If you’re someone that wants to play college softball, and you’re trying to figure out how to get there. You need to have a plan. To develop a good plan, athletes and parents must first assess the options available, next determine what path has the highest chance of success for you, and then execute endlessly. This article will be about the options that softball players have, and what options give aspiring college softball players (hitters) the best chance of success.
At 11u or 12u level, pitching and fielding will begin to get pretty good and hitters who had once done well because of their ability to put the ball in play, will begin to struggle. Likely what will happen is, if you’re big and strong, the balls that you do hit will go pretty far, so coaches will think “she is a power hitter.” If you’re smaller, the balls you hit well will barley clear the infield, or not clear the infield at all. When this happens, coaches usually think “she might need to find another way to help our team win.” This is usually how slap hitters and bunting specialists are born. Obviously as an athlete and competitor, you want to help your team win and for some players slapping and bunting may be your best option, but make sure that is the case before you fully commit your energy towards it.
How should a young softball player decide if slap hitting/bunting is for them? It really depends on the athlete’s size, strength and speed. First off, if you’re not top tier level speed you shouldn’t even worry about it. Work on your speed first, and if one day you realize you’re really fast then maybe it’s an option you should explore.
“Typically, college coaches want to see slapper get Home to 1st in less than 2.9 seconds. The elite slappers are going to be under 2.7 seconds. The truly great ones get there in the 2.5s.” https://www.nsr-inc.com/scouting-news/slapping-softballs-secret-weapon/
So if you’re 12, and can run a 3.1 or 3.0 to first, this might be an option for you. This assumes you will get faster in the next few years.
If you’re looking to be a slapper, you should also be hitting from the left hand side of the plate. Slapping is most effective from the left side because the hitter is closer to first base.
The thing you’ve get to remember is that as you get older defenses get better. A well placed slap or bunt that you would have beat out in middle school is probably an out in high school, and if you don’t run like a cheetah, it’s almost certainly an out in college.
Speed can be trained so if slapping is the route you want to take you can absolutely do that but you better hire a great speed coach or research the best way to improve your speed on your own.
If you want to be a slapper or bunt specialist I can’t teach you how to do that. That’s not what I’m best at but there are people that do teach it well.
With all that said, just like speed can be taught, power in the swing can be taught as well. In my opinion, It’s easier to learn to hit the ball over the fence on a softball field than it is to run a 2.7 or below to first. For some more perspective check out this sheet that discusses what a good base running times are for Division 1 Softball.
Time yourself and see where you stack up. That said, if you’re fast that doesn’t mean your game needs to revolve around slapping and bunting but you certainly have that option.
For you as an athlete it should be about how you can reach your long term goals as an athlete while simultaneously bringing value to the team you’re currently playing on. This can be a challenge because many times a coach feels it’s their task to try and win the game that is currently being played and sometimes fail to see beyond that. But as athlete you need to worry about how can you win today, and have an even better chance of winning 3 years from now when the competition is better.
So as a softball player how should you set yourself apart for the rest of the athletes that have the same goals as you? Could it be slapping and bunting if you’re really fast? Sure, that’s an option. But if you can’t run like a deer (or even if you can) you should consider definitely hitting for power, because you can. It really doesn’t matter how big you are. Yes, if you’re bigger, you’ll be able to hit the ball further because F=MA. However, you only have to hit the ball 65 MPH to hit a homerun over a 200 foot fence which nearly any committed athlete that works on the craft of hitting can accomplish. In baseball, if you can’t hit the ball 90 MPH + you have no shot of hitting a homerun it’s just physics. In softball, that magic number is 65 MPH + and it’s easier for girls to reach 65 MPH than it is for boys to reach 90 -95 MPH.
