Throwing Progression and Arm Expectations

Infield Throwing Progression

Before addressing the components of infield play, one of the best things coaches can do for developing infielders is to create position-specific work during the warm-up period. This first video outlines a throwing progression for infielders to build in some infield-specific movements during the warm-up period.

Arm Expectations

An essential attribute for an infielder is arm expectations. Arm strength and accuracy is essential for an infielder. Both should come from a sound, fundamental arm action while also knowing how to throw from different arm slots and speeds for different situations.

Arm strength for an infielder is addressed from the beginning of the chapter with the Infield Throwing Progression. Incorporating a proper long toss program for all players is also vital. In addition, infielders should use the pregame infield/outfield time as a high intensity time to let the ball fly. An infielder should take pride in and care of his arm as much as any other position. This is another area where the player’s measureables, both in actual and potential velocity, will come into play in determining playing time.

Communication

One of the foundational elements of a quality infield is the frequency and efficiency of communication. Infielders should be talking constantly and communicating with all players on the field. It is also important to standardize this communication.

Infielders should communicate the number of outs to the other infielders and to the outfield before every play. Infielders should learn to position themselves based on tendencies of the opposition and then communicate their shifts to their teammates. Infielders should also try to communicate the pitch that is about to be thrown with the outfielders. Pre-pitch communication is very important in the chess game of baseball. To advance our pre-pitch understanding, reaction, and knowledge, our program will be utilizing the same wristband communication system used at hundreds of colleges and high schools across the country. This is just one of many ways in which we are attempting to prepare our athletes for the next levels of the game.

As the ball is put in play, the infield should be the first to communicate the result. A ball in the air should be pointed to immediately while calling “UP” right away. Infielders will call “BALL” on a ball in the air, while outfielders will call “I GOT IT” to avoid confusion in communication between the position groups.

On balls on the ground, specifically on a double play ball between the 2B and SS or a groundball to the 1B to flip to the P, the infielders should communicate “OVER” to throw over the top or “FLIP” to use an underhand toss. The movie “Flip and Over” shows the physical movements of the flip and over techniques.

In addition to these verbal cues, there are a number of non-verbals that are vital to communication. Players should use hand gestures to communicate the number of outs. The middle infield should communicate with an open mouth if the other player will cover the base on a steal and with a closed mouth if that infielder intends to cover the base himself. Finally, as a simple pick play at 1B or 2B, the infielder should show an open hand or open glove to back pick the runner. The movie “Infield Communication” shows the open and closed mouth as well as the simple open glove/hand sign an infielder can give the pitcher when calling for a pick play.
Practicing communication is vital to reinforcing the principle. Coaches can use a fungo or machine to practice live situations. Organizing live game situations in a Doghouse scrimmage situation can also bring communication to the forefront.

Essentials - Range

First, an infielder must exhibit good range on the field. The ability to move laterally and linearly are vital. An infielder’s speed testing in the Pro Agility Shuttle as well as in the 40 and 60-yard dash will be vital measurements in displaying lateral and linear speed. Not only must a player have the physical ability to move in that fashion, he must show the desire to not let anything get by him or drop in front of him. He must be willing to dive and get dirty - there should be no white pants in the infield because the players should be willing to get dirty. To illustrate this point, watch the young kids in the movie “Infielders - Range and Desire.”

While showing good range, infielders must also exhibit a good understanding of angles. These angles apply when moving in every direction - back and towards the outfield as well as charging in on a high chop or slow roller.

Coaches can drill infielders on range by creating angle drills for infielders to work side to side as well as in. Any groundball work where the players have to move will help players gain the necessary range.
 

Essentials - Positioning, Activity, Movement

Positioning and Activity

Next, an infielder must work on his positioning and activity. He must know how to position himself appropriately but, almost more importantly, an infielder must always be moving. An infielder can never be a spectator - he should always be getting involved on defense, moving and lining himself up, backing up bases, or whatever the situation requires. An infielder also needs to know where to be in double play situations, cut situations, and tandem cut situations.

