the strength

Craig: I like that.

Michael: Exactly. And that's how I try to reiterate it to my catchers that I'm teaching now, is that every single rep you take, it should be game-like. It doesn't matter if it's warming up between innings or even in the cage during practice time. You're showing the people, especially during the game, or even before the game warm-ups that you could win the battle that's about to happen before it even happens.

"I was able to make a good throw on the bag every time and get runners out"

Craig: Nice. I like that. And always practice good fundamentals, but tell me about your, you know, how did you get into catching? I mean, did you start out at other positions and eventually rotate onto catching or was it something that you had originally sought out?

Michael: So it all started probably seven, eight years old maybe. I used to be, I used to rotate from pitcher, to shortstop, centerfield and catcher. I pitched all the way until basically my freshman year of high school. I had a very strong arm for a younger kid. And, got to that age and I fractured my shoulder, um, because of, I used to catch a lot and then pitch. So the amount of throwing was a little bit too much for my arm, and I didn't really know it because it always felt good and just one day it went. But yeah, that kind of played into that. It was basically having in those very young ages under 14, if you have a catcher that can throw guys out, it changes the game. Because teams will expose that catcher that can't make the throw to the bag or is way too slow and they'll just run all over him. But I was able to do that. I was able to make a good throw on the bag every time and get runners out so there would be no running game. And that's kinda how it all started.

And that's how I started developing a much deeper love for the game because you have that different perspective at the catching position. You're in control of it. You're actually calling pitches, you're talking to the umpire, like any other position doesn't really do that. And there's a different relationship with half of your other team, which are all the pitchers. And that's what really got me. It was that being in control, being involved with every single pitch of the game, because I would get bored out in centerfield to be honest.

Tristan: Oh, sure. No doubt. I mean, they always say catcher is, you know, they're the center, talking in football terms, they're the center of the baseball field. They gotta be in front of it all. They're the coach out there. They're calling the game. So definitely have to make sure you're that right head on your shoulders. I know, myself, I played a little catcher growing up and I only got into it because when we were extremely young, I was the only one who could make it to second base. So obviously, once you come to your level where you're specialized, it's a whole different ball game.

Michael: Oh yeah. That's usually how it starts.

Tristan: Let me ask you, while growing up, you kind of moved around a little bit. You said you played outfield and pitcher on the baseball diamond. There's a debate out there whether playing multiple sports is beneficial for a young athlete, they eventually want to get to the professional level like you did. Did you play multiple sports growing up or was it strictly baseball for you?

Michael: Primarily baseball. I played a couple of years of organized football as a youth and I played my freshman year in high school and I also played in some organized basketball leagues growing up before high school. I made my decision early on on that I wanted to play baseball. For the athletes that haven't made the decision, per se, I think it's very beneficial to play those other sports because it doesn't matter what sports you play, an athletic movement is an athletic movement, and the more you do it, the better you're going to get.

Tristan: No doubt. I love that mindset. Looking back on it now, maybe. But like you said, you had made up your mind and obviously it worked out for you in the end. Obviously you were a stellar athlete in high school. Made it all the way through college, into the professional level as well.

You end up starting this organization, Catchers Capital. is where you can find it online. And you're training these young catchers, these young prospects to get to the level where, that you eventually reached, and reach their goals, reach their dreams. What made you take that leap after... Because you were playing and running this organization at the same time, if I'm not mistaken. What made you take that leap to really want to start your own training program?

Michael: Well it started, I guess, it's about just turned one, few months ago, so it's about one and a half years ago, I started it. And a few years ago I was just giving lessons just on my own and I started seeing a ton of results and I started noticing that I actually did enjoy teaching it just as much as I did playing. So I looked a little bit deeper in it. And in the Chicago land area, there really are no catching instructors. So I saw a need that I could fill. And then when I'm playing, and during the offseason, I'm constantly looking at things on the internet, how to get my game better, watching the instructors that are pretty well known. And there were some things that I didn't necessarily disagree with, but I thought could be done a little bit more efficiently because of how I did it before. And then I got away from it because I found a simpler, more effective way to do it in game. So, my teaching would differ, I guess, from the other things out there right now. And so, yeah, I just decided to do it. One of my coworkers, Bobby Stevens, told me to do it years ago, and I finally just said, "Alright, I'm doing it." And it caught on pretty quick. I started it up, put my time in creating my website, creating my social media profiles, and just threw my knowledge out there.

