Certainly not an easy answer. As a youth player, most kids play almost all positions. As they transition to the big field, these same kids still play almost all positions for the most part. But there comes a time, typically starting in 15U showcase travel baseball, where some players opt to become a pitcher only or “P-O” for short. What this means is that the player will only pitch going forward. No playing in the field and usually no batting either. He will pay less money to participate on the showcase travel team to offset his reduction in playing time.
If he’s a starting pitcher, then he may only show up for one or two games a tournament. It’s not uncommon for a starting pitcher on an elite showcase travel team to fly-in to pitch a game and then fly-out the next day. If he’s more of a relief pitcher, then he might be available for every game in the tournament. Of course, sticking around for the entire tournament week is much more costly in terms of lodging and food.
Some players though, want to play every game. They simply can’t stand NOT playing every game. It’s a little easier mentally to know you’re going to play every game. For example, if you have a bad game at the plate, then you know that tomorrow you’ll have a chance to redeem yourself. Not so with a pitcher only. Have a bad day on the mound and then you might not get another chance in the tournament.
But all that aside, I have known many players who are both great pitchers and position players. These guys want to leave all their options open. They don’t want to commit too soon to become a pitcher-only even though the writing might be on the wall.
As for timing, I wouldn’t commit to becoming a pitcher only until after his sophomore season. Most players are still developing prior to their junior year which still leaves room for them to become such a beast at the plate that colleges can’t stop looking at their bat. But if the beast-mode-bat doesn’t materialize, what might push a player to become a pitcher only?
Lefty pitcher with a weak bat
If the player can’t hit, then his days as a position player are numbered anyway. And if he’s a lefty pitcher, then even more reason to become a pitcher only. The demand for solid lefty pitching is undeniable. Put away the bat and focus on the mound.
Tall lefty throwing in the mid-80’s
If he’s 6’4″+ and hitting mid-80’s on the radar gun in showcase travel baseball, then his future is likely to be on the mound. Many colleges will project him to be throwing in the 90’s by the time he gets on campus. Let him focus on developing his off-speed pitches so he becomes even more deadly. Put away the pine-tar. And if things really get crazy and he ventures into the mid-90’s before graduating high school, then he’ll likely take the signing bonus from the draft and start his career in the minor leagues.
Scholarship money starts with the pitcher
No doubt that the lion’s share of the 11.7 scholarships in D1 is weighted more toward the pitchers. Pitching is king. A player who focuses solely on pitching and has success will likely be rewarded more if he goes to college as a pitcher versus a position player.
You can concentrate on perfecting your craft
Jack of all trades, master of none. A position player has to focus on taking fielding reps, continuing to strengthen his arm, and working an incredible amount of time in the batting cage to perfect his swing. And if he also pitches, when does he work-in his bullpens and long-toss program? It is very difficult to do both which is why most players in pro-ball and college are either/or. Of course, you get the freak player every now and then, but that’s the rare event. If a player can simply focus on perfecting his craft off the mound, he has the advantage over someone who is distracted by everything else a position player must do to prepare.
You can’t risk getting hurt while playing another position or batting
If everyone winces when he either comes to the plate, takes his lead on the basepath, or jogs out to his non-pitching position in the field, then that should tell him something right there. If people are too concerned that he might injure himself playing another position or batting/baserunning, and not be able to pitch, indicates that he is far too valuable as a pitcher. If they don’t care when he steps into the batter’s box or jogs to his outfield position, then chances are he’s not as valuable a pitcher relative to everything else he might be able to do.
The college coaches tell him to just pitch
No need to ignore this advice. If the college coaches feel strongly enough to advise a player to just pitch, then it might be good to at least consider it. If the advice comes from multiple coaches, not just one, and they’re all in agreement, then return those unused batting gloves to the store. These guys are pretty much experts in assessing talent. Sure they might miss on a player every now and then but for the most part, when multiple college coaches are saying the same thing, then it’s time to solely focus on the mound.