Does Player Size Matter in Youth Baseball?

The 12u base runner is bigger than the 1st base coach, and about a foot taller than the first baseman (who was slightly taller than my 12u son at the time)



 Yes!


 But how?

Try doing a few google searches for articles about small or big players in youth baseball. Did you find anything? Me neither. Outside of a few opinions shared on forums devoted to youth baseball, you’ll find nothing. That’s amazing, considering how big of an impact size has at the youth level.

In youth baseball, the bigger you are, the harder you throw and hit the ball, on average. Therefore, bigger kids usually get more playing time, bigger roles on the team, and more opportunities. Meanwhile, smaller kids are usually given less interesting roles and more bench time.

Some of the bigger kids clearly perform better at the young ages, especially with hitting. Will they continue to outperform all the way through the end of high school? Apart from highly gifted athletes, do smaller players even stand a chance? How can parents better support their child if they understand how their kid fits in, size-wise?

In this post, I explore these issues by first laying out the 4 possible scenarios, and then exploring each scenario separately.

The 4 Possible Player Size Scenarios

Consider two 12-year olds. 4′ 8″, 82 pound Carl looks so small standing next to his 5′ 6″ 130 pound teammate Bob, who just started shaving. But Carl keeps growing, and a few years later Carl has a huge growth spurt. By age 18 Carl is 6′ 3″ tall and 190 pounds, while Bob is 5′ 7″ tall and 140 pounds. Bob was an early developer. Carl was a late developer.

In other words, big versus small before puberty is only part of the size/development equation. Early versus late development matters more.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to consider 4 possible growth paths for kids:

  • Always Small (Small/Small): Small as kid, small as an adult
  • Late developer (Small/Big): Small as a kid, big as an adult
  • Early Developer(Big/Small): Big as a kid, small as an adult
  • Always Big (Big/Big): Big as a kid, big as an adult

These categories are not precisely defined. For example, consider a player like my son at the 25th percentile of height/weight from the age of 3 to 14 but who (likely) ends up at the 45th percentile at the age of 18. Prior to high school, he always appears 1-2 years younger than his peers. I would consider this player a late developer in the small-big category despite not being all that big at the age of 18, because that is how his baseball experience will pan out. On the other hand, a player who starts at 45th percentile and ends at 45th percentile, and physically develops at an average rate would have an experience more in line with a small/small. And a player who started at 65th percentile and ended at 70th percentile with weight/height may well actually follow more of the late developer small/big path if they appear to be less coordinated than their peers at a young age and not have the slightest signs of puberty until they are 14. Consider the above categories as templates for how a player experiences youth sports, not precisely delimited size categories.

Obviously you can tell whether a kid is currently big, small, or of average size. But can you actually tell what is coming later?

The simple answer is you can’t. You never know for sure until a person is in his or her early twenties. The more complex answer is that you can usually get a rough idea. There are various formulas for estimating adult stature, and you easily use an online calculator to get that estimate. There are also various clues, such as:

  • How tall are the parents? If the parents are tall, chances are good that their child will grow tall regardless of whether they are small or big at age 10.
  • Was one or both parents an early or late developer? If the kid is small but at least one parent didn’t finish going through puberty until nearly done with high school, there’s a good chance that the growth spurt will come later and height/weight may eventually catch up to (or surpass) peers.
  • Birthday? The oldest kid on an age-segregated baseball team is typically 11 months older than the youngest. At the age of 18, 11 months hardly matters, but at prepubescent ages, 11 months typically adds 2-4 inches of height, 10-20 pounds, and neurological development that leads to greater coordination. The youngest player of a given age group will make up the size difference when puberty is complete for all.
  • For kids who are 10-14 years old, what signs of puberty do you see? A big 12-year old with no baby fat, an unusually muscular body build, lots of pimples, and the first few tufts of chin hair may end up being small as an adult. A small 13-year old who still looks pre-pubescent and would not look out of place among a group of 11-year olds may end up being of average size at the age of 18, or possibly bigger than average. He’s nowhere near done growing so it’s hard to know.

To elaborate on these last two points: there’s a difference between chronological and biological age. A kid is chronologically 12 years old on the day of his 12th birthday. But if he has many signs of being well advanced through puberty, he may well be biologically 14 years old. This means that his biological development is average for someone who is 14 years old, despite only being chronologically 12. The same of course can happen in reverse; a 12-year-old may look very small with no signs whatsoever of even having started puberty, perhaps biologically 10.5 years old despite being chronologically 12.

