Pre-Pitch Preparation for Outfielders
Although further removed from the batter's box than the infield, outfield play demands great reflexes and quick thinking during the game. Losing focus between pitches in the outfield leads to bad jumps, fielding errors and otherwise avoidable mistakes. Whether the outfielder has just made two consecutive plays or has not had a ball hit to him in five innings, it is important to be ready for the ball at all times. A good outfielder minimizes distractions by preparing himself before every pitch and staying focused throughout the game.
Know the Situation
Depending on the inning, the score, the number of strikes or outs and how many runners are on base, an outfielder is going to position himself differently. He must learn every situation in order to be properly prepared for a game. For example, his coach may signal for a no-doubles defense (play back) if his team is ahead and just needs outs. A final, more common situational shift occurs when there are two strikes on a hitter. Often, the opposite side outfielder (right field with a righty batter, left field with a lefty batter) takes two steps in and one step over to defend on bloop hits. Knowing the situations and how to react to them will make the outfielder a better player.
Know your Pitcher
Understanding how the pitcher works on the mound will help the outfielder. 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 outfielder readies himself before each pitch.
Know the Hitter
Knowing a hitter's tendencies is also worthwhile. As the game progresses, the outfielder 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? Is he a power hitter? Is he going to try to poke one into center field? Does he get jammed a lot? Figuring out tendencies helps an outfielder position himself better, increasing the likelihood he will get to the batted ball and make the play.
Before each pitch is thrown, an outfielder should take the proper steps to position himself in the ready stance. This movement is minimal and should not be more than one step forward with both the right and left foot.
Feet should be a little more than shoulder width apart. The outfielder should lean slightly forward on his toes and maintain a high center of gravity. The glove and throwing hand should be slightly bent and in a comfortable position on either side of the body.
Know your Surroundings
Playing the Wall: Measure how many running steps it takes to reach the wall from the warning track and feel the difference between the outfield grass and warning track. This will help you brace for impact or tell you if you have to climb the wall to catch the ball. Know the hardness of the wall: If it is wood, then expect a big bounce on a ball off the wall. If it is very soft or fencing, then expect a softer bounce. On a fly ball over your head that will hit the wall, stand about five feet from the wall (adjust for wall hardness) and wait for the bounce facing the wall. Field the ball, crow hop and throw.
Playing the Sun: Check the sun. If it will blind you on a fly ball, then you need to wear sunglasses. Prepare accordingly.
Playing the Wind: Always know what direction and how hard the wind is blowing. If the wind is blowing in hard, then the outfielder may need to communicate to his infielders to call him off on a particularly high fly ball. This will also affect your positioning. Adjust your positioning, depending on the direction of the wind.