Chris Welch – General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy
As coaches, we all have our “pet peeves” when it comes to our players. We all have those few things that we see players do that really get under our skin for some reason and every coach has his/her hot button items that will drive them crazy. Examples of this for me are players not hustling on and off the field and teams not throwing the ball around after a strike three with nobody on.
But the number ONE thing that is my giant pet peeve when I watch a baseball team is when I see middle infielders decreasing their range for no reason. Every little league game I go to I always see shortstops and second baseman out of position and coaches never correct them. So I wanted to list a few key points down for middle infielders out there to remember the next time they are called on to play up the middle.
1.) Positioning – First and foremost, middle infielders almost always play too shallow in youth baseball (primarily ages 9-14). Coaches are constantly preaching for players to be aggressive to groundballs and fly-balls but then they always have them playing so far in that the instance a ball is hit to them, they are on their heels. The number one way of taking an athletic person and making him un-athletic is to make him work on his heels and not on the balls of his feet ( I wanted to give you the medical and official term for balls of the feet, but I actually don’t have a clue what it is).
Many youth shortstops and second basemen will often find themselves playing extremely close to the baseline because they feel like it will give them a better chance of fielding the ball quicker and throwing someone out. When in reality that will work fine on a ball hit directly at you, but what about to your right or left? And even the ball directly at you will inevitably sneak up on you and very often take a “bad” hop simply because you have put yourself on your heels and in a very vulnerable position, a position that will not allow you to work through the groundball properly.
What I will always teach youth shortstops and second basemen (with the exception of specific situations, i.e. infield in, double play depth, etc) is to start with your heels on the outfield grass before the pitcher gets into his delivery. Stay loose out there and relax. We do this for many reasons, mainly:
a.) To keep an aggressive (not over aggressive) mentality towards attacking groundballs.
b.) To cut down on the angle of balls to our right or left that would certainly sneak into the outfield had you been playing too close to the base path.
c.) To allow us to work through balls and to keep our general momentum going towards first base slightly.
d.) To give us a better sense of tracking the groundball as it is coming towards you to avoid “bad” hops. Granted, many youth players may not feel like they are capable of doing this yet, but it’s probably because they’ve never given themselves a chance to because they have been playing too shallow.
e.) To cut down the triangle between yourselves and your two closest outfielders on a pop fly. Your corner infielders will be able to get much of what is out of reach for you in front of you anyway, so we might as well cut down that gap in the outfield.
2.) Creep Steps – This refers to the 2 steps you’ll take as the pitcher is delivering the ball to get yourself into the “Ready” position. If you are positioned properly with your feet near the outfield grass this will gain you approximately 3-5 feet with your right foot then left foot stepping towards the plate. The key to the Creep Step is to get yourself in the most athletic and ready position possible. This position should allow you to properly attack a ball 360 degrees from your position depending on where the ball goes. The creep step is something that all four infield positions and three outfield positions should be doing as the ball is being delivered. Without these steps it is easy to get yourself on your heels and not on the balls of your feet and your toes.
3.) Agility Training and Plyometric Training for Quickness – This type of training will help enhance many things for you, but most importantly your first step. Overall speed can be very important to a baseball player, but the most important thing for a fielder is his/her first step. A middle infielders first step is crucial to their positioning to the ball. I always recommend that players work a couple times a week on their speed, agility, and quickness. Parents of young athletes are always asking me when their child can start strength and agility training, and I always tell them that there are exercises that players can do at ANY age, however they should always consult a trained professional prior to any workout/routine. Our friends at Premier Athlete Training are a great resource for us and I definitely recommend taking one of their free classes to help determine what your child should be doing. www.premierathletetraining.com is their website. The best part of many of these drills and workouts is that they can be done in a very small space at home and they can also be worked on by playing other sports such as basketball, football, or soccer.
I know many coaches and parents out there feel as though their son/daughter is participating in a league where the players are so young that this could never work because the players don’t hit the ball hard enough. Please keep in mind that this blog is designed mainly for players 9-14. Players age 5-8 will certainly have some flexibility in their positioning depth (as will any age) but they still need to understand the importance of range. As for players 15 and up, I’ll still see it from time to time but for the most part the quality middle infielders (and their coaches) at the high school level and above have a much better understanding of this.
If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!