A child’s true biological age cannot be determined precisely based on appearance or the clues discussed above. While doctors can reliably test for biological age with X-rays of growth plates to determine bone age, most children don’t get bone age X-rays. Without X-rays, a child’s biological age can (at best) only be roughly approximated.

Why does all this matter? The kids with biological age a couple years higher than chronological age will not only be bigger and stronger, but they will often also be more mature and coordinated as might be typical for someone who is older. All of this means that, on average, such kids will be athletically advantaged throughout childhood. By the time high school is over, the heights and weights (and more importantly neurological and muscular development) of many slow developers catch up to (and in some cases surpass) their peers, and this will have a big positive impact on their relative performance on the field.

There is often confusion in size discussions about other important differences between players such as athleticism and acquired skill. Obviously someone born with incredible athletic talent will be noticed and go far no matter what their body size or type. In baseball, Jose Altuve is only 5′ 6″ tall but is an extremely gifted athlete. Basketball had Mugsy Bogues, a 5′ 3″ point guard. Yes, if you are as athletically talented as Altuve or Bogues, and you work hard, you will go very far.

However, the typical recreation baseball league, AA travel ball team, or even AAA travel ball team is not going to have a single player who has even close to the athletic talent of Altuve or Bogues. This article focuses on typical young athletes playing baseball, who are perhaps between the 25th and 99th percentile in athletic talent. Those in the top 1% of the athletic talent pool are so gifted that they will likely thrive no matter how big they are or how their athletic development is handled. For the vast majority of players who have more ordinary talent, size has a huge impact on the experience, as discussed in detail below.

Parents who understand where their child falls among the four categories of size may be better able to support their kid’s aspirations to play baseball or other sports, whether it’s just to have fun for a few years at the recreation league level, or whether it’s to eventually play high school varsity baseball.

Scenario 1: Always Small (small/small)

Sometimes it’s easy to tell if a small 8-year old will grow up to be a small adult. If both parents are much smaller than average, then it’s likely their small 8-year old will eventually be a small 20-year old. It’s possible for such a child to have a huge early growth spurt at the ages of 10-13, temporarily making him bigger than most of his peers. However, this is not too common, and even if it does occur, he’ll still be one of the smallest players on any team for all but 1 or 2 years.

Does this mean he should quit baseball at the age of 8?

Not at all!

There are other variables besides size that determine baseball success, namely athleticism, throwing ability, and perhaps most importantly the motivation to practice (with high quality and quantity). There are many stories of small players who loved the game of baseball so much that they worked incredibly hard, kept improving their mechanics, and persisted no matter what the obstacles, eventually surpassing most peers regardless of size.

Note that in the long run, if the child will be attending a small to mid-sized high school, there will almost certainly be a few players on the team who are considerably below average in size. However, being able to make the varsity team of a very large high school team as a small player is tougher, requiring considerable athletic or pitching talent in addition to high motivation.

For players with average or even moderately above-average athletic talent who are not extremely motivated, small size has a big impact at the elementary and middle school years.

My son is always the smallest or second smallest player on every team he’s been on. He recently turned 13 years old but looks to me more like 11 or 12. I’m a 5′ 10″ adult who didn’t finish going through puberty until the end of high school, so it’s possible my son will be an average-sized 18-year old like I was. Or maybe he’ll come out a bit shorter than that. More likely than not, he’s in the late developer category (small/big), but who really knows?

However, I’ve had a lot of experience seeing how the smallest guy on a team is treated, and I’ve taken a keen interest in other small players I’ve seen, including ones with very short parents.

The most obvious thing to notice about small baseball players is that there aren’t very many of them playing in a recreation league or any other form of organized baseball. According to the growth chart put out by the CDC the median height of a boy just turning 9 years old is 4′ 4″, and the median height a few days before he turns 10 is 4′ 6″. So you might think you’d see many players in a 9-10-year-old rec league division who are below the height of 4′ 5″.

Nope.