Craig: And it sounds like it's been growing ever since. And so, you know, we hear from a lot of trainers about how they take a little bit from everywhere. As you mentioned, you're able to bring in a lot of your experiences. But would you say that, you know, when you compare yourself to other trainers out there that you've got a specialty? You mentioned having a cannon for an arm. Can you teach other catchers to develop that type of game? Or is it blocking or other skills that catchers have that you specialize in, that people come to you in order to get?

"I'm not just trying to make you physically a better catcher. I'm trying to make you a better catcher in all senses of the game."

Michael: Well, that's kind of what I pride myself on the most, even though it comes from a negative sort of thing. If you're a professional baseball player that's played five years, and has a career batting average of under .200, you gotta be doing something right and you gotta be constantly working on that.

So what I try to market is that I'm not just trying to make you physically a better catcher. I'm trying to make you a better catcher in all senses of the game. So in lessons, yes, we work on the physical aspects, the movements and everything, but I'm constantly giving them game situations, providing them more knowledge with the game, pitch calling situations, dealing with pitchers and pitching staffs and even coaches and the feeling of showcases. All of that goes into being a catcher, in my opinion. There's a lot of good throwers out there, a lot of good blockers, but you got to have everything if you want to be considered a good catcher. A great catcher, I should say. And that's what I needed to do. If I wanted to keep getting a job and keep progressing levels, I needed, obviously I'd be working on my hitting and trying to figure it out, but a catcher needs to be perfect, essentially, back there.

Craig: Interesting. So you mentioned pitch calling a couple times. Can you kinda tell us how you teach that? A lot of that is gut and a lot of that is research, but for some players that might not have the knowledge or the type of experience that you get out over time, you know, how do you teach pitch calling? And can maybe give us an example of something that you look for or something that you communicate to your players to make them better at pitch calling?

Michael: The most important thing is having knowledge of the game. The more you know about what is happening in the situation in front of you is then the right pitch will come to you. The next thing is being able to read the hitter's body language. I grew up with my buddies playing poker in my basement for years, and that was one of the things I developed. You don't necessarily play your hand or his hand, you play the actual player.

So, you look at how they're set up, you look at their body language, you kind of step into their shoes and you try to figure out what are they looking for? And you'd probably most likely call the different pitch. And then the next thing is swing by swing. What happened on the previous swing? Why did he hit it? Why did he miss it? Where did he miss it? What can you do differently the next pitch in order to have him either mishit it or swing and miss? And then obviously the pitcher's strengths come into play. The more you know about the opposing hitter and his weaknesses, that comes into play. And granted, all of those things could change every single day. And that's the beauty about baseball. So you've got to kind of read and adapt to what's going on.

Craig: I get what you're talking about. Adapting to what the batter shows you and what's going on in the rest of the game with the pitcher's skill. So, you know, we talked a little bit about some of these capabilities, and we talked about your business. You mentioned that it grew quickly over this last year. How do you get new clients? Is it all word of mouth or is it all, you know, social media or where do the new clients come from?

Michael: Pretty much started out... I'm apart of a youth travel organization called Windy City Baseball out of Chicago too. So most of my clients in the beginning started out from there, and then it grew to word of mouth. And then that's kind of when I started creating the Catcher's Capital. So I would say 90% of my first lessons are still with me today.

And so yeah, it was word of mouth from them. It was just the result driven stuff. Like this guy did this to my kid and then once I created the Catcher's Capital, it was all social media and I haven't really wanted to go out and try to find clients. That's all I want to do is present my information, try to get it to as many people as I can and just make them think for themselves.

Does this stuff makes sense? If I implemented my game, would it make me better? And that's all I'm trying to really do. Try to get them the most effective, simple way to do something. And if they want to come get lessons or come to camps, then they usually contact me.

Tristan: That's awesome to hear that that retention is so high for you there, with the players coming back. You said 90%-plus of your first lessons are still there with you, which is just great. Obviously, you got to stick with it if you want to get better. Now let's get into the meat of what you're doing with these kids. What are some of your favorite drills that you'd like to do with them? Is there a rating structure, maybe when you do get a new client in? Give us the meat and potatoes there.

"Drill work essentially for me are all progressions, whether it's receiving, blocking, or throwing."

Michael: Yeah. So the first lesson of any client I have is basically, I just throw him about 30 balls. 10 of them you catch, 10 of 'em you'll block, 10 over 'em you throw. And I video every single one. And that's my before. So I see what I see. I usually have a pretty good idea of what we could work on. And I always start with receiving for the whole first lesson.