In terms of activity, an infielder will always be in a ready position in the pre-pitch and ready to read balls immediately off the bat. He is able to execute his reads based on the location of the pitch as well as the batter’s stance and swing. In addition, the infielder will base his positioning on the count and situation. He should play straight up when the count is even, play to pull when the pitcher is behind, and defend the opposite field when the pitcher is ahead.

To address positioning and activity, coaches should utilize active classroom time to teach players through situations as well as live scrimmage opportunities.

Movement

Also essential for infielders is movement. Movement is often times related to the eyes and focus of the infielder. The eyes allow the infielder to get good jumps on the ball by looking in the hitting area and thus move smoothly to the ball. Also, a good infielder can chase down a flyball by taking his eye off of the ball briefly to chase down the ball.

Other infield movements are move advanced and require practice. Infielders should run with their glove in and not exposed to allow for optimum speed. Infielders should also run and not drift. Proper running form is essential in movement. Great form will allow for the special plays such as diving or executing a spin to catch and get rid of the ball. Like everything, movement can be practiced but must be enforced through drills.
 

Essentials - Footwork

The next essential for an infielder is footwork. There are many elements that can be practiced to make sure good footwork is achieved. First, for a right-handed infielder, the player should be right-left-athletic stance in his pre-pitch movements or prep steps. Quality footwork in this phase will help all infielders be ready for any possible result of a play.

The second element of footwork is how a player fields the groundball appropriately. Whether fielding a ball right at him, moving to his forehand, moving to his backhand, rounding the ball and charging through the ball, players must have the proper footwork. Ideally, both feet should be planted before the fielding process occurs with the right foot being planted first. The right foot is staggered slightly in front of the left foot in this position. As the player fields the ball and prepares to throw, the player continues with this right-left rhythm through the throwing motion. The rhythm becomes right-left-field-right-left-throw.

Next, cutting a ball appropriately with momentum and proper footwork is a skill to develop. The infielder should make sure to move his feet to receive the ball laterally as his glove-side moves toward the target. Cutting the ball with momentum and on the correct side of the body are vital.
Finally, a drop step is an important concept within footwork. Infielders should be able to drop step both to the right and to the left. Using the drop step is important in ranging with proper angles. The first movement should be the foot closet to the ball and the infielder should work to get behind the ball. The tendency will be to drift but the movement is explosive.

Coaches should always be teaching footwork to infielders. This element is one that requires constant attention. Whether it is in an individual or team defense session, footwork should be on the forefront of the player’s mind. When footwork becomes a detail that slips through the cracks, the coach and player risks bad outcomes in big situations.
 

Essentials - Quick Hands

Quick and Smart

Infielders also must posses the ability to be quick and smart. When they get the baseball in their hands, they know what to do with it and deliver it quickly. They know the appropriate base to throw and maintain composure when the ball is in their hand - in the words of Coach John Wooden, they are quick but don’t hurry.

Developing smarts and quickness requires pace of play and pressure situations in practice. The Doghouse scrimmage setting is incredibly valuable in this regard, as is having live runners on the field for situational work.

Transfer

Related to quick and smart, an infielder must have the ability to transfer the baseball quickly from glove to throwing hand. Infielders should get out of the habit of catching the ball and into the habit of quick transfers into the throwing hand. The glove of the infielder is more like a “deflector” than a catching instrument. Below is a Quick Hands Drill to assist in teaching the transfer.

Groundballs

After dealing with the foundational essentials, the infielder is ready to address on-field situations. The first, and most common, is the groundball. The infielder must understand different groundball situations - not all groundballs are created equal. An infielder must know when to dive, charge, receive on the forehand or backhand, as well as when to attack the short hop. No matter the situation, an infielder must always field a groundball of any type from “low to high.” The glove should be under and on plane with the ball before coming up. When the ball is at the hip or higher on the infielder, he should turn the glove up. When the ball is lower than the hip, he should be in a fielding position with his fingers down, utilizing a supinated wrist that is relaxed with the glove tips to the ground.