When my son played his first year of PONY Mustang (ages 9-10), I looked around our league. Out of about 60 9-year olds, there were around 6-8 players who were below 4′ 5″ tall, as compared with the 25-35 you might expect from a random sampling of 9-year-old boys in the U.S. My son, who has consistently been close to the 25th percentile of height and weight for his age, is always the shortest or second-shortest player on his team.

What I also find interesting is that kids who are at exactly the median height for their age according to CDC are often considered “small” on their teams, because so many kids attracted to the sport of baseball are bigger than average. In this article I consider these median-sized kids small as well (especially if they seem to be trailing their peers in puberty/physical development), because coaches tend to think of and treat median-sized kids as small. However, it’s not a black or white thing. The shorter the player (and further they lag behind peers in physical development), the more intense will be their experience of what it’s like to be considered “small” by coaches and peers.

Many smaller players are discouraged from playing sports to begin with. Often the parents are short as well and believe that athletics is a lost cause for the small, so don’t particularly encourage their kids to try sports at a young age. There are undoubtedly other social factors at work that subtly discourage smaller kids from ever trying an organized sport.

Some short parents do encourage their small players to join organized sports. And of course some short children develop a desire to play sports on their own. So there are always a few small players who join recreation baseball leagues between the ages of 5 to 9.

I’ve observed that most of the players below 45th percentile of size quit within 3-4 years.

When I see kids quit the game of baseball, regardless of size, it is typically 1 of 3 reasons:

  1. Too fearful of getting hit/hurt by a baseball
  2. Don’t like the game much, especially the slow pace (so they switch to a more active sport like soccer or basketball)
  3. They become discouraged at performing worse than most players, especially at hitting

The first two reasons are common to players of all sizes. However, from what I’ve observed, a disproportionate number of players who drop out for the 3rd reason are kids who are either smaller or whose biological age is lagging their chronological age. This strikes me as a shame because it’s not much different than taking a kid with average ability and forcing them to play with kids who are 2-3 years older. Yes—quite often a short player performs at a much lower level than his peers. A normal reaction to performing poorly is to quit and get involved in activities where average effort leads to average results. A short player with average (or slightly above average) athleticism must exert much more effort to get average results.

Some people point out that it’s only natural for kids to be attracted to activities at which they have success, and to avoid activities which are much more difficult for them. For smaller kids who are likely to be small as an adult as well, isn’t it better to steer away from activities for which there is little hope of attaining a high degree of mastery in the long term?

Maybe so, but there’s a lot of small kids that love baseball, and it’s still possible for them to enjoy playing baseball in their childhood.

For small kids who love baseball but don’t have extraordinary athleticism or motivation, it’s easy for parents to find an environment in which the player can thrive. Simply join a recreation league that allows kids to play based on ability (or size) as opposed to age. Even some age-based leagues allow exceptions for kids to “play down” or “play up” based on ability or size. Small players with average ability do fine when playing with players of similar size.

As someone who writes frequently about bats, I must also mention that short and light players should use short bats. Every time my son has used a bat that was too long for him, his hitting suffered a great deal. At the older ages it’s even more important: if a short player keeps playing baseball through the age of 14, they will be required to buy a very heavy (drop 3) BBCOR bat, and that bat will need to be short if a small hitter is going to have any chance at all to hit well. At age 14, I would not go over 30″ length of BBCOR bat for a very small batter and 29″ should be considered (note that my son tried a 31″ drop 8 bat as a 13u for several months with poor results). So given that 29″ or 30″ BBCOR is the end game, at the younger ages small players should be reluctant to get longer bats. They should limit length to 30″, while gradually increasing weight from the ages of 12 to 14 until they reach drop 3.

An interesting issue is when the kid is small, but displays considerable talent and/or skill in some aspects of the game. It’s an especially interesting issue when such a kid is in the late developer category. What then? This is discussed in the next section.

Scenario 2: Late Developer (small/big)

I think my son pretty well fits the late developer scenario so I’ll use him as an example to start off this section.

My son has been 25th percentile for height and weight throughout childhood. Even though he’s usually the smallest player on a baseball team, he’s likely to end up closer to 45th percentile (perhaps 5′ 9″) by the time he’s in his last year of high school, passing up at least a few players in height. He will soon be 13 years old, but looks more like he is 11 or maybe 12. A neighbor asked recently if my son was 10.

