I came across a good post at the Youth Baseball Blog about predicting which of our young players will play high school baseball or beyond. The point made by "Coach Bob" is that no one knows, so let them have fun without the expectations of what they might be doing five years down the road.
Kids obviously go through significant physical changes in their early teens. It is not uncommon that I see former players that I literally don't recognize a few years down the road. They might be bigger, wider, leaner - whatever. But how they develop physically as a teenager can certainly affect their chances of playing high school ball. How they develop mentally can do the same. When they are in Little League, baseball or softball can seem like everything. But there is a whole world of activities and interests that they will encounter as they grow up.
So I agree that we as coaches need to keep things in perspective and make sure they have fun. We want them to have fond memories of their time on our team and playing with their friends. I would add that we can also hope to instill a good work ethic, self confidence, good sportsmanship and a love of the game that may last a lifetime.
But in my experience, I do think there are some early indicators of future success on the diamond:
1. Passion. Some players love baseball or softball so much that they always want to be playing. The game is part of their identity. They don't have to be pushed by their parents. It may even be the other way around.
2. Work Ethic. They have a clear goal of being the best they can be and will happily put in the hours of practice necessary to improve their skills and maximize their potential. Their goals may change, but the work ethic remains.
3. Mechanics. At an early age they learn how to hit, throw and field correctly, and don't get by on size and strength alone.
4. Athleticism. Some players just move more easily than others. It's the ones that seem to glide effortlessly around the bases where you just know they can have future success in the sport of their choosing.
I had a particular player a few years back that had all four of these attributes, probably in that order. He is now a great high school player (and a great student). I love watching him play. But I also enjoy hearing about the ones excelling in other areas - the golfer, the actor/musician, the future scientist, the tennis star - they have a passion for what they do and the work ethic and ability to back it up.