Choosing the right equipment for any fielder is important, but it is much more so for the catcher, the most active and demanding assignment on the field. Wild pitches, foul tips, tossed bats, collisions at the plate and the steady thump of fast balls striking the pocket make the catcher spot the toughest one on the diamond. Choosing the best youth catcher’s mitt is an essential part of the overall equipment.
How to Choose a Youth Catcher’s Mitt
What you are looking for in a catcher’s mitt is a combination of protective toughness and flexibility. There has to be sufficient padding to protect the palm wrist and fingers from hard pitches and foul tips, but you have to be able to close the mitt quickly to hold on to a pitch in the dirt.
With young players, the challenge is getting the right amount of padding and toughness in the palm of the mitt while still being able to close the mitt easily. Some mitts are too tough for young players to close quickly, even after the mitt has been broken in. They require the stronger hands of older players.
Materials that Affect Padding and Flexibility
Catcher’s mitts can be made of synthetics, pig skin leather, cow hide, full grain leather, and steer hide. Although many mitts will use some synthetic materials for the strap on the back, the stitches and sometimes even the back piece, you are not buying a serious mitt if the palm, the web and the padding are not made of some kind of leather. The all-synthetic mitts are for young kids playing in the backyard and they will wear out very quickly with serious use.
Pigskin leather is softer than leather from cattle and it is a good material for beginners. You can break it in quickly and it is flexible for young hands so the mitt can be closed easily. It is not as tough and durable as leather from cattle. Older players do not use pigskin mitts.
When manufacturers say a mitt is all-leather and do not specify what kind of leather, that usually means it is cowhide. This is your medium-weight, medium toughness leather and it is the most common material in all baseball mitts. The term “rawhide” when used for baseball mitts is a misnomer. These are conventionally tanned cow hides.
The term “full grain leather” refers to leather that has the original grain of the hide. This requires a specialized tanning process and it produces a stronger, tougher leather. This means more protection, but it is a heavier mitt. They are harder to break in and they require stronger hands to close.
Steer hide mitts are tougher and stronger than cow hide mitts and usually cost a little more. Like “full grain leather” they provide more protection and a are a little stiffer and heavier than cowhide.
How to size a youth catcher’s mitt
Whereas fielder’s gloves are measured from the heel of the glove to the tip of the finger, catcher’s mitts are measured in circumference. They start at 29.5 inches and go up 35 inches.
The basic principle of selecting a mitt size is use the biggest mitt you are able to use. The smaller mitt means you have less room to catch the ball so you have to depend too much on the speed and agility of your hand. You know when a mitt is too big when you have trouble squeezing it closed, if the size and weight make you clumsy using it, or if there is so much space between your fingers and the edge of the mitt that you cannot handle it well.
Below is a standard chart recommending mitt sizes for age groups. Of course this uses average height, so adjustments must be made for those far from the average.
Youth Catchers Mitt Sizing Chart
|7 and under||29.5″ to 30″|
|8 to 10||30″ to 31″|
|11 to 13||30″ to 32.5″|
|14 and over||32″ to 34.5″|
Youth Catcher’s Mitt Reviews
Let’s now have a look at some of the best youth catcher’s mitts that are currently popular and see what they offer to the aspiring young player and to the older folks involved who are most likely paying for them.
Mizuno Prospect GXC105 Youth Catcher’s Mitt
This is a pigskin mitt with a specially designed crease that makes it bend easily. What Mizuno has put together is a mitt that is comfortable, flexible and easy to break in. It is not a labor to form the pocket in the mitt and it has sufficient padding in the palm for youth league play. Customers have been very happy with the mitt, mostly providing five-star accolades. The pigskin leather suits younger players well, but it is not as durable a product as those made of cattle leather.
Rawlings Gamer Series Baseball Glove
This is a cowhide mitt designed for toughness and durability. They are a little harder to break in because they are cowhide, but I do not see why this is really a problem. It does not take long if you follow the steps you need to, and then you have a longer-lasting product that provides better padding and protection. The design also minimized the different leather pieces that are sewn together, so it is less likely to break. The upscale design and the material make this a good investment, especially if you are using the mitt frequently or passing it on to younger siblings.
