The pre-swing phase begins with the player in his/her stance (position 1.1) and ends with the player in the "Ready-to-Hit" position (position 1.3). Today, hitters have the option of either taking a step to get into the Ready-to-Hit position or using a no-step approach. The no-step approach is simpler and a bit quicker to the ball than taking a step, thus making it easier to control the timing of your swing. However, the hitter has to assume a wider stance, which many players may not find comfortable, and still must load back then shift the weight forward to swing. So which approach is best: the step or the no step? At the youth level of play (8-12), the step may be simpler for the hitters to remember and execute. At more advanced levels, the no step approach is quicker. But while some may be comfortable with a no step approach, others may not. Go with what the hitter finds most natural and comfortable for him/her. Both options, the step and the no-step, are discussed below.
1.1 THE STANCE
1.2 LOAD BACK, STRIDE FORWARD
To step, you must first shift your weight back off of your front foot, an action called loading. The simplest load is the "inward turn" - turn the front knee toward the back knee, shift your weight onto the back foot, close the front shoulder a bit, and roll the front foot onto the big toe. Another technique is to slightly lift and slide the front foot toward the back foot a few inches. There are many ways to do it, but I recommend keeping it simple and avoiding high and dramatic leg kicks. The more unnecessary movements you have in your swing, the more easily things can go wrong.
If you back-load your stance - put most of your weight on the back foot - you are already loaded so you don't really need to do much of a load, if any at all.
If using the no-step approach, you still need to load back. I recommend using the inward turn. Another option is to lift the front foot slightly then put it back down in the same location.
After you’ve loaded, step forward directly at the pitcher until your feet are about one bat-length apart. As you step, keep the back shoulder level with or slightly higher than the front shoulder. Bring your whole body forward as you step, not just your front leg. You need to shift some weight forward as you step so your weight will be centered or slightly back (60%) when you get to the Ready-to-Hit position.
As you step forward, push your hands back. Do not bring the hands forward with you. It is imperative to create some separation of the hands from the body. A good mantra to help you remember is "Step forward, hands back."
So, when should you start your step? Nominally, you should start to step forward as the pitcher is striding toward you to release the pitch – “step toward the pitcher as the pitcher steps toward you.” Your front foot should land when the ball is about 1/3 of the way to the plate. But timing is personal and depends on the speed of the pitch and your swing. Each hitter has to work it out for himself. Here are some tips for controlling the timing of your step:
But it’s better to be early than late. If you’re late, there’s no hope for your swing. If you opt for the no-step approach, you obviously don't step, but you will need to shift forward into the Ready-to-Hit position as described below. You want to be in the Ready-to-Hit position when the ball is about 1/3 of the way to home plate.
1.3 THE READY-TO-HIT POSITION
Phase 1. The Pre-Swing
The following checkpoints are identical for the step and no-step approaches:
Many hitters like to “back-load” their stance – put most of their weight on the back foot - as if you have already completed the load back. I prefer a centered stance where you back load just before striding forward. But many professional hitters use a back loaded stance, so you can certainly be successful with it.
First, set up at the proper depth and distance from the plate using the graphic at right as a guide. If using the step, the feet should be about shoulder width or bit wider apart. If using the no-step approach, start with the feet about one bat length apart, as if you'd already taken a step. When in your stance, stay relaxed and well balanced. Tense muscles do not react quickly. To stay loose, slightly rock back and forth while in your stance waiting for the pitch. Some rocking is good to keep the muscles loose; too much, however, is wasted motion.
The first phase of the swing is called the “pre-swing” because the hitter is moving and changing positions but nothing is actually swinging or rotating yet. The pre-swing is important for three reasons.
The Ready-to-Hit Position is the position you’re in at the end of your step, just as your front foot touches down. It’s important because it controls the timing of your swing and puts you in an athletic ready-to-hit position. Many swings in youth baseball go bad right here - failing to get into a good Ready-to-Hit position or getting into it late. If you're not in a good Ready-to-Hit position, you're simply not ready to hit.
If you're using the no-step approach, you will need to shift into this position following your load action. When your front foot touches down, you should be in the following position:
In the major leagues, you will see almost as many stances as there are players. Truth is, there is room for individual variation in the stance, and one can argue that as long as the player can get into the proper Ready-to-Hit position at the end of the pre-swing, the stance does not matter. While I agree there is room for personal preference, kids often adopt stance positions that make it difficult for them to execute the pre-swing phase correctly. Hence I prefer a simple "balanced and centered" stance that will allow the player to see the ball, react quickly to the pitch, and get into a proper Ready-to-Hit position.
I present two stance options: one for players who intend to take a step in the pre-swing phase, and one for players who prefer not to step (the no-step swing). The checkpoints below are the same for the step and no-step except for the width of the batter’s feet as discussed in the first checkpoint.