Good Hands People:
Drills for Middle Infielders
By LARRY LEE
Head Coach, Cuesta (Calif.) College
Editor's Note: This is the fourth article in Lee's five-part series on infield play.
Here is a set of tried-and-true infield drills. Grab a glove, get a little dirty and get ready to learn footwork, throwing and communication skills.
1. Side Steps
Players will get into a fundamentally sound fielding position, with a wide foot base and their weight on the inside balls of their feet. Make sure their bottom stays low with their hands out in front of them. The fingers of the glove should be slightly pointed down with the glove face open to the ball. The coach is in front a short distance away. On the coach's command, the fielder will shuffle to either side three times, maintaining solid fielding position and making sure not to cross his feet when shuffling. Upon the third shuffle, the fielder pushes his hands down to the ground as if to field a ground ball. He then shuffles in the opposite direction three more times, finishing with his hands going down to the ground again. No ball is needed. The coach must make sure form isn't compromised for speed. Besides reinforcing good fielding mechanics for both the upper and lower body, this drill helps condition the lower body.
The same drill as above, but this time a ball is added along with a swim paddle instead of a glove. The coach is on a knee about seven feet in front of the fielder. The coach should have at least two baseballs in his hands to begin. Just before the fielder is about to complete his third shuffle, the coach rolls a baseball to a spot where the fielder will be after completion of his third shuffle. The fielder must make sure that he gets in front of the ball to field it. He then lets the baseball touch the paddle first before covering the ball with the throwing hand (picture 1). He then underhand-tosses it back to the coach and begins his three shuffles in the opposite direction and repeats the process. I like using a swim paddle because it is small andflat-sided, making the fielder be precise in his actions and forces him to use both hands in unison when fielding the ball.
3. Short Hops
This drill is performed with a glove and a partner about 15 feet apart. All throws should be made from a sidearm or low three-quarter arm slot, as if you were skipping stones across water. Throws should be made so that the fielder has to reach out and shovel underneath a short hop. If the throw is made from over the top, bad hops will occur. We want to promote success, not complications.
A) Front facing. Two hands out front (picture 2).
B) Forehand. Pivot on the balls of the feet to turn sideways to the throw. Use the glove hand only to scoop up the ball (picture 3). Start with the glove on the ground, then raise the glove to make the play. Players should always go from low to high when fielding the ball. This prevents them from stabbing at the ball.
C) Backhand. Take a crossover step before the partner tosses the ball. When making the backhand pick, the crossover leg should be bent to allow eyes to get closer to the ball. Make sure the player's glove is fully open to the ball, again starting with the glove low to the ground (picture 4).
D) Throwing hand behind the back. Using only the glove to pick up the ball makes the fielder more precise in his technique and ensures that he fields the ball cleanly. It also allows the fielder to extend forward a bit more with the glove, allowing a greater range of adjustment with the glove (picture 5).
4. Rounding the Baseball
This drill can be performed with or without a partner. When performing it without a partner, place a baseball on the ground a few feet away from you. Start to the left of the ball in a pre-pitch stance. Get to a ready position as if the ball were to be hit. Execute proper footwork; get to the right of the ball, line it up with your left leg. Field, funnel and throw properly. Don't take a route that is too long or rounded. Keep the angles short and sharp. When a partner is added, roll a baseball from about 25 feet away and complete the skill as in the above lesson, adding a throw to a target if possible.
5. Slow Roller Footwork
This drill can also be performed with or without a partner. When erforming it without a partner, place a number of baseballs about 10 feet apart in a straight line. The fielder should walk toward the first baseball. As he nears, the left knee bends (right-handed thrower) to lower the body to the ball, hands reach out to field the ball as the left foot is forward in the fielding position (picture 6). Fielder then funnels the ball to the chest, separates and throws the baseball as the right foot is in the forward position (picture 7). When a partner is added, roll the ball from about 25 feet away and complete the skill as in the above lesson. Gradually increase the fielder's approach speed while maintaining solid fundamentals.
6. Two Knee Ground Balls
Fielder is in a position where both knees are on the ground, feet away and flat on the ground. Partner throws or fungoes ground balls from a good distance away (picture 8). This drill isolates the hands.
7. Mini Double Plays.
This drill utilizes all the feeds and pivots made by both the shortstops and second basemen that were discussed in previous articles, in a time-efficient manner.
Start with the shortstops on a specific feed and the second baseman on a specific pivot. When satisfied, go to the next shortstop feed or switch to a second baseman feed. Have a big bucket of balls handy! The coach will be on a knee somewhere behind the pitching mound with the first baseman and another full bucket. When the coach's bucket is empty, simply exchange with the first baseman's full bucket. At the same time this drill is going on, your pitchers could be working with the first baseman on a ground ball hit to the right side of the diamond. Be sure to emphasize communication with your middle infielders by verbalizing in the drill. For instance, "toss-toss-toss,'' on a ball that will be underhanded.
8. Middle infield line to home plate
This is a drill that teaches field awareness. A middle infielder should know his parameters on how far from second base he can be and still be able to underhand-toss the ball. Draw a line in the infield dirt that lines up with home plate and runs at an angle through the infield. Any ball that is hit to the shortstop or second baseman that is on the second base side of the line, an underhand toss is made. If a ball is hit on the other side of the line, an overhand throw is made. As the middle infielder's underhand toss gets stronger, his line will move closer to the foul lines.