Before a pitch is ever thrown, every great middle infielder has a routine he goes through to get ready for the next possible play. Some of the different items good infielders think about include what the situation is, the speed of the runners, and the type of hitter at bat. Taking all of the above factors into consideration, the infielders are able to position themselves in a place where a ball hit is most likely to be within their range. Next, middle infielders look to see what pitch is going to be thrown. After positioning themselves, the infielders need to know what the game situation is and where they are going to go with the baseball when it is hit to them. Infielders then visualize the possible plays that could occur.
The first thing an infielder should consider before positioning himself is the situation of the game. He first needs to know where the runners are. This will tell him whether or not he needs to be in double play depth or is the cover man on the steal. The second thing an infielder needs to figure out is the count. The count will dictate what mindset the hitters are in. If a hitter is behind in the count, he may be defensive and is more likely to spray the ball to the opposite field. If the hitter is ahead in the count, there is a good chance he is sitting on a pitch and could pull the ball very hard.
Speed of Runners
The second thing that infielders need to think about is the speed of the runners on base and at the plate. If I am a shortstop and there is a slap left-handed hitter up who can run, I may position myself a few steps closer to the hitter. If a slow power hitter is hitting, I may position myself deeper and to pull.
Type of Hitter
Third, knowing the type of hitter that is at the plate is very important because it will allow the infielder to better position himself. Some different examples of positioning as a shortstop include: shifting a few steps to the right for a pull-hitting right-hander, in a few steps for a slap hitter who can run, etc.
Type of Pitcher on the Mound
Finally, knowing what type of pitcher your team has on the mound is very important. This is especially true at lower levels of baseball where hard throwing pitchers tend to dominate hitters. If there is a hard throwing pitcher on the mound, you may be able to cheat a few steps to the opposite field side. Likewise, if there is a pitcher that has less velocity or that likes to throw a lot of off-speed pitches, hitters may have more of a tendency to pull the ball.
THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIONING CORRECTLY
As a middle infielder, being able to position yourself correctly is one of the key factors between being an average defender and a good defender. Being in a good position before a pitch is even thrown will give you an advantage by allowing you to cover up the holes that hitters may put balls through. Positioning is an even more important facet of the game if you are an infielder that lacks a lot of range. There are many good college and professional middle infielders who are a little slow on the stopwatch but more than make up for it by their ability to “cheat” to where the ball is likely to get hit.
What Pitch is Being Thrown
After you have positioned yourself, it is very important to know what pitch is going to be thrown. Knowing the count and what pitch is going to be thrown, along with the other factors listed above, will allow the infielders to anticipate where the ball is likely to be hit. The one thing infielders have to be careful of is tipping what pitch is being thrown. Some infielders will see what pitch is called and then move immediately to the right or left. This could tip the hitters or opposing coaches off to fastballs or off-speed pitches. Instead of moving after the pitch is called, use what pitch is being thrown to anticipate and get a better jump on balls. If a curveball is coming, you may be able to anticipate a ball being pulled, etc.
SEEING THE PLAY BEFORE IT HAPPENS
The Game Dictates
As an infielder, it is very important to know what is going on in the game. The reason is because it is crucial to know where to go with the ball once it is hit. The first thing that every infielder should think about is the current game situation. The infielder needs to take into account where all of the runners are, their speed, and who is at the plate. This will allow the hitter to know if he has time to turn a double play, if he can throw a runner out at the plate, etc. Other items that need to be considered include the score and what inning the game is in, as well the current field conditions. Knowing the inning and the score will also help the infielders know what to do. If you are winning and just need outs, the defender may just want to get an out instead of trying to make a highlight reel double play. Also, if the field conditions are poor, the infielder may just want to make a safer throw and get one out instead of trying to rush and get two. Knowing the game situation will help the player know what he will do before the play occurs.
Visualize Possible Plays
After you have positioned yourself, the next thing you should do as an infielder is visualize the plays that could possibly happen. There are a few different reasons why you should do this. First, it puts you into the mindset of “the ball is going to be hit to me.” This will put you into a more aggressive frame of mind and keep you wanting the ball. Next, visualizing possible plays that you may make will allow you to always see yourself making the play. This is especially important if you just made an error. Positive visualization will make you more confident when the ball is actually hit at you. If you had just pictured in your mind making a variety of different plays, when the ball is actually hit at you, you will react without thinking because the play had just happened in your mind.
Being able to position yourself and figuring out what to do with the baseball when it is hit are the two most important pre-pitch activities a middle infielder can do. Infield play, especially as infielders advance levels, is very fast paced. Being in a good position and knowing where to go with the ball could be the difference between making a great play and a base hit. With the game being so fast, all of the thinking MUST happen before the pitch. Once the ball is hit, everything else should just be a reaction!