My reasoning for that is that catching the ball happens way more than blocking or throwing the ball in a game. So that should be your number one priority is receiving. Second, second you block. The whole second lesson is trying to explain the most effective motions to block a ball and the mindset that it takes. Because you could block, mostly block more than you would throw in a game. And then lastly, it would be throwing. So yeah, so some of the drills that I do at the most simplest level, for my really young catchers, the ones who struggled with catching the ball even, is basically just stuff I did growing up at home. I would lay in bed with a baseball, throw it up to the ceiling as close as I could get it without hitting it, and then catch it with my catching hand. And I'd do that for hours until I fell asleep. And those are things that I try to make sure they're doing at home.

But other than that. Drill work essentially for me are all progressions, whether it's receiving, blocking, or throwing. Receiving, I have my progressions where they catch the ball, then they move on to catching the ball as their hand is moving up from underneath the baseball. And then it's up and they turn the baseball and then you turn it less. That's the last one, you do less. So the point is, in order to control something that's moving so fast and always moving down, you have to be moving from underneath it.

And the turn essentially is because you can allow all of that force to be redirected to where you want it to go. You see a lot of big leaguers nowadays. The reason why they're such good receivers is because they are good at catching the balls low underneath the zone, the strike zone. That's basically the moneymaking pitch and their ability to work underneath and catch the ball as they're moving up and use the ball and all of that inertia to their advantage is what makes them great. Blocking wise. I do another little progression. I make sure they're moving correctly. When it comes to blocking and throwing, my teaching, when I looked at it, my playing, I looked at it, try to see it as in the most simple way possible.

And the number one thing, whether you're blocking or receiving, is to not gain ground forward with your first movements. So the progressions for blocking would be, you'd start with just three balls in front of you, one in the middle and two on the sides. And you get use to going from a secondary stance, if people know what that is, and you feel where your center of gravity is and you get down into the blocking stance and you make sure it didn't move forward from there, it's going straight down. So that's the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line essentially. And then when you're blocking side to side, you want to feel that center of gravity. Draw a straight line left and right, move along that site, move along that line. You'll notice if you watch big league games, big league catchers, they never do go forward towards the ball. And that's what a lot of young catchers want to do nowadays, is they want to attack the ball so much instead of kind of just attacking it by beating it in the race to the spot they need to block it.

So moving on from that progression... If they have trouble with that, I would put two pieces of paper under their feet. And they'd start in a secondary stance and then they'd go down to a block and they'd feel their feet completely kick out from underneath them and they drop straight down. And it's usually a pretty cool feeling the first time you feel it and then they start getting it. And then I would get them on their knees and start throwing balls at them and try to create angles with their chest protector. As the ball hits them, you're trying to create a perpendicular angle to the ball to have it be controlled right in front of you. For the young catchers, actually for every catcher, the most important thing when they're blocking to be safe is to see the ball hit your chest protector. The thing that does is it attaches your face mask to your chest protector, guarding your throat. It also helps with controlling it because you're actually looking at what you're doing. And then there's a few more in the progression. You've used your angles. There's one that I used to really try to have the catcher trust how quick they are because once the trust is developed in themselves, then they can start blocking the ball more confidently. And then regular blocks and then game situations where the ball might be a strike, the ball, or in the dirt.

Then moving on to throwing. Progression starts with the transfer. You're on your knees. You bring your glove to your hand as quick as you possibly can, no matter where that baseball is. Glove to your hands the key. Then you move on to a secondary stance where you catch and hold the ball. Like you're just catching it without throwing and you get up into your stance as explosive as you can. There's two real things that go into how quick you can get the ball to second base is how quick you get rid of the ball and how fast you can throw it. Being explosive is the number one thing to get out of your stance and get rid of the ball.

"Some people call it cheating, I call it anticipating."

Next is pickoffs to first. I like to implement that because it really over exaggerates the correct movements of not gaining ground away from your center of gravity. You have to completely turn around and redirect your momentum with your right foot. Your first step per se. So that over exaggerates it a little bit. It gets the kids moving up and around instead of forward towards their target. And we usually move on to a linebacker stance. You're not in the catcher's stance, you're just standing up. Kind of like a linebacker in football. Just an athletic stance and you're trying to anticipate, basically move around the ball as much as you can before it's caught.

