Pre-pitch Preparation for Infielders
Infield play demands great reflexes and quick thinking during the game. Losing focus between pitches will lead to mental mistakes and fielding errors. Therefore, it is important for an infielder to be ready for the ball at all times. A good infielder minimizes distractions by preparing himself before every pitch.
- Work Through Your Mental Checklist:
- Always know the situation: The inning, score, number of outs, runners on base and more all affect the play. Being aware of these items allows the defender to maximize the play's potential and better help the team.
- Know the strength of your arm and how deep you can play. Positioning yourself out of a play is a surefire way to create an error or misplayed situation. Know your strengths but also your limits.
- Know the positioning of your outfielders and their range. Your responsibilities don't just end with what you're doing and where you're positioned. Having a working knowledge of where your teammates are located can be similarly helpful and will aid overall communication and ball priority.
- Be aware of the weather and playing conditions (e.g. Where is the sun? Is it windy? Is the grass wet?).
- Know who covers the bag on various situations: ball hit back to pitcher with or without runners on, bunt/relay plays, pick-off and first-and-third plays. What do I do when the ball isn't hit to me?
- Know the Pitch Before it is Thrown: Knowing the location and type of each pitch before it is thrown is paramount to increasing an infielder's range. An infielder who uses this information against the hitter will see dramatic improvement in his fielding range. Infielders can make an educated guess as to where the hitter will hit the ball based on the location and pitch type. This knowledge allows the infielder to move quicker to any ground ball. For example, if the shortstop expects an inside fastball on a right-handed hitter, he can subtly cheat toward his right - making sure not to tip the pitch off to the hitter by moving too quickly or too early.
- Know Your Pitcher: Understanding how the pitcher works on the mound will also help the infielder. For example, does he tend to miss away on fastballs? What pitch does he throw with the most accuracy? Where does he miss with off-speed pitches? How accurate is this particular pitcher? All of these questions factor into how the infielder readies himself before each pitch.
- Know Your Hitter: Knowing a hitter's tendencies is also worthwhile. As the game progresses, the infielder can usually pick out what pitches the batter hits the hardest and where. For example, is he a pull hitter? Does he only go the opposite way? Does he hit the ball into the ground and try to beat out the throw? Figuring out tendencies helps an infielder position himself better, increasing the likelihood he will get to the batted ball and make the play.
- Pre-Pitch Movement: Before every pitch, infielders should take one or two semi-crouched (not standing straight up) steps towards the hitter. The final step should land as the hitter swings at the pitch. This movement makes for quicker reactions to a batted ball. Moreover, such pitch-by-pitch attention maximizes the fielder's focus during the game.
- Note: Make sure not to lean too far forward onto your toes when you take your last step, as lateral movement will be less efficient.
- Ready Stance: The glove should be out, pointing towards the batter, as if about to field a ground ball (third basemen may want to be more crouched, with their glove on the ground, as their reaction time needs to be quicker). The key is to make the transition from waiting for the ball to fielding the ball as smooth as possible. This glove-out, creeping-towards-the-hitter position is conducive to consistent, quick and flowing play.
- First Movement: If the ball is hit to the infielder's right or left, his first step should be a cross-over step and not a jab step. The cross-over step is a quicker, more direct move towards the ball. This gives the infielder more time to set up properly for the ground ball.