My son is not among the fastest runners, best hitters, or hardest throwers in his rec league. However, he is a lefty who throws accurately with efficient mechanics. He has above-average athleticism, a thorough understanding of the game, and a non-stop love for baseball that literally started before he was 2 years old. In recent years, he has been valued at both the rec league and AA travel ball levels for his pitching, getting consistently good results.

Though my son has had some success at the game, and especially with pitching, it hasn’t always been fully recognized. There have been times on more competitive summer teams when my son generated team-leading pitching stats, yet was not given an opportunity to pitch at a critical tournament; instead he watched from the bench or right field as a harder-throwing, bigger kid threw away games with numerous walks and wild pitches. I have seen him bumped to the bottom of the batting order on teams where his batting average and on-base percentage was higher than all but 4 or 5 players, because he did not hit the ball as hard in batting practice. I have seen big players playing first base despite numerous errors and little ability to scoop throws out of the dirt while my short lefty-handed son is sitting on the bench. And then the one or two token innings he gets to play first base for the weekend, he makes all the plays, including scooping throws out of the dirt and nailing a runner at another base. But then, the first time a shortstop makes a throw that’s out of reach for the short first baseman, it confirms what the coach thought all long: it’s best to play one of your biggest players at first base.

As a parent, it was maddening when I started to see this kind of thing at the age of 8. But in recent years I’ve not only accepted the reality, I’ve actually come to think of being a short, late developer as an advantage. Why?

The obvious advantage is that he has to work harder and develop better mechanics to keep up. These kind of habits will better serve him in the long run. But there’s also something specific if the short player happens to have pitching ability (even better if he’s a lefty pitcher, like my son):

Arm overuse at young ages (and most especially for those with bad mechanics) often leads to pitching arm injuries in the long run. Since the age of 8, my son has each year logged approximately 900 game pitches in 60 innings of pitching (I’ve tracked it, mostly with Gamechanger). This is a modest workload, as compared with several big, hard-throwing pitchers I’ve observed pitching 2000-4000 pitches annually. My son may well suffer an arm injury before his baseball days are done. However, chances are much higher for permanent injury with bigger players with worse mechanics who throw many more pitches and sometimes pitch through elbow or shoulder pain.

If your small player learns to compensate for bias by practicing more, learning more efficient mechanics, and playing harder and smarter, then be happy with what this leads to in the long-term. Even if he doesn’t play baseball in high school, developing the right kinds of habits to maximize performance in anything is only going to help later in life.

As a parent, it’s very important to encourage your child to work harder in the face of bias. Encourage your kid to control what can be controlled, and ignore the rest. It’s rarely possible to control what a coach thinks or does. So focus on what can be done, which is work hard, develop good mechanics, and take advantage of whatever opportunities arise.

It may be hard for some parents to accept perceived unfairness, especially when current in-game performance is overlooked in favor of size-based potential. What I’ve observed over the years is many coaches do not evaluate players purely based on current in-game performance. Coaches know from experience that on average, bigger players are better players. Even big, athletic players currently making many mistakes will eventually improve with repetition. Put bluntly, most coaches believe that the bigger and more athletic, the greater the potential upside. Most coaches believe the exact opposite for shorter players unless they display incredible athleticism. Even if a coach notices that a short player is performing very well at the moment, upside is considered limited.

It’s unusual for a pre-pubescent late developer to participate in the rarified levels of play attained by elite travel ball players. It’s hard even to attain the somewhat challenging AAA travel ball level. So what. Just let late developers play at the level where they’ll get some playing time and enjoy the game. If they keep enjoying the game, they’ll keep playing. If they develop good work habits and catch up in size and physical development, eventually they’ll have their moments of glory. These moments may not come until their 3rd or 4th year of high school, or in rare cases later than that (read the Daniel Nava story for an extreme example). But they will come. And as I detailed in the prior section—be sure to use a short bat.

Early developers don’t always win out in the long run . . .
(courtesy Pixabay)

Scenario 3: Early Developer(big/small)

What I just described for late developers may sound frustrating for parents of such players to watch. They may watch their child over the course of many years unsuccessfully compete with players 6-9 inches taller and 50-100 pounds heavier, sometimes even getting passed over despite superior performance. However, being the parent of an early developer can be even more frustrating.

