Movement and Mechanics for Outfielders
Before each pitch, the outfielder must know who is on base and to whom he will throw the ball if it is hit to him. He should know how to play the wall, where the sun is, how hard the wind is blowing and where the corners of the outfield are. An outfielder's movement should always be in the direction of where the ball is going to land, or in the direction that will allow the fielder the best possible angle for a throw to the infield. Getting to the ball quickly counts for a lot but so too does fielding it correctly. Keeping these factors in mind, here are some tips for outfielders:
Coming in on Balls
On balls hit in front of the outfielder, he should break hard towards the infield. On a blooper, the outfielder should know that he can dive for the ball, since it has no chance of rolling too far past him. On the other hand, if he comes in on a line drive, the outfielder must remember he is the last line of defense. He can dive, but he must make sure not to let the ball go past him; his adjacent outfielder will likely not have enough time to back him up.
Going Back on Balls
An outfielder should turn, put his head down and run towards the spot he thinks the ball will land. As he is gaining ground to that location, he can turn and look over his shoulder for the ball, find the ball, adjust and make the catch. This is difficult and takes a good understanding of how to read the ball, but it is necessary for outfield play.
The Drop Step
If a ball is hit over the outfielder's head, then his first step should be a drop step. This term describes the first steps for turning and running for a ball batted overhead of the outfielder. The player should pivot his hips so the first step is straight back or 180 degrees from the ready stance. Opening up the hips gives the outfielder a better chance to turn and run to where the ball will land.
When in doubt, take the first step back
There are occasions when an outfielder needs an extra half-second to read a ball off the bat. Unless the fielder is sure the ball is in front of him, his first step should always be back. Outfielders often struggle most reading line drives right at them. If the outfielder takes his first step back, then he can more easily adjust to come in on the ball. Should the outfielder take his first step in, he will struggle to adjust on a ball behind him.
On Balls in the Gap
An outfielder should never take his eye off the ball when running down a ball in the gap. If necessary, an outfielder should dive for the ball, knowing that the adjacent outfielder will be backing him up. If he knows he cannot catch it, the outfielder should run at an angle to cut off the ball. If the outfielder cannot cut off the ball, he should run full-speed to the wall and pick it up there. Never give up on the play.
The Cross-Over Step
If a ball is hit to the outfielder's left or right, his first step should be a cross-over step and not a jab step. The cross-over step is a quicker, more direct movement towards the ball. This gives the outfielder more time to reach a fly ball or line drive.
Fielding a Ground Ball
- Always break hard for a ball, even if it is hit directly at an infielder. Get in the habit of backing up your infielders.
- With no runners on base, the outfielder should go to his throwing side knee to field a ground-ball. He should not be lazy and take too much time because the runner will take advantage.
- Always field the ball out in front of the body.
- With runners on base, a right-handed outfielder should charge the ball and slow down enough to field the ball in control and on his left foot (right foot for lefties). He should make sure he fields the ball before he comes up to throw. The outfielder is the last line of defense, so he cannot let the ball bounce over or under his glove. Field the ball, crow hop and throw the ball through the cut-off man.
- Stare down ground balls and low line drives. Do not take your eye off the ball.
Fielding a Fly Ball
- Run full speed to a fly ball. Do not glide to the ball and time your catch. Unless he has to make a running catch, the outfielder should have enough time to get to the spot and wait to catch the ball.
- Set up about six-to-ten feet behind a fly ball. An outfielder never wants to be directly under the ball. Keep it at a slight angle. This allows him to move towards his target before he actually catches the ball. He should start his throwing motion when he catches the ball.
- Assure the catch by looking the ball into the glove.
- An outfielder should catch the ball with two hands above his head and on his throwing side.
- On a sliding catch, use the pop-up slide technique with your glove out to the side.
- A batted ball will always curve towards the foul lines.
When the Runner Tags
- When a runner is tagging on a fly ball, the outfielder should focus on catching the ball and making a strong and accurate throw. The fielder should get behind the ball and square his shoulders to the base. Crow hop for both power and control on the throw.
- Note: After the catch, each step the outfielder takes is another two steps for the runner or about five feet. Thus, using the correct footwork mentioned under "fielding a fly ball" is paramount to successfully throwing out the runner.