Outfielding is an important part of the game that is often ignored at the youth levels but can bear the most fruit for young players. Inside this chapter, a series of developmental explanations and drills are presented to make the outfield a priority in this program.
Outfield seems to be the least developed position in youth baseball but becomes a more important defensive position as young players progress. Many of the best high school and college athletes end up as the “last line of defense” for teams in the outfield, in spite of the position being largely ignored at the youth levels. While athleticism is important for outfielders, learning the proper techniques and methods of outfield play are incredibly important and can give teams a decided advantage of their competition.
Positioning and Activity
The first element outfielders must learn is their positioning on the field and to be active on the field. As a general rule, our outfielders know to position themselves in the “pull-side gap” or for the “opposite field fade.” Most likely, the typical high school hitter is going to drive the ball to their pull gap (LF for the right-handed hitter, RF for the left-handed hitter) or just miss, hitting a fading ball to their opposite field side (RF for the right-handed hitter, LF for the left-handed hitter). To align the outfielder in the pull side gap, the outfielder lines himself up using the bases: 1B and 2B for the LF, and 2B and 3B for the RF. To align the outfielder for the opposite field fade, the outfielder again uses the bases: 2B and 3B for the LF, and 1B and 2B for the RF. These alignments simplify the positioning for the fielder, takes away a large percentage of typical balls hit, all while allowing the coach to make simple adjustments on opposing hitters.
The signs for those adjustments between the coach and the outfielder are as follows. When the coach desires the outfielder to move back, he will raise both arms to the sky. When the coach desires the outfielder to move in, both arms will point to the ground. In a situation where the coach wants the outfielder to throw to 2B no matter what, he will tap head. When the coach wants to make sure the team doesn’t give up any doubles, he will signal to the outfielders with an arm wave behind head. To move an outfielder from side to side, he will simply point in that direction. Finally, a coach might say “play him like a righty” or “play him like a lefty” to move the outfielder into a traditional position against a hitter with less-than-traditional tendencies.
As a segue between positioning and activity, outfielders should be moving to position themselves appropriately based on the count. When the hitter is even in the count, the outfielder should be straight up in the typical position. The outfielder should then cheat to the pull-side when the pitcher is behind, and position themselves to defend the opposite field when the pitcher is ahead. This, again, will put the outfielder in position to take away a large percentage of the typical balls that are hit.
Outfielders should consider activity the most important part of their game. They should always be moving, never falling into the habit of being a spectator on the field. To help with proper footwork, the outfielder must prepare himself on every play appropriately. This should generally be a right-left-ready position rhythm before every pitch. Using the same rhythm before every pitch will make the outfielder more cognizant of his feet and help to prevent him from taking any false steps in the process of tracking down the baseball.
Every outfielder has a style of setting up for every pitch. Some outfielders prefer to be bent over with their hands on their knees, while others stand up as they become ready. The basic rule is to make sure that they are on the balls of their feet and can run from their position. Getting to full speed in three or four strides, with a quick jump, is where an outfielder needs to be from his position. An outfielder, from his stance, should be able to run and react in all four directions; forward, backward, left, and right. Balance and setting up properly will allow and outfielder to react and run to balls that are hit.
As every pitch is being delivered, the outfielder should move forward into his position. This gets him ready to react and he anticipates the ball will be hit to him. After every pitch, the OF should back away from where he started and work his way forward as the pitch is being delivered. The outfielder’s focus as he moves forward should be on the strike zone or hitter’s bat. He wants to get the best possible jump and needs to concentrate in the hitter’s zone. The best way to develop this habit is developed through batting practice – do not miss that opportunity to improve.
Outfielders should back up bases and get involved in every defensive situation. This constant movement will allow the outfielder to get great jumps and read balls more immediately when they make activity a habit. It will encourage the movement necessary to read the ball based on the location of the pitch, as well as the batter’s stance and swing.
While being in constant movement is important, another element that should be stressed in all drills is running with appropriate form. Outfielders must run with excellent running form while chasing down balls in the outfield. Many times, young outfielders will run with the glove arm extended which will force them to be slower while chasing the ball. Outfielders must run with both arms using the proper running dynamics instead of reaching out with their glove too early.
To again encourage this activity, our program puts the outfielder on the opposite end of a double-cut scenario right in the middle of the defense. The Team Defense section of the book includes diagrams of what outfielders should do in a “Middle Ball” (ball hit to one of the gaps) or “Corner Ball” (ball hit into one of the corners of the outfield) situations. Both give outfielders the opportunity to cover a base and get involved in a potential backdoor or rundown situation. By encouraging this level of activity, our players build the habit of activity.