Time and again, I have seen parents of a big, muscular kid below the age of 12 get very excited about their young ballplayer’s future prospects. He hits the ball harder and farther than most players in the league. He is one of the hardest throwing pitchers. He is usually a fairly high draft pick for the local recreation league—that is, if he hasn’t already been recruited away from rec league to join a travel ball team.

Occasionally, an unusually large, talented, hardworking young ball player plays well throughout childhood, in high school, and eventually as a starter on the local high school varsity team, despite topping out at a relatively modest height of 5’7″ or thereabouts. However, I have already seen a few large kids who were not so hard-working pretty much stop growing at the age of 12 or 13, an age when some players grow 6-9 inches in less than a year and pass them right up.

That’s when the dreams of some parents come crashing down. The game speeds up, the players are all getting better, but their own son’s physical development and baseball performance no longer keeps up with his peers. But in one crucial way, it’s even worse:

Many early developers develop bad habits when young. Their size and early physical development allows them to perform well if they have poor hitting and throwing mechanics, lackadaisical base running skills, unsound fielding skills, and a negligible work ethic. In some cases, I see such kids get away with poor performance—that is, they get given many chances on account of their size, and must perform quite poorly to lose the confidence of their coach.

Of course, some early developers work hard at their game, developing excellent skills and work habits. In many cases these players leave rec league to join travel ball teams, and sometimes higher level travel ball teams.

However, given that my son plays in recreation league, I get to see some early developers who did not matriculate to travel ball. At the young ages, these early developers competed with players who were mostly not at the same stage of physical development. For example, think of what it’s like when an 11-year-old baseball player plays among 8-year olds. Even if he’s just slightly above average for an 11-year-old baseball player, he is so much better than the 8-year olds that he can coast without having to exert himself. I have seen early developers who seem like 11-year olds among 8-year-olds. They don’t just look bigger. They also look older and more muscular, despite being the same age.

If you know the genes in your family tend towards early development, and you can see that happening with your young baseball player, it’s important to temper expectations for yourself and your player. As I explain in So You Want Your Kid to Be a Good Baseball Player, you don’t want to praise your son’s talent or current performance. You want to praise their hard work. Given that they are physically advanced for their age, I think it’s worth encouraging them to play with other physically advanced players.

In my view, one of the better arguments for travel ball is to give motivated early developers a chance to play with other early developers, so that coaches and heightened competition can help them develop a work ethic and more advanced baseball skills. There still may be disappointment down the road when an early developer is eclipsed in high school by players who were half a foot shorter at the age of 9. But size isn’t everything in baseball. Working hard and smart from the earliest ages all the way through high school is the only way a player will find out how much ball player is actually in them, no matter how big or small they start or end.

Scenario 4: Always Big (big/big)

This is undoubtedly the weakest section of this article. Why? Because I don’t have much experience with it. Many big, athletic kids with big, athletic parents leave recreation leagues at a young age to join travel ball teams. Quite often, such players quickly advance from the AA level to the much more competitive AAA level, or perhaps even higher. Given that my son is a small late developer, my contact with “always big” players has mostly been with those who have limited aspirations to make the best use of their talents. Coasting through a rec league (even a really good rec league) as one of the best players on account of size will for many players not provide enough incentive to work hard, develop better mechanics, and refine fielding skills. Travel ball is a reasonable answer for such players, if they aspire to start as a varsity high school player some day.

Having tall, athletic parents, and growing up taller and more athletic than one’s peers confers advantage at every stage of one’s athletic career in sports that reward size. Baseball is obviously one of them, because size helps with both throwing and hitting. Apart from the possibility of coasting as mentioned previously, the main downside to being big and athletic all the way through is the potential for overdoing it.

It is easy to get carried away at the early ages for those who are identified early as having the right set of genes. Some play year round, join multiple travel teams, and/or play for an elite team that begins very intense training and a very demanding schedule at an early age. While there is no doubt that repetition and exposure to the best coaches and stronger competition will advance such players faster than if they just play a few months each year of rec ball, there is overwhelming evidence that year-round play or excessive pitching and/or throwing increases the chances of repetitive stress injuries and/or imbalanced physical development.

To be blunt, some very promising big athletes peak during or just before high school, but after accumulating too many arm injuries (usually elbow or shoulder), go into decline. This will have the biggest impact on catchers and pitchers, but declining arm strength does impact defensive ability in other positions as well.

