Every baseball position has its share of challenges
Youth coaches have to have eyes in the back of their heads too, to notice what is going on at every baseball position. Any little flaw in a player mechanics usually leads to missed plays; the same as any little hitting mistake results in an out for batters. Great defensive baseball is about a few things. First, it is about positioning. At the youth levels, a coach is responsible for this until players begin to understand where to play and how to move as a defensive unit. Next, a solid defense is getting every player to have the anticipation of the ball coming to them, and the knowledge of where to go with the ball after fielding it or where to go when the ball goes elsewhere. Finally, every baseball position player has to have the perfect footwork to align balls properly and to catch and throw the ball with the necessary timing to get the runners out.
As implied, youth coaches have to make sure each of those things come with every pitch the whole game – a daunting task with young baseball players. All of that begins with coaches knowing and recognizing the most common mistakes at every baseball position. Below is a look at those most common mistakes.
Baseball Position – 1st Base
Knowledgeable coaches realize that solid 1st base play is as crucial as any position in youth baseball as they handle more balls than any position beside the catcher. Also, it is often the position where the most injuries occur because of incorrect 1st base actions. Furthermore, there is so much more to solid first base play than people think. The ability to adjust to balls thrown in all directions, at various speeds and often in the dirt, takes great concentration and agility. Coaches of young players should put one of their best catchers of the ball at first base.
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- Wrong foot on the base – the correct foot for 1st baseman is the opposite foot from their throwing arm on all throws except throws in front of the pitching mound, when the left foot is on the bag by all first baseman.
- Stretching too soon – the step out should come only after recognition of the throw direction.
- Placing the foot in the middle of the base – 1st baseman must concentrate on setting their foot on the infield side of the bag only, to avoid getting stepped on.
- Two hand catch – it is ironic that we teach kids to catch with two hands and then tell them to use only one hand when playing 1st base, but such is the case because first base is a one handed position, especially when stretching for balls.
- Lack of direction stretch – it is often a hard concept for younger players to realize that they can step in any direction, left, forward, or right, as long as they are not in the baseline. When one mentions stretching out for the ball to a young player they only think out towards second base.
- Starting with the glove too high – many throws are low and the failure to set the glove low, or to the ground, prevents catching low and in the dirt throws. Just like fielding ground balls, it is easier to go up with the glove than down.Finally, teaching other 1st base responsibilities for various game situations such as bunts, cut-offs and holding runners on, is important; as well as positioning and communication with the second baseman and the pitcher.
2nd Base & Shortstop
As is often said in baseball, “You must be strong up the middle,” so solid 2nd base and shortstop play is crucial.
- Incorrect positioning – responsibilities of covering bases, covering ground, and turning double plays, depending on the game situation, makes the correct positioning critical for middle infielders.
- Late getting to the bag for force-outs and double plays – learning double play depth is important as footwork begins with getting to the bag as quickly as possible and being under control so that fielders can adjust to off-line throws.
- Late delivery of the ball to short or second – the footwork and arm action on possible double play balls is crucial, as every fraction of a second is necessary for turning them. Using the incorrect delivery method, based on distance from the bag, prevents possible double plays.
- Wrong foot on the bag when turning double plays – second basemen should begin the turn with their left foot on the centerfield side of the bag, giving them the flexibility to adjust to throws for the turn. Shortstops should start with their right foot on the outside corner of the bag, ready to meet the thrown ball aggressively with their left foot.
- Failure to use two hands on double play turns – players should catch all good throws with two hands and work on a short arc of their arm when making their throw to first on completion of the turn.
- Starting with the fingers of the glove pointed up when receiving balls – when approaching the bag for double play throws, the middle infielders should have their fingers up with both hands close together.
Of course, middle infielders have many responsibilities on bunts, cut-offs, and relays, along with backing up throws.
3rd base – It takes a fearless player to play the “Hot Corner.”
- Failure to stay or get in front of balls – the ability to keep balls in front of them leads to outs even when not caught cleanly because many balls get to them quickly, leaving time to throw runners out.
- Incorrect positioning – starting out of position or staying in the same place for all batters is an issue at third base. Beginning in the right spot leads to more outs. With left-handed batters, they should play closer to home than with right-handed batters, especially with no one on base.
- Laying back on balls – This is a tough call for the third baseman but even the slightest delay in charging the high hop puts them in a vulnerable position to make plays.
Third base responsibilities on bunt plays and the relays to home plate on throws from the outfield are additional teaching points.
Baseball Position – Outfield
Of course, at the lower levels of ball, there is often a lack of action in the outfield. Teaching kids to stay ready and to backup every play helps to keep their heads in the game.
- Holding balls too long after fielding them – outfielders must get the ball back into the infield as quickly as possible.
- Throwing to the wrong base – teaching players to throw to the correct base is vital, as many young players throw behind the runner – meaning, the base where the runner already is.
- Failure to keep the ball in front of them – understanding that they become infielders once the ball is on the ground is significant, as outfielders often have no backup.
- Failure to hit the cut-off – this failure is detrimental to getting outs and is common at all levels of ball.
- Lack of communication – understanding how to communicate on fly balls and pop ups is crucial to get outs and to avoid collisions.
As mentioned, understanding that a vital role of outfield play is as backups on all infield throws and ground balls is necessary.
Baseball Position – Catcher
No position is tougher and more important to keep the game moving smoothly. Catching is such a specialty that players should be encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable catching coach, as many youth coaches have little expertise in this area.
- Bad set-up – the wrong foot position and balance are detrimental to catching balls. Often, kids have their feet too close together and sit up on the balls of their feet so much they cannot give a low target, catch the low pitches, block balls or adjust to offline pitches.
- Inability to catch balls in a manner that saves strikes for pitchers – learning to handle the glove is, of course, the key to “receiving” the pitched ball and to the correct framing of pitches.
- Incorrect or slow delivery when runners are stealing – without good, quick footwork and the proper arm throwing action, catchers have little chance of throwing out the base stealers. The proper technique requires a considerable amount of practice, as well as arm strength.
- Failure to block balls in the dirt – the third key aspect of good catching besides catching and throwing is the will and technique to block balls in the dirt. Once again, consulting a quality catching coach is often necessary for development.
Catchers have the whole game in front of them and good ones develop leadership abilities and act as assistant coaches over time.
Baseball Position – Pitcher
- Forgetting they are a fielder, too – almost all defensive problems with pitchers occur because they forget they are fielders, once they deliver the ball. This failed understanding leads to:
- The incorrect position on their follow-through leading to many missed balls hit back through the middle
- Not knowing which base to throw to on caught balls
- Failure to cover first on balls hit to the right side (when field size increases)
- Failure to backup bases, or the correct base, on throws from the outfield
Finally, I often tell ball players that a coach’s dream is to see all nine players moving on batted balls and that there is always something to do; either, going for the ball, covering a base, or backing up a throw.