Groundball repetitions are vital for this infielder. Movement and activity is the key as each groundball presents a new and different challenge. Utilizing a fungo or even a pitching machine to shoot consistent ground balls are both wise. The movie below explains how a player should first address the groundball directly at this infielder.

Baseball is a game based in time. It takes a baserunner a certain amount of time to run to the base after the ball is hit. The key to fielding groundballs is to cut the amount of time between the ball being hit and fielded, as well as the ball being fielded and thrown. Because of this, attacking the baseball is a vital exercise. As a rule of thumb, if the ball is bouncing at chin height or higher, the infielder should always attack the ball. At the same time, it is advisable to attack the baseball in many other situations as well. Sitting back on your heels is rarely advisable in high school or even college baseball because of the amount of hustle shown by baserunners at those levels.
We’ll utilize a series of other drills to advance our groundball fundamentals as well. Walking through the movements and slowing the game down helps to better wire the infielder with the proper footwork and technique. Walking through could be moved all the way down to slow motion as well, even asking the infielders to freeze upon fielding the groundball.

Another concept to understand the pace of the ball and proper fundamentals is counting the hops of the groundball. Give this simple technique a try and watch how your focus and your ability to recognize the type of hop improve.

Finally, thinking “outside the box” when developing infielders can bear a lot of fruit as well. The final movie of this chapter shows how the trainer for Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins uses a ladder and a medicine ball to build fundamental technique in that superstar.
 

Tags

After fielding a groundball and receiving cuts, which were both addressed earlier, executing a proper tag is the next on-field skill for an infielder. The tag is an under-coached and incredibly important component of the infielder’s game. There are three types of tag an infielder should be ready to execute: the “V” tag, the double tag, and the hold tag. The first two are exhibited in the next movie in the chapter. When preparing for a tag, the infielder realizes that receiving the ball high to low is the priority in tags. Every ball, no matter how bad the throw, must be knocked down by the infielder. Also in preparation for the tag, the infielder should get his feet in front of the base and force the runner to go around the infielder. This may cause some contact at the bag but more than likely this will cause the runner to stutter step to slow down, especially if that runner has not faced a courageous infielder.

Flyballs

Catching a flyball in the infield is no different than catching one in the outfield. The infielder should catch the ball in proper hand position with a strong wrist stacked on top of the elbow. Like the outfielder, an infielder must show the ability to field all types of flyballs - line drives, pop-ups, and flares. The key to catching any flyball is to get behind the baseball and work in while catching the ball in the air. Infielders should practice balls in the air as much as an outfielder practices catching the ball on the ground - the ratio should be around 60/40. For more detailed information on catching flyballs, see the Outfielding section of the website

Double Play Turns

The next team situation is the double play. Teams should practice this situation a lot as the double play can shift momentum in any baseball game. The pregame infield/outfield presented in this document in a later chapter encourages a series of double plays being turned during the pregame. Practicing the hardest plays in the game and doing them efficiently makes the easy plays in the game all the easier. The next movie in the series outlines turning the double play from the second baseman’s perspective.

Rundowns

That same concept of getting involved in every play applies to the last of the team situations - rundowns. Rundowns should be practiced repetitively so the infielders make this second nature. Infielders must establish a clear throwing lane for the ball to travel either inside or outside the runner. The fielder receiving the throw should be stepping toward the ball. Practicing rundowns ensures a team’s ability to execute this important concept in big situations. In addition, an ideal rundown is one in which the ball is thrown only once. The receiver should call “ball” at the right time and apply the tag immediately upon catching the ball.

Included below is a full video of the University of Arizona team led by Andy Lopez participating in a rundown drill. Pay attention to their technique as well as how the coaching staff instructs their players.