By: Bob McCreary
Provided by: Baseball By The Yard
Tryouts begin for public schools in Pennsylvania tomorrow. Coaches all over the state will be running their players through multiple drills to gauge ability and potential. Outfielders will catch fly balls and make some long throws, pitchers will throw off a mound, catchers will receive and throw, and hitters will hit. However, for infielders it's a bit more complicated. There are four infield positions behind the pitcher and each one carries with it a number of separate responsibilities. They will have to catch grounders and pop-ups, do run-downs , tag runners, turn double plays, cover bases on tag and force plays, field bunts, and backhand the ball. That's a lot of drills to get done. It got me thinking. If I was given five minutes to evaluate players - thankfully I don't - and only could do one drill, what would it be?
This play is what separates the men from the boys. It's a play that involves a fielder charging a slowly hit ball where he must field and throw on the run. So why would I pick this drill? Because it allows the coach to see all of the following in just a few reps:
Aggressiveness to the ball. To make this play, you have to fly through the ball. Any tentativeness on this play and the runner is safe.
Quickness. Quick first steps, quickness to the ball, quick footwork, and quick hands all have to be there for the runner to be out.
Balance. Charging, fielding, and throwing aggressively requires balance especially since the fielder will be throwing off the other foot.
Agility and athleticism. This play involves difficult body movements that are not typical on most ground balls.
Arm strength. Slow rollers require some arm strength because the fielder is usually not moving towards his target before throwing. His momentum is usually traveling towards home plate and has to use just his arm strength to get the ball to first base.
Footwork technique. Players who have had good coaching in the past have probably been taught some basics about this play. The play becomes much easier for an infielder who knows which foot goes where when catching and throwing. It's a little technical so that will have to be a future post. In a nutshell, left foot forward to catch, right forward to throw.
Throwing technique. Good infielders are able to use any arm angle to throw. From right over the top to almost touching the ground with their knuckles. Variations of this drill allow coaches to see if the player can throw from multiple angles.
Softness of hands. This play involves some finesse glove work in a short period of time. Players who have softer hands usually fare better. Having “soft hands” means balls rarely bounce out of a player's glove. Think of catching an egg. If you keep your hands still when you catch the egg, the egg will break. If you have “soft hands” and can give a little after catching the egg, the egg will not break. The same principle applies to catching a baseball whether it's thrown or hit at you.
Quick release. The ability to catch and throw quickly is what will allow a player to keep moving up the ladder in terms of their defense. As kids get older, the game gets faster. Catching and getting rid of it quickly is a must. A quick release can also offset problems with arm strength. It is usually better to have a very quick release and an average arm instead of a great arm that takes forever to throw.