Some people call it cheating, I call it anticipating. The closer you can get to the throwing position before you catch the ball, the less work you have to do to actually get into that throwing position. Obviously you can't get out of an athletic position, but you want to be able to anticipate around it as much as you possibly can, and then you go onto regular throws. And that's about it.

Tristan: Yeah. Wow. Well, I think that sound you hear right now is definitely our listeners rewinding because there's a lot of nuggets that we can pick out of that one. I love the drill with putting the pieces of paper under their feet there just to really give them that sensation. Because obviously in a real game it's going to be entirely different once you're doing it there. How'd you come up with something like that?

Michael: Years and years of training, put it that way. It was basically just trying to feel what I feel when I do it in the game. And I'm trying to create analogies or comparisons to other things. And one day I said, "It should feel like your feet are slipping underneath you," and I realized that could actually make that happen.

Tristan: And when you're talking secondary positions from, obviously they're very different when you're talking blocking to throwing so...

Michael: Yeah, just to clarify, the secondary position is the stance you're in before the pitch is thrown. When there's a runner on base or two strikes.

Tristan: Got it. There you go. Even more clarification there. I'll definitely, when I'm going back to listen to this, I was going through, in my own stance here just to make sure I had it down what exactly you were referring to at each stage. Now let me ask you before we let you go here, we here at Hustle are all about the utilization of technology in our sports training. Do you use any technology in your training with your clients today?

Michael: A ton of video. Ton of video, and I'm able to edit the videos and kind of create lines and angles that they need to be seeing to get them to understand the movements of their body a little bit better. Other than that, I just use the stopwatch and a radar gun. I firmly believe that the video is the number one thing. If you could put your video up there, and then compare it right next to one of the best in the game in the big leagues, and start making it look like theirs, you're on the right track.

Tristan: At some point, do you... You said you do that in the first lesson. Is there a time when you whip out the video camera again after, call it 50 to 100 lessons, whatever it is, and show your players the progress? And if so, is there a specific number that you aim for there?

Michael: Oh, yes. Always. Ideally I want to show it to them at the end of the first lesson. And plenty of times I've done that. They have one of those, "Aha, I got it" moments and within the first hour that they're working with me, and then I show them when you walked in to when you're walking out and they usually leave with a pretty big smile on her face.

Tristan: That keeps them coming back there. Now I see why you're retaining so many clients, no doubt. Well, Coach, appreciate the time here once again. Before we let you go, we want to do something that we get into with all of our coaches and players here. It's a little bit of rapid fire. We're just going to throw some questions at you. First thing that comes to mind, you shoot it right back and, we'll definitely go easy on you. Sound good?

Michael: Alrighty.

Tristan: All right, so first question here, I always start with this one. What is your favorite sports movie of all time?

Michael: Bull Durham.

Craig: All right, nice.

Tristan: Had to see that one coming.

Craig: Yeah. So, tell us a couple of your catching heroes. Any big name heroes out there?

Michael: Yadier Molina, for sure. Buster Posey, as well.

Tristan: Sure. Yeah. Yadier, though, obviously it seems like you would have modeled your game a lot after him, and he's-

Michael: Yes. And the new way is Yasmani Grandal and pretty happy he's in Chicago now.

Tristan: There you go. Yeah, of course. I think there's a couple of fans out there that are pretty happy about that one. All right. Next question here. If it wasn't baseball, what sport would you be playing right now?

Michael: Either football or hockey. Probably hockey. I developed a late love for it and it was too late because I never started playing.

Craig: Got it. What's your favorite or what's the best pregame meal?

Michael: Chipotle. Chicken and rice.

Craig: Love it.

Tristan: I love that. That's awesome. Sometimes we hear like, "Oh, you know, chicken and a, you know, a baked potato." Now we're going for the good stuff right here with Mike Falsetti, that's for sure. Alright, last one here. Going on the same wavelength, best music to listen to pregame when you're warming up?

Michael: Rap, for sure.

Tristan: Got it. Any specific artists?

Michael: J. Cole, Tupac, Biggie, 50 Cent.

Tristan: There you go. Hitting in a couple of different eras there. I love it.

Michael: Oh yeah.

Tristan: Awesome. Well coach, I appreciate you making the time here again. Like I said, I think a lot of great tidbits that we can pull out. Always great to hear our coaches' and trainers' stories as well. We're going to let you go here, but definitely want to check in with you down the line and hopefully we can chat again.

Michael: Thanks for having me.