Thursday, August 26, 2010

Youth Baseball: Little League vs Select

August is Little League World Series time so I thought that I would do some reading about the great worldwide event. 

As such, I stumbled upon the Bleacher Report post entitled Little League World Series 2010: Top 30 Little Leaguers Turned MLB StarsI have to tell you that I found the list surprising and thought provoking. The list spans players debuting in 1959 to present day players. Check out the list of the Top 30 MLB players who played in the Little League World Series over the last 50 years and tell me if you are not surprise by how short and unimpressive the list is. I have watched and marveled at the talented players competing in Williamsport for years so surely the list of players reaching the MLB has be more expansive and impressive than this list. I did some checking and found a similar list on Wikipedia Little League Post.
Here is the list compiled by Bleacher Report - Name (MLB debut year)

30. Chin-Feng Chen (2002)
29. Jim Barbieri (1960)
28. Keith Lampard (1969)
27. Bill Connors (1967)
26. Adam Loewen (2006)
25. Guillermo Quiroz (1998)
24. Marc Pisciotta (1997)
23. Jim Pankovits (1984)
22. Hector Torres (1968)
21. Bobby Mitchell (1970)
20. Yusmeiro Petit (2006)
19. Carl Taylor (1964)
18. Sean Burroughs (2002)
17. Larvell Blanks (1980)
16. Lloyd McClendon (1987)
15. Lastings Milledge (2005)
14. Ken Hubbs (1962 NL Rookie of the Year, died in air traffic accident.)
13. Ed Vosberg (1992)
12. Charlie Hayes (1983)
11. Dave Veres (1994)
10. Wilson Alvarez (1994)
09. Dan Wilson (1993)
08. Jason Marquis (1996)
07. Derek Bell (1991)
06. Jason Bay (2003)
05. Jason Varitek (1997)
04. Rick Wise (1964)
03. Carney Lansford (1977)
02. Boog Powell (1959)
01. Gary Sheffield (1988)
I think I know why this list is so unimpressive. Pure and simple, the best players do not play Little League Baseball, they play select or travel ball instead. Generally speaking, here are the reasons why Little League players are not as strong as their select counterparts.

Select players typically get better coaching / training

In our city the best players shun Little League and opt to play on highly developed select ball teams where the instruction level is typically superior and often year round. Little Leaguers are often coached by dads. While dads are involved in select ball too, kids are also being instructed by former major league, minor league and / or college players. My son's current team has a former Mets minor league catcher and a former Big Ten Michigan player as trainers. The team also has a direct connection to one of the best High School baseball programs in the state. Through this association, the team gets some instruction from the HS coaches and use of top notch facilities for winter training. Little Leaguers do not typically train year round.

Select players get more playing experience

The typical Little League schedule has anywhere from 18 to 30 games which includes an end of season tournament. (Keep in mind that the Little League World Series is made up of All Stars from the entire league and is played by a select few after the regular season at age 12). 12 year old select players typically play in 50-80 games. I have also noticed that select teams carry less players on their rosters compared to Little League teams. This of course means that each select player will get more innings and at bats compared to a Little Leaguer.

Select players are playing against better competition

As the name suggests, select ball is made up of a selection of the best players in the region. Little League has an open registration and team are often randomly selected. Little League gets some really talented players as we have seen on ESPN, but during the regular season they are playing with and against developmental players. Select players are always competing against the best players in the region and often travel far and wide to play in top talent tournaments.

Select players play on bigger fields
Another reason the top players do not play Little League is the size of the fields. 12 year old Little Leaguers look over grown when they play on a field with 60 foot base paths and 46 foot pitching distance. In select, 8U and 9U players play on a field this size. By the age of 12, the age of most Little League World Series participants, select players play on 70 foot base paths and 50' 6" pitching distance. 13 year olds play on 80 foot base paths and 54' pitching and 14 year olds play on MLB size fields. The slow progression in the field size helps the select player prepared for High School Ball. I assume Little League uses the smaller fields for the developmental players that are on every team. I would imagine that many Little League players jumping up from 60 foot to 80 or 90 foot base paths would struggle initially. This struggle may come when they are trying out for a high school team.

Select Players play a more sophisticated game.

Little League does not use High School rules. They use modified rules because many of the kids are developmental. In Little League a batter is automatically out on a dropped third strike and base runners are not allowed to take a lead. In select, stealing and dropped third strikes are played by U9 players who play at the highest level. 

This is an important distinction. Select pitchers, from a really young age, are learning pick off moves. Select base runners are learning how to read pitchers moves and steal bases at a young age. Select catchers are learning how to throw out base stealers. It is a much more sophisticated level of play and gives these players a clear advantage whey they move on to high school. I can tell you that the best players have no problem with these advanced rules. I also understand why Little League has these rules. Little league takes all players and randomly assigns players. Some players are very talented for sure, but many are not. The smaller field and the modified rules are make the game easier for the developmental players.
The Main Point

The Little League World Series showcases some great baseball talent for sure, but the evidence is clear that these players are not making it to the pros and the reasons are obvious. 


