Quickness and Smarts
Finally, an outfielder must be quick and smart. His catch-to-release time must be excellent through great fundamentals and can be strong while being exceptionally quick. An outfielder knows the appropriate base to which to deliver the baseball - he wants the ball and the coach wants him to have the ball because he maintains composure when the ball is in his hand. He knows a ball in the outfield is useless for the defense and his job is to get it into the 90-foot diamond quickly. He knows the situation at all times, he knows when catching a foul ball is wise and when letting it fall to the ground with a tagging runner is better. An outfielder instills confidence in his teammates when the ball is hit to the outfield. A simple drill would be to give situations using an iPad graphic and present the players with a scenario.
Being a smart outfielder requires knowledge of all of the many situations with which he could be presented on the field. Here are a number of situations that, if mastered, can allow an outfielder to help his team gain a distinct advantage.
Keeping the Double Play In Order – Keeping the double play in order should be an outfielder’s first thought before he reacts on plays. This means hitting the cutoff man, keeping the ball at head level and throwing the ball to second base, if ever in doubt. A team can stay out of big innings by keeping a hitter on first base. As a general rule, if a ball is hit to an outfielder’s left or right, his chances of getting a baserunner with average speed is poor. Therefore, the throw should go to second base. Anytime an outfielder can carry his momentum forward to the plate on a ground ball, his chances increase on throwing out a runner at home.
No Doubles – The rule in this situation is an outfielder plays deep enough to catch any ball that will reach the fence. The outfielder should be able to get to these balls easily, and not on the run. Also, any ground ball should be able to be cutoff and keep the hitter on first base. This is also a no dive situation.
Centerfielder – The centerfielder must be the quarterback of the outfield. They need to take control of the outfield and direct adjustments. They should be assertive, aggressive, and take responsibility for their decisions. A good centerfielder knows the opposing lineup, the count, his pitcher and what his strengths are, the situation of the game, and moves his outfielders, as he moves. The corner outfielders must be aware after every pitch and hitter that the centerfielder is going to move. They have to make an effort to look at the centerfielder during the entire game.
Field Awareness – An outfielder has to gather information during batting practice to make accurate judgments in the game. A prepared outfielder will have the answers to all of these questions:
- Is the grass fast or slow?
- Is the surface of the outfield smooth?
- What is the distance of the warning track from the wall?
- Does the fence have padding?
- How do balls play off of the wall?
- Do balls down the line hug the wall or line?
- What angles should I take?
Ball in the Sun – Fly balls in the sun are caught by using sunglasses and the glove to shield the glare. An outfielder needs to stay off to the side of the sun, one to two steps. The angle will allow an outfielder to see the ball come out of the sun earlier and he will be able to make adjustments sooner. These catches are made with one hand.
Ball In the Lights – While rare, it is possible that our outfielders could play under the lights. Fly balls that go up into the lights can become a panic situation for an outfielder. If he has done the drop step and stayed behind the baseball, he has to hold his ground until the ball comes out below the bank of lights and then make the catch. Line drives are extremely difficult. An outfielder drop steps and holds his position until the ball leaves the bottom area of the lights. If a depth perception read on the ball is accurate, an outfielder will be able to move forward and make a good attempt at the catch.
Balls Hit to the Fence – Anytime a ball goes to the fence, an outfielder must return the ball back to the infielder quickly. The outfielder has to:
- Run to the ball.
- Get his chest over the ball. The ball is between the legs of the fielder and can see the ball clearly.
- Barehand the Ball: If the ball has stopped, always pick up the ball with the bare hand. If the ball is moving, field the ball with the glove.
- Stay low and pick up the infielder.
- Step and throw to the target. The outfielder should use a crow hop step-through or heel click to throw out of this position.
- The outfielder fielding the ball should always know the position of the relay men.
There are two drills outlined in the Team Defense section - Cuts and Relays, and the Doghouse Scrimmage - that are very effective measurements and tools for developing outfielders. Both are drills designed to simulate game pace and style desired in the program which puts game pressure on all involved. Three other drills - the In Between Drill (either between two outfielders, or a set of outfielders and infielders) Communication Corner, and fielding the ball properly off the wall will be filmed for future use in this book. The remaining videos are a variety of drills that can be implemented to improve overall outfield play.
Below are a series of drills that can also be used in the development of outfielders.