Wilson A500 32″ Youth Catcher’s Mitt
Their “top grain leather” is a light cowhide that produces in the words of Wilson, “the lightest all-leather mitt on the market.” Customers agree. It is a mitt that succeeds in being comfortable, flexible, and tough and the light material is easier to break in This mitt features a special finger design called “dual welting,” which involves using two leather pieces in the lining that are built to accommodate the natural shape and bend of your fingers. With an all-leather construction and some special design features, the A500 is a first rate mitt that can serve a range of players from the young beginner to the travel team starter.
All-Star Pro-Comp 31.5″ CM1200BT Youth Baseball Catcher’s Mitt
All-Star has carved out a niche for high-end youth catcher’s mitts, and although the the Pro-Comp is not the top of the line, it has some very nice features. It is made of a select cowhide leather that is durable, but soft to the touch. A consistent refrain in reviews is that it is heads and shoulders above anything used before. It has quality leather and a special design that allows the pocket to be formed correctly without much work during the breaking-in process. This makes for a perfectly formed pocket made of durable, reliable material.
All Star Pro Advanced CM1100 Youth 31.5″ Catcher’s Mitt
Well, this is the ultimate youth catcher mitt. With the same “pro-formed pocket” of the Pro-Comp, it is made of steerhide, the elite baseball glove material and it also includes a crease feature that guarantees that the tougher material will not impede easily closing the mitt. This is a mitt to buy a serious young catcher who will be playing a great deal. The reviews are glowing. It performs well and it lasts.
How to Break in a Catcher’s Mitt
The material of the mitt will greatly affect the break-in process, so here you really have to pay attention to the guidelines you receive from the manufacturer, but there are two tasks you are trying to accomplish with all new mitts: 1) you want to soften the palm so it is has enough give to keep the ball in the mitt and 2) you want to shape the pocket correctly so that it forms properly around your hand and forms the deepest part of the pocket right where you want to catch the ball.
Here is a general process of breaking in a catcher’s mitt that will serve for all mitts. Details might shift depending on specific recommendations of the manufacturer.
Step 1: Knead the padding
Push all the padding outward in order to widen and define the pocket more. Do this for about five minutes.
Step 2: Tighten the laces
Take a lacing needle (or a small knitting needle) and tug the laces out to take up any slack. Start from the left side, up near the web of the mitt, and then work down to the heel. Untie the knot, pull the lace tight, and then retie the knot and cut off any excess. Then do the same process on the other side of the pocket. The padding should be tight.
Step 3: Manipulate and fold the mitt some more
Keep manipulating the inside edge of the pocket out and the outside edge of the mitt in to keep the padding tight and to form the pocket. Fold the mitt using both hands and make sure the two sides touch evenly. Repeat these actions for a few minutes.
Step 4: Pound it with a glove mallet
All the major baseball equipment manufacturers make glove mallets. They look like thick drum sticks with baseball heads instead of rectangular mallet heads. They run from about $10 to $25. If you do not want to pay for one, you can use the handle end of a baseball bat. Strike the heart of the pocket (that spot where you are most comfortable catching the ball) about a hundred times. Then manipulate the edges and fold the mitt some more.
Step 5: Soften the mitt
Here is where you really have to pay attention to specific guidelines. Some mitts will need only water to soften it up and some will require leather conditioner or glove oil. Do not use any oil at hand. Petroleum products and vegetable oils are not good for leather.
Step 6: Play catch
Find someone who has good control and can throw hard enough to cause some pop. Make an effort when you are catching to catch it in the heart of the pocket so the pocket forms correctly. Catch for about 20 to 30 minutes, but stop from time to time to manipulate and fold the mitt, always focusing on forming the pocket in the right shape.
Step 7: Wrap it up
Put a ball right in the heart of the pocket and use a string, a bungee, an ace bandage, or anything that works to wrap the mitt tightly around the ball so that the mitt is being shaped correctly in between uses. For catcher’s mitts, some players like to put a softball in the palm of the mitt and a hardball up in the web before they wrap it up.
These best catcher’s mitts all have something to offer. For young players who outgrow equipment quickly, durability might not be a decisive factor and a pigskin mitt like the Mizuno Prospect could be perfectly fine and a better buy. If you want to pass mitts on to younger siblings or your catcher is playing very often, invest in cattle leather.
Here, you just need to find where your comfortable place is on the toughness-versus-flexibility graph. The All-Star mitts are of very high quality, but might require more hand strength for a younger player. The Wilson and Rawlings mitts are good picks for a wide range of players, but do not match the All-Star selections in terms of materials and design.