  1. This article is partially inaccurate. A lot of little leagues do pay dropped third strike and for the all stars all of the 11u and 12u Majors teams do as well. From experience as a player and coach, I think it is important that kids who are good enough to play select ball and little league. Little League will teach them leadership, responsibility,working hard, and integrity. For most select teams all it is about is winning and none of those things. Players get the mentality that they are better and as a result become cocky individuals. In little league during the regular season you won't face as good competition but players learn important life lessons. Also select teams don't always play better competition, in todays game there are too many teams and as a result talent and coaching becomes watered down. Once you get to the all star level its mostly select talent and a lot of the all star teams are better than some select teams (depending on the team). Little League is also better because teams can go to Williamsport and play in front of millions, where as in select you don't get such opportunities.

    Select is not a bad thing. A lot of teams are hit or miss coaching is either good or it is weak. I would recommend that players who are serious about the game play select baseball and little league. Stay away from select programs with politics and a poor coaching, and most importantly have fun!

    1. Personally I think that little league all stars isn't the good I have played little league and select ar the same time... and little leagues play is way to slow! And way to easy. But then again I am on a good team we are a 13u team but play 16u and play well and win so little has no benefits as far as getting better... and select level of play is was more difficult than llws.

  2. Trust me if your not playing select by age 12 you've got a whole sh*tload of catching up to do. I play college baseball at D2 level and not a single player even before cuts are made have played little leaugue : they all have played select baseball or even elite baseball meaning 15 yr olds on an 18 yr old team. I'm watching the Ohio vs Michigan little league game right now and these kids have no chance.

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  4. Jwatts, When my son at 5 wanted to start playing baseball. We were told by a HS coach and neighbor to stay away from Little League. We were told that if he ever wanted to play HS ball he would not have the skill to make a team.
    Fast forward about 8 years. As a freshman he made the team and during his 4 years at HS not one of the starters played LL. All were select/travel players.

    1. I believe this to be true, I live in Southern California and my son goes to one of the top teams in the state. I've had 5 kids go through this high school my youngest now being the last four boys all played here. I've been on this school campus 20 yrs not a single kid ever made the team coming from LL, Pony, Rec etc however most like my boys all started in LL and my husband a former player at USC moved to travel at 10 and 11 years of age. If you can't afford travel ask the team if they offer discounts or scholarships we had one boy on my sons team that us parents helped chip in and pay his dues his dad worked at a local golf course doing lawn service and the mother in house keeping. He loved the game played hard was a great teammate and is now going to college in the ACC we are all so proud of him. :)

  5. I think you are a little off on your analysis. This list goes back to 1959, and Travelball, and Select teams are somewhat recent. I think this list dictates more of how hard it is to get to the Little League World Series than anything else. If you had a list of the top 30 players in MLB who also played Little League I'm sure the list would be much more impressive.

  6. Select Baseball vs Little League. There's no comparison. Select baseball at the "Major/Elite Level" is by far the best. The Little League players are awesome to watch and I cheer for them. But, theit talent level is far from select/travel ball. If there's any doubt, request the Little League officials to take their Top 5 finishers, and hold a tournament with the Top 5 select teams (majors/elite level) from areas such as Texas, Georgia (Cobb County) or Florida. Let's see how that works out for them. Even though, that may draw a much larger tv audience, I'm betting Little League will decline the idea.

  7. I'm pretty sure alot of the kids that play in the llws also play travel ball.

  8. I will add my two cents worth. My youngest son played a few years in Little League and we loved the experience of community that it offers, but the play declined rapidly when the better players moved on to play travel ball. My son is now in his 6th year of travel ball and yes he is facing better talent overall, but there are way too many travel teams in our area now. Too many dad's whose sons did not make a travel team are now creating their own team, for their son, and the travel talent is declining now. With regards to little league talent, especially at the Little League World Series level, you need not be fooled that many of those kids do not play travel ball as well as Little League. Our state was represented recently in the LLWS and the majority of that team was a travel ball team out of our state capitol, so you can play both leagues, but when players are allowed to do that, typically non travel ball players will make the all-star team (sad but true). Our local little league mandated that no travel ball players could make the all-star team, which I kind of understood, but what it did was finally push 99% of travel ball players out of that league. Now when you go to their games it has become a tough game to watch from a spectator stand point, unless of course you are a parent of one of the players. Travel ball is expensive (we paid out over $5K last season with dues and travel expenses), but our son played all over the southeast and gained loads of experience. The tough thing about travel is determining if your son or daughter is playing because they love it, or because you as a parent loves it. Make your decision wisely, because there are many travel ball kids that never go out for baseball after such a rigorous travel ball experience. Best of luck to you all.

  9. That's funny. I was a starting pitcher in high school for one of the top 4A teams in the state of TX and never stepped foot in a select game. What's even funnier is, before high school.. my last year in Pony League... our all star team traveled to a tourney in Lake Charles, Louisiana and we won the tournament after being a team for about 3 weeks.

    1. I've pitched in the TX state playoffs. When I wasnt pitching I played left field (I'm left handed) But I always started. I had kids on my team that played select but really weren't much better, if even at all. I'd like to shout out to Earl Thomas, safety of the Seattle Seahawks. Our basbeall days were a blast and neither of us played select, ever.

    2. when it comes down to it , i think it comes down to some players will have the talent that others won't regardless of what league you are in. It's God given and it is what it is.

  10. I myself played little league baseball until I was 10, then switched to travel ball. At first there was no difference because the teams I was joining weren't any better than little league. Picking the right team is so important. That's why I wrote a blog on the subject.

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