Handle the Bunting, Baby
Head Coach, Cal State Fullerton
There are two techniques for an infielder or pitcher when fielding a slow roller or bunt. I'll discuss both, then get into techniques for the catcher and second baseman. But first let's go over some fundamentals that apply to everyone.
Try to keep your balance when making a throw. Whenever possible, make your infield throws with your feet set. Sometimes, however, the speed of the ball hit and the runner's speed make it necessary to throw on the run or off balance. Only use your bare hand if the ball is rolling slowly or has stopped. If the ball is bouncing as it arrives to you, then you should always use your glove if you have time.
Fielding a bunt must include a drastic bend in the knees and not a drastic bend at the waist. We work with our pitchers to throw from that low position and not stand up to make the throw. This requires a lot of practice and drills. We call bunt-play throws "close quarter throws." Both the overhand and underhand throws need to be worked on and practiced. The overhand close quarter throw is similar to throwing darts. The underhand throw is similar to bowling without the exaggerated backswing. The key on both throws is to allow the receiver to see the ball clearly. It also is important to keep the wrist stiff with both throws.
Now for the two techniques in fielding a bunt.
The first technique is a quicker version of fielding a regular ground ball. The fielder moves quickly from his position to the ball. He begins to drop his hips and chop his steps as he gets closer to the ball. This will allow for him to slow down and to be under control when he attempts to field the ball. The footwork is as follows: right step, left step, catch. Then right step, left step, throw. The biggest difference from fielding a regular ground ball is that during the right step, left step, throw, the right foot is planted quickly for a quick throw.
The second technique is what we call the scoop play. The fielder is fielding and throwing this bunt on the run. The same principle as above applies regarding how to slow down when arriving at the ball. With this technique the fielder still uses a right step, left step, catch sequence, but his feet spread forward and backward instead of side to side. He will field the ball with either his glove or bare hand with his left leg extended in front. To make the throw he takes one more step with his right foot and throws quickly off the right foot. The arm angle on this scoop play should be right from where the catch is made and not three-quarter or over the top.
The proper mechanics for a catcher fielding a bunt: There are three angles for the catchers fielding bunts in front of the plate. The first two are fielded with the same technique. These would be bunts in a direction back to the mound or along the first-base line. To field and throw from these angles the catcher gets around the ball slightly to his left so that he is moving in the direction of his throw. He stops by planting his right foot, bends his knees, picks up the bunt and throws directly off his right foot. If he has extra time he can take an additional skip step to make the throw.
The third and most difficult angle is a bunt down the third-base line. With this play the catcher goes to the right side of the ball, plants his right foot, bends at the knees, fields the ball with his bare hand, spins counter clockwise and throws without taking a step.
How the second baseman should cover first base: The second baseman should put his left foot on the base and stretch to the ball. The key for the second baseman on receiving this throw is to be in a bent-knee position to anticipate a bad throw and be ready to adjust quickly.
JUST FOR YOUTH: Infielders below the high school level should ALWAYS set their feet and throw with good balance. Use only the first technique described by Coach Horton to field bunts. The arms of youth players are not strong enough to use the scoop technique.