I don’t have enough personal experience to be able to recommend the right balance of exposure to higher levels of training and competition for big, athletic, talented, and motivated players so as to best promote their development without exposing them to excessive repetitive injury risk.

My extensive readings suggest that year-round play in a single sport is not good for anyone. So one thing I do recommend is encouraging young baseball players to rotate out of baseball in the fall and winter to play other sports, or at least taking a couple months off each year from baseball to give the arm time to recover. And if you’re not playing multiple sports, it’s better to start a regular baseball workout routine sooner rather than later.

However, if anyone reading this has experience with players in this category, I would appreciate if you would leave comments/advice for parents below.

Depending on Size, How Should You Advise your Baseball-loving Son?

Size is not the only variable or the most important variable when figuring out how to best support your child’s baseball experience. In my view, a more important variable is the player’s level of interest.

I know a player with big parents who was always one of the biggest and strongest players. But he wanted baseball to be just a fun activity and never had an interest in being on the too-serious all-star or travel ball teams, where he might have to work at his game. After playing 8 years of recreation baseball, he just joined the league’s select team for the first time at the age of 14. For him, that’s fine, baseball was clearly just a form of recreation. Had he had more than a recreational interest, though, he would have been much better off putting himself in situations where he was challenged more, and forced to develop better mechanics, better work habits, and better baseball smarts to keep up with his peers. The reality is that he has always been able to coast his way through rec league without focused practice as one of the top players on account of his size, and it may be too late at this point to reverse many unfortunate habits he’s picked up along the way.

My own son has been interested in going as far as possible with baseball since the age of 2. This comes from him. Neither me nor my wife were too serious about athletics growing up. However, we want to support his passions as best we can, and it just so happens that he has consistently had a passion for baseball.

Our son is a small player with above-average athleticism but clearly not an “elite” athlete. He could already throw, hit and catch by the age of 3 and he could throw strikes as a pitcher by the age of 5. We had no idea that his small size would matter much until we first encountered all-star teams at the age of 8. It quickly became apparent that the path for a small late developer is not an easy one, but we have found many ways to support him to continue enjoying baseball until his physical development catches up to many of his baseball peers.

My son is now in 7th grade and while we don’t know when and how it will end, he still loves baseball and wants to keep playing as long as he can. He’s in his 9th year of organized baseball, still loving the game, and looking forward to joining his high school despite some discouraging moments. Baseball has already been a great part of his life, regardless of the ultimate outcome. So what have we done to support him?

Mostly, we have just let him take the lead. Each year we present options for him—he can stop playing baseball, he can take a season off, he can continue with rec ball, or he can join a travel ball team. He consistently chooses rec ball, as he likes the level of play our well-organized league offers, and he greatly values being with his friends. We’ve also encouraged him to try other sports and develop a regular workout routine, in order to physically develop in a more balanced way. Whatever he chooses, we’ll support him. Only occasionally have we strongly tried to sway him in one direction or another.

I have a recent example of when we did try to steer him in a certain direction. He recently tried out and made a select team for our PONY league but they didn’t have enough players for separate 13u and 14u teams. So he joined the combined team. He is one of the only two players who are below 5′ 4″ tall (both he and the other guy are just below 5′ 0″), and he is by far the lightest at only 88 pounds, as compared with most players weighing between 140 to 180 pounds. He did not make the main roster, so he is an “alternate,” which means he may get called up to play in a tournament if a regular roster player can’t make it. All that may have been fine, but the big issue is that they are participating in 14u tournaments that require BBCOR drop 3 bats. He’s simply not yet big, strong, or skilled enough to swing a drop 3 bat. Not even close. My wife and I suggested he stay away from an experience where he would have been on the bench most of the time if he was even invited to a game, and then he would not have fared well at the plate with a too-heavy bat. He agreed with our reasoning. He’ll be attending practices for a nominal fee, and will be attending tryouts soon to join a 13u-only summer travel team.

Despite not being able to swing a heavy bat, my son’s confidence in his baseball ability is the highest it’s been in years, thanks to flawless fielding and pitching on this year’s rec team. His hitting is not keeping up with players 40-80 pounds heavier than him, but this has motivated him to resume working out after lapsing for several months, and a round of hitting balls off a tee with a heavy bat is now part of his calisthenics routine.