Parents, if you’re daughter is 11 or 12 years old (or even any age) and you live in an area that has a Hittrax, Rapsodo hitting or a Flightscope. Spend the money one time to have your daughter hit there and see how hard she hits the ball. If you don’t live in an area where there is a business with that technology, someone definitely has a radar gun. Regardless you need to find out how fast your daughter hits the ball if she is a somewhat competitive somewhat 11-12 year old softball player she most likely hits the ball between 45 MPH and 55 MPH. At the same age most boys hit the ball between 53 and 63 give or take a few MPH either way. Here’s the difference. Here’s the difference in baseball, boys at the HS and college level need to hit the ball at least 90 usually 95 MPH to hit a home run. That’s nearly a 40 MPH increase from where they likely are at ages 11-12. In Softball, girls have to hit the ball at least 65 MPH to hit a home run which is only a 15 or so MPH increase from where they are at 11 and 12. If a girl is reasonably athletic and has an efficient swing she is 100% capable of hitting home runs on a college field at age 13. That’s just a fact. Most good 13 year old baseball players have no shot of hitting a homerun on a college field with wood or BBCOR bats, they just don’t hit the ball hard enough yet. Is your daughter capable of running a 2.9-2.5 sec time to first base at age 13? Maybe, but there is only a very small percent of the population that can do that. So the path forward is your choice, but personally, I think the way is power and speed. If you realize as a Jr in HS that you’re really fast and don’t have a ton of power, ok now you have some options. But if you don’t have legit speed yet, working on being a slap hitter of bunting specialist makes no sense.
Now that we know that I think softball home runs are hittable at age 13, let’s look at some data to see if homers are actually easier to hit in college softball than in college baseball. I took the top 10 home run hitters in 2018 in Baseball and Softball and divided their number of home runs by their number of at bats, showing their percent of of at-bats that resulted in a home run. This sample set was selected because it’s fair to assume that nearly every time these players got an at-bat they were trying to hit the ball far. Had we used data from the entire population of College Softball/Baseball players that data would be very flawed because there is a certain population of college baseball and softball players that do not have the goal of hitting the ball as far as possible, and including them in our data set would cloud our ability to address the question asked. See below how often the top 10 home run hitters in Division 1 Baseball and Softball in 2018 had at bats that resulted in a home run outcome.
|Division 1 Softball|
|2||Kelsey Horton||New Mexico St.||169||25||14.79%|
|4||Paige Murphy||Eastern Ky.||185||22||11.89%|
|7||Jessica Hartwell||Texas Tech||155||20||12.90%|
|–||Lilli Piper||Ohio St.||161||20||12.42%|
|Division 1 Baseball|
|1||Spencer Torkelson||Arizona St.||206||25||12.14%|
|–||Nic Ready||Air Force||229||20||8.73%|
|–||Seth Lancaster||Coastal Caro.||226||19||8.41%|
|–||Parker Phillips||Austin Peay||198||19||9.60%|
Is this hard science? No, not really. But it does certainly suggest that it might be easier for a softball player to hit a home run than it is for a baseball baseball player. Since the top 10 softball home run hitters hit homers 3.65% more often than the top home run hitting baseball players. If it is really is easier to hit a softball over a college softball fence, why are we not training girls to hit the ball as far as possible? The short answer is, I don’t know. We should be training girls to smash the ball as far as possible that’s what we’re working on.
The data certainly suggests hitting the ball far is the smartest approach. A home run puts numbers on the board every-time, no questions asked. Scoring more runs than the other team is how you win. So no matter how fast you are, if you can hit a home run wouldn’t you want to do that? Plus did you watched the Women’s College World Series? Those pitchers were amazing, how many balls do you really expect to barrel up in a game? 4 or 5? Okay, so let’s say you barrel up 5 balls in a game and they are all singles. That might result in 1 or 2 runs depending on how well you string them together. What is 4 of the 5 balls you barrel up are extra base hits and one is home run? Your 1 or 2 run game, just turned into a 3-5 run game, most times that’s the difference between a win and a loss.
Even if you’re not a home run hitter exclusively, you need to consistently hit the ball for extra base hits. There are some hitters that run like the wind and as long as they get on base it won’t matter because they will swipe a bag or 2 without fail. But if that’s not you, (and it’s probably not because you need elite level track and field like speed for that) you need to at least hit doubles consistently.
I dug through the stats of every team in the WCWS and looked at the top 10 hitters on each team and found what percent of their hits were for extra bases. Here are the tables that I put together.
