The outfield in baseball can be a lonely place sometimes. You are so far away from the action until, suddenly, you aren’t. Some may say that outfield drills are as simple as merely catching fly balls. And while that is an important aspect of being a great outfielder, it takes more than that to master the three positions.
To master these positions you have to take the time to practice the correct drills. These drills will help you maximize your skills, increase your knowledge of game situations, and test your ability to play in any outfield position. But before we get into the drills, we first need to understand the importance of the outfield skills we are looking to develop.
The Importance of Baseball Outfield Drills
Drills are designed to increase the specific core skills that you need to have to succeed in the position you are playing. For outfielders, the first thing that most people think of is footwork, speed, and throwing precision/accuracy. Those are obviously important, yet which skills you need to focus on above the rest can vary depending on which outfield position you play. Although all outfielders need some combination of these skills, center fielders should focus more on speed and agility than right fielders or left fielders. Alternatively, right fielders need a great arm above all else, and left fielders need to work on remaining attentive as they tend to see the least amount of action. With so many skills needed to master all three positions, it is best to practice a wide number of outfield drills no matter which position you play.
Outfield Drills & Their Benefit
Outfielders are considered to be the last line of defense. No matter if it's a towering fly ball or a grounder shot through the infield, outfielders have to control everything in front of them. This calls for players to practice both charging at ground balls and adjusting to fly balls. Therefore, it is important to focus on always being in a balanced ready position, which means having your knees bent with your hands at the ready prepared to jump to action any time the ball comes your way.
Ground Ball Drill
It may seem like a simple task as the ball is often going to slow down by the time it gets to the the outfield. That may be true, but what we are going to train is situational awareness, knowing where the ball needs to get promptly.
Step #1: When we are in our ready position, a teammate or coach will roll a ground ball into the outfield position that we are in.
Step #2: As we recognize where the ball is coming from we want to start to charge the ball. Before we make contact with the ball we want to decrease speed and breakdown into our grounding position.
Step #3: In our grounding position our glove is to the ground with our lead foot being the glove side foot with our backfoot being staggered behind in a balanced wide base. Other things to mention are that we want our backside to be low to the ground so that our head can still track the ball. In that position, we will field the ground ball.
Step #4: We will practice fielding the ball three times, and throw the ball with a crow hop on the third grounder to the base where the ball needs to go. This drill should rotate between the three outfield positions as well as rotate which base the ball needs to be delivered to.
Fly Ball Drill
While playing outfield the most action that you see usually comes from fly balls. Fly balls take as much time to master as any other skill in baseball. Tracking the ball while it is in the air is something that takes time and patience for it to become second nature to you. There is no better way to train this than simply having someone from home plate hit you tons of balls. However, here is another drill that can help you better understand the fundamentals of fielding a fly ball.
Step #1: First we need to set up four cones in a zigzag formation that are a few long strides away from each other, heading away from home plate and towards the outfield wall.
Step #2: As the fielder we will start at the first cone in our ready position. We will then start the drill by drop-stepping toward the next cone as a coach or teammate will toss the ball up in the air. Our goal is to track the ball ground towards the cone on our right side.
Step #3: Once we secure the ball in our glove, the next step is to drop the ball and drop set towards the next cone on our left. As our coach/teammate tosses another ball toward our left this time.
Step #4: You will repeat the zig-zag to each of the four cones and then plant with your back foot towards the tosser to sprint out the rest of the drill. We will be repeating this drill until we feel comfortable dropping back and catching the ball from both sides of our bodies.
Crow Hop Drill
Above we mentioned performing a crow hop, which is a small gathering jump aimed towards where we want the ball to go. The reason this is so popular is that it adds a little bit more power behind the throw as well as gets your momentum heading in the correct direction. Like anything in baseball, repetition is key in learning this advanced skill.
What You Need: You will need two circle cones to mark the hops and a baseball in your glove. This drill will be described for a person who is right-hand dominant but can be inverted for a lefty.
Step #1: We will start at the top of the two circle cones where we will jump with our left leg. We will jump twice with the left leg toward where we are going to throw the ball.
Step #2: After the two hops we will take another jump-stride toward home plate but this time planting with our right to set a good foundation for our left to come forward as we throw the ball.
Step #3: The final step is to launch the ball in rhythm, finally coming to a throwing position after the initial hops. All outfielders should repeat this regularly and can incorporate this into their long toss.
Other Important Drills
The drills above are practices that can aid you in the majority of what you will see in the outfield. Yet they are not the only ones that you will need to be successful. Another helpful drill is the classic long toss, which helps your arm strength and accuracy. Other drills we have found helpful are simple drop-step drills and footwork drills that help outfielders get a better jump on the baseball off the bat. For our last drill, you will need either a tennis ball or a smush ball:
Step #1: Standing away from others, have the tosser toss a tennis ball or smush ball into the air.
Step #2: We as outfielders want to get under the ball as fast as we can. But this time we are not going to catch it in our gloves. We are going to try and have the ball brush on the bill of our hats. We want to make sure we have a wide base and can see the ball all the way into our glove.
BRUCE BOLT Tips: Maximizing Your Outfield Drills
While doing these drills we do not want to just focus on the act of catching the ball. We also want to focus on maintaining the correct base position so that we can distribute the ball where it needs to go. That is why we like to end those drills with a sprint, a toss to home plate, or a throw into the infield. It is important that doing these drills works on implementing game situations such as double plays.
Implementing Game Situations
We want to add those game situations at the end since you never know when you will need to use that quick twitch to grab an extra out on the play. It is important to cope with daredevil baserunners who will try to extend plays after the initial out. If we can prepare as players to make that extra move with a crow hop or exert just a little more energy to double up the runner, it can prove pivotal at key points of a game.
Inventing New Drills
We have taken you through several drills and given some insights into other skills that are worthwhile to train. Now, we want to stress that you should not shy away from inventing new drills. Sometimes you understand better than any coach what you need to work on, and it is important to be creative in how you train the weak points of your game. Additionally, make sure to train skills for all of the outfield positions. It is crucial in today's game to be flexible in the positions that you can play. Knowing each outfield position and having the skills necessary to perform there if needed can increase your playing time down the road.
When you practice at the little league and youth level, you should take the time to practice every position and, of course, focus on batting as well. Batting practice is something that should not be skipped at any level, especially for outfielders who are known to be key cogs in the offensive lineup. Practicing simple fundamentals of hitting like the art of gripping a bat can increase hand coordination and pay off for you down the road.