I mention these two stories to illustrate how making choices over the course of many years playing baseball will be different depending on size, and the opportunities that present themselves. If you assess your player’s current and future prospects with a realistic perspective that includes factors such as size, athletic talent, and perhaps most importantly motivation/interest, it may help your family make better choices when various opportunities present themselves.

Can you predict with precision how big your player will get, and how much interest they will continue to have in baseball? No you can’t, at least not with any precision. But you may be able to piece together a reasonable approximation of your child’s level of interest, athletic talent, and expected size progression. This may help you figure out where your player fits in, and how best you can support them getting there.

I’ve undoubtedly missed some issues, especially when it comes to players who are unusually large before puberty. So feel free to share any personal experiences or words of wisdom in the comments.

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

5 thoughts on “Does Player Size Matter in Youth Baseball?”

  1. There’s a whole literature on future height estimation. Khamis-Roche is simple to use, doesn’t need an xray, and is supposed to be accurate within an inch median error. There are calculators all over the web (though they generally use the numbers for white Americans without diseases affecting growth). It uses parental heights, child age, child height, and child weight. Child weight is the proxy for the bro-science idea of early versus late development, but that effect is much smaller than people seem to think on the internet. For example, consider a 12 year-old kid who’s 5’5″ with median parent height of 5’8″ – if he’s 160 pounds (burly, classic early developer), he’s predicted to be 6’1″. If he’s 100 pounds (skinny, clearly not through puberty), he’s predicted to be 6’2″.

    By the time a kid is 13 or 14, his current height is by-far the most important factor in the estimate of his adult height.

    Plugging Bob and Clark into Khamis-Roche and assuming the same median parent height of 5’8″ for both, Bob is estimated to reach 5’9″, and Carl 6’3″, median error about an inch, 90% within about two. You can do better with hand x-rays, but it’s not likely to change the picture.

    Otherwise I more or less agree that people worry too much about size. One of the nice things about baseball is that while it helps to be bigger than the average American, it’s not that big a deal in the sport and there are plenty of body types playing at a high level. Also, for your ability to swing the bat, weight is much more important than height, and for an athlete that’s a lot easier to control.

  2. Lord Action – I appreciate the lengthy, thoughtful comment, and pointers to learning more about size prediction.

    I too have observed that weight is more important than height for hitting. When you say that weight is easy for an athlete to control, though, I’m assuming you mean after finishing puberty. My small son put a lot of effort into working out (calisthentics) for a few months when he was 12 1/2. After all that effort, he went from about 83 pounds to 88 pounds over the course of 2-3 months. He slacked off some and 6 months later he was still 88 pounds when he turned 13. I assume that gaining weight will be a lot easier for him at the age of 17 when he’s done (or mostly done) with puberty.

    Size may not matter too much in the sport at the age of 17, but it matters a ton at the age of 7, and even at the age of 13. I know. I see it all the time in the younger kids, not just in their performance, but in how coaches perceive their performance, and therefore the opportunities they are given. For those who continue, it won’t matter in the long run, as you say. Not every player is going to have the stamina to last the 8-10 years it takes until it all evens out in the end.

  3. I guess I meant once he’s old enough to understand that what he eats matters to how he competes. That probably varies with the child.

    If your son is trying to gain weight, can I put in a plug for Starting Strength? It’s elementary, but it will get you past a lot of the BS you see in baseball circles. Have him squat and drink more milk and everything will be fine. Jose Altuve is not really 5’6″ and he seems to be doing okay, so there’s hope for us all.

  4. Lord Action – Different body types take different amounts of effort to pick up weight. I literally consumed 4000+ calories/day in HS (I did not squat, but I played a running sport, Ultimate, 4x/week). I drank 6 glasses/milk per day and just seem to burn off every calorie I ate no matter how much I ate. I was always the skinniest guy, weighing 125 pounds when I graduated HS at 5′ 10″. I had zero interest in becoming a serious athlete so I never worked out. But I do know that it takes far more effort for me to build muscle than an average male.

    Nevertheless, I acknowledge your point and will check out Starting Strength and other programs when my son gets to 9th grade. For now, he’s just doing a calisthenics routine – pullups, pushups, various forms of squats, crunches/planks, etc.

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