Editor's Note: A scout instant messaged us with a strong stance on long tossing after we posted that Jarrod Parker said he was largely giving up long toss. We offered the scout the opportunity to provide his thoughts on long tossing for Project Prospect's readers.
A lot of people believe you are either born with an inherent set of skills in sports, or you're not. In the case of baseball, and more specifically pitching, there are a few things I believe allow those less athletically gifted to maximize their potential. I would list the opportunities for improvement as: refining mechanics, strengthening/stabilizing your trunk and core, and playing catch.
For this particular feature I'd like to focus on the playing catch aspect, and specifically note the importance of long toss. As a child, your first learning experience throwing a baseball is the beginning of a lifelong process of improvement. The more you throw (assuming you do this correctly) the better you arm will function, the greater your stamina, and the stronger your arm will be.
Stretching the arm out in the form of long toss does two important things: 1) it forces the athlete to push the upper bounds or arm strength in a natural motion conducive to the way a pitcher throws and 2) the exertion of the motion forces the body to maximize energy in the most efficient way, and the body cannot compromise mechanics, thus teaching the body the most natural way to maximize arm strength while working in sync.
There is a reason that those of us scouting baseball do not look for bodybuilders on the mound, but rather, players with loose, athletic profiles and clean arm action. It's because we know those skills provide a strong base to improve upon.
There are a lot of differing opinions on the benefits/detractions from playing long toss. A lot of players believe in the notion that the arm only comes with a "set number of bullets" and long toss is a waste of those "bullets". Others don't like it because it's a workout that can put stress on the arm and cause fatigue prior to competition. Many organizations preach that 120 feet is a perfect "max" distance for playing long toss. While I can't empirically disprove these beliefs, I can say, as an organizational insider, we are one of the few clubs that "encourage" our pitchers to throw past 120 feet, and our success rate with improving velocity and preventing injuries has been substantial.
One pitcher who I'd like to note specifically for his long toss program is two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. We all know Lincecum's shortcoming in stature, but it's hard to deny his electric and durable arm. Having spoke to those close to Tim, and seeing him perform/prepare in college, I know that he credits a large portion of his success to his long toss program. In college, he would often start a Friday night game then be stretching it out foul pole to foul pole throwing long toss the following day. In a weird way, I found this almost as impressive as watching him do his craft on the mound.
For those of you reading with a young son who shows athletic promise, I offer you the warning that the arm is not ready to immediately absorb the impact of throwing over 120 feet. However, the body will adapt to new challenges, and don't be shy to encourage your kid to slowly expand the distance in which he is able to throw. As the body matures, and it is always doing so, the arm will naturally adjust and set new strength bounds. Even if you are further along in your career, the benefits of long toss can still be actualized. If there is ever a painful feeling in the arm, stop immediately.
It is no guarantee that playing long toss will improve velocity or make a pitcher significantly better. However, from my experiences as a scout, I am confident in the ancillary benefits of such a program. Pushing the body's limits, while forcing the bio-mechanical system to work in sync is a natural result of long toss, and I believe will be beneficial for an athlete in training. Long toss is a safe, natural way to improve your arm's functionality and strength, thus making it a vital device for improving athletic performance.