The athletes that are really fast I showed how many stolen bases they had this year.
|Georgia||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH||Oregon||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH|
|Cortni Emanuel||91(52 SB)||11||12.09%||Haley Cruse||49||13||26.53%|
|Alyssa DiCarlo||72||37||51.39%||Alexis Mack||66(24 SB)||6||9.09%|
|Alysen Febrey||72||29||40.28%||Jenna Lilley||69||19||27.54%|
|Justice Milz||71||30||42.25%||Shannon Rhodes||59||17||28.81%|
|Kendall Burton||61||11||18.03%||Gwen Svekis||57||24||42.11%|
|Ciara Bryan||59||14||23.73%||Mary Lakopo||49||20||40.82%|
|Jordan Doggett||40||5||12.50%||Mia Camuso||45||13||28.89%|
|Mahlena O’Neal||31||13||41.94%||DJ Sanders||48||25||52.08%|
|Jessica Morgan||18||11||61.11%||Lauren Lindvall||39||12||30.77%|
|Kaylie Harding||13||1||7.69%||Lauren Burke||20||9||45.00%|
|Oklahoma||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH||Washington||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH|
|Sydney Romero||75||25||33.33%||Sis Bates||75||24||32.00%|
|Jocelyn Alo||68||35||51.47%||Taylor Van Zee||74||30||40.54%|
|Nicole Pendley||51||23||45.10%||Kirstyn Thomas||65||26||40.00%|
|Shay Knighten||50||15||30.00%||Julia DePonte||57||26||45.61%|
|Nicole Mendes||48||10||20.83%||Kelly Burdick||52(23SB)||4||7.69%|
|Caleigh Clifton||47||19||40.43%||Taryn Atlee||33||8||24.24%|
|Fale Aviu||41||12||29.27%||Noelle Hee||32||11||34.38%|
|Kelsey Arnold||34||3||8.82%||Trysten Melhart||31||1||3.23%|
|Lea Wodach||30||10||33.33%||Amirah Milloy||29||12||41.38%|
|Raegan Rogers||15||2||13.33%||Emma Helm||27||9||33.33%|
|Arizona St||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH||Florida||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH|
|Kindra Hackbarth||74||21||28.38%||Lorenz, Amanda||74||34||45.95%|
|Morgan Howe||69||20||28.99%||DeWitt, Nicole||59||30||50.85%|
|Danielle Gibson||57||24||42.11%||Hoover, Jaimie||23||7||30.43%|
|Skylar McCarty||37||10||27.03%||Kvistad, Kayli||47||13||27.66%|
|DeNae Chatman||26||15||57.69%||Adams, Hannah||53||14||26.42%|
|Jade Gortarez||56||20||35.71%||Matthews, Jordan||43||14||32.56%|
|Taylor Becerra||31||6||19.35%||Wheaton, Janell||39||9||23.08%|
|Marisa Stankiewicz||31||14||45.16%||Ocasio, Aleshia||36||12||33.33%|
|Nichole Chilson||22||7||31.82%||Reynoso, Sophia||33||9||27.27%|
|Bella Loomis||17||7||41.18%||Page, Josie||1||0||0.00%|
|UCLA||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH||Florida St||Hits||XBH||Percent XBH|
|Perez B||81||21||25.93%||Carsyn Gordon||61||27||44.26%|
|Perez K||81||19||23.46%||Zoe Casas||51||18||35.29%|
|Jelenicki||22||12||54.55%||Morgan Klaevemann||28(17SB)100% success rate||5||17.86%|
The average percent of hits that are extra-base hits on these WCWS teams (doubles, triples, and home runs) is 31.82%. What does this mean? If you’re not a blazing fast slap hitter, to give yourself a fighting chance in high-level college softball you need to hit at minimum 20% of your hits for extra bases against good pitching. Honestly, in HS you should aim for 40% because pitching isn’t as good in High School and you need to stand out. If you’re only at 20% XBHs in high school you’d better be an awesome defensive player.
A reality that many softball (and baseball) parents and players don’t fully grasp is that for college softball coaches recruiting leads to wins or losses for the program. Wins for the program is what allows a coach to keep their job. This isn’t news to you, but winning a softball game means you scored more runs than the other team. If you as a softball player aren’t able to A) help score runs for your team or B) stop the other team from scoring runs (preferably both). You’re not going to get recruited because you’re not helping that coach keep their job. It’s doesn’t matter how you do that, you can be an ultra-fast slapper, a power hitter, a high average gap hitter or an awesome pitcher. But bringing value to the program’s win column is the key to getting recruited. Not everyone will get there but if you select the right path and work hard, you give yourself the best chance for success.
As a coach of it’s my job to help athletes make decisions based on what data says is the smart thing to do. It’s not about what aesthetically pleasing, but what brings real value to college programs.
Thanks for reading,
Kurt Hewes – Founder of Ignite Baseball