For decades, collegiate and professional baseball and softball recruiting has remained much the same: impress scouts with good play on the field, then wait for offers.
Now, one company is trying to revolutionize that process. And one local sports training facility is among the first in the country to adopt its technology.
SmartKage, a quantitative technology system, or simply a “smart” batting cage from Massachusetts-based sports tech company SmartSports, measures specific athlete performance for amateur baseball and softball players through the use of video cameras, radar and other invisible sensors. The cage also uses Sportvision’s PITCHf/x technology, which has been adopted by all Major League baseball teams.
SmartKage measures pitching metrics such as miles per hour, pitch trajectory, spin rate and total movement. For hitters, it measures bat speed, swing strength and other metrics. It also measures fielding and physical fitness metrics such as jumping ability and 10-yard speed, similar to an NFL combine drill.
Before stepping into the cage, players enter information, including height, weight, age and other characteristics into a computer that registers them in a database accessible by collegiate and professional programs and leagues across the country.
Players are scored on a scale of 2 to 8 after completing SmartKage’s drills. Their score is automatically entered into a database available to schools and teams across the country as well as in a printable report from a computer beside the cage.
4D Sports Performance Center in Mahopac is one of 40 indoor training facilities in the U.S. to implement the technology. Owner Anthony Yacco, who pitched five years in the San Francisco Giants organization, said he sees the technology as the first step in helping players at any age level determine where they stand in comparison to their competition.
“I see this technology as a reality check,” Yacco, who played baseball for Mahopac High School, said. “You see where you actually are. If a guy comes in here and throws a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, that’s going to set off all sorts of red flags in the national database.”
Recently, Matt Gelston, a conditioning coach and hitting coach at 4D who played outfield at Montclair State University five years ago, demonstrated the technology by doing a series of fitness and hitting drills.
“It felt great,” Gelston said after he took swings at a series of 75 mile per hour fastballs. “I wish we had this when I was younger.”
Greg Carroll, a Croton native who pitched for Hofstra University, said the SmartKage was effective after hurling a dozen or so pitches.
The center held a demonstration event for the public Sept. 9, which saw coaches and players from various levels of play turn out. Yacco said the response was overwhelmingly positive, and already has a waiting list to try out the SmartKage when it launches later this month.
Most of his clientele, ranging from roughly 10 years old to mid-20s, comes from Westchester County, but he also sees a decent crowd from Putnam and Fairfield counties as well as some players from New York City and New Jersey.
4D is currently separated into two areas: An 8,000-square-foot room designed for team training and a 12,000-square-foot room housing the SmartKage system. Yacco acquired the space three years ago after a stint in Somers.
The center, which has 12 full-time employees, offers pitching, hitting and field clinics as well as fitness training and birthday parties. Yacco works with high school and collegiate players as well as professional ballplayers during their winter off-seasons.
4D, housed in a former mixed-use warehouse on Bucks Hollow Road, charges $150 for a one-hour SmartKage session, and Yacco expects it will boost business because of the accessibility it will provide to budding collegiate players. He first heard about the technology from a mutual friend and hitting coach three years ago. He said he wanted to get on board as soon as the product became available.
Rob Crews, a player development consultant who works with Yacco at 4D three times per week, said he does not believe the technology will replace scouts, adding it cannot measure intangibles like baseball IQ and decision-making. Rather, he believes it will get rid of human error — things like beginning a stopwatch too early or too late — and could be useful as a rehabilitation tool.
“If a player who has a standing broad jump of 8 feet hurts their ankle then hops back in the SmartKage and jumps seven-and-a-half feet, you know they’re not quite ready to return in full shape,” Crews said.
At the time of the product announcement, SmartSports co-founder and CEO Corrine Vitolo said players will “obtain the most comprehensive evaluation of their performance capabilities,” adding the SmartKage technology is expected to be rolled out in 160 indoor facilities this year.
Yacco said he is just happy to have the technology in his native Mahopac, where he hopes to continue expanding his business.