There is no position on the field, which requires a surer handed, strong-armed player than the shortstop position. Any little bobble of the ball, or incorrect footwork, often results in the failure to get an out. With that in mind, youth baseball coaches should put their most sure handed and strong armed player available. Of course, having a shortstop fleet of foot, who covers a great deal of ground is best, but only if they are sure handed enough to make the routine plays. The great major league shortstop, Cal Ripken, proved this point by making every play without being the fastest of shortstops. Good positioning can often overcome a little lack of range, as the great Cal Ripken proved. Additionally, with the abundance of right-handed batters in baseball, shortstop position is vital to team success.
Positioning - Many factors go into how to play shortstop including positioning: the quickness of shortstop, arm strength, the speed of the pitched ball, the hitter's tendencies and if runners are on base must all be considered. Coaches must help youth shortstops with this until they are able to make this determination themselves. With a runner on first base and less than two outs, shortstops play in and over a few steps towards second base in order to turn double plays on balls hit to the first, second and pitcher positions, as well as being able to cover on steal attempts. Of course, with runner on third and less than two outs, coaches may have them play in to cut the runner down at the plate.
Adroit Foot and glove work This is often what separates a shortstop from other infield positions, as any false move at short will generally cost an out. First, second and third basemen can get away with keeping their feet square, catching balls anywhere between their feet, coming to a complete stopped position and still get outs because of shorter throws. Shortstops must approach the ball with their left foot slightly in front of their right one, the ball positioned centrally or slightly off to glove side in order to have a quick release and maintain their movement through the ball towards first base to get fleet footed runners.
Shortstop Feed to Second on Double play balls
Feed # 1 On balls to their left and close to the bag, a quick underhand flip with a stiff wrist is used to deliver a firm toss. Player should allow their momentum to follow toss with a weight shift to their left leg and a step to target with the right foot.
Feed # 2 On balls hit to their left and behind second base, a quick backhand flip is necessary. As player is usually moving quickly on this play, they should factor that into the angle of their throw and make sure of getting at least a force out on this play. This technique is the same as the backhand feed by the second baseman on certain feeds.
Feed # 3 On balls hit directly to the shortstop, or when they move slightly to their right but can still move in front of the ball, they have two options. They drop their right knee and pivot on balls caught below knee level or take a short drop step with their left foot towards center field on balls caught above knee high.
Feed # 4 One of the most difficult plays for shortstops is on balls to their right, when they cannot get in front of the ball. A backhand catch begins this play, with various throwing options possible.
After backhand player can:
A. Spin their feet with the right foot moving towards third before pivoting to throw method usually used when player can get to ball on run but can gather their feet with making just one additional step towards third.
B. Drop back with left foot without making an additional step with right used on balls that need to be backhanded but momentum does not pull them towards third base.
C. Jump and pivot in air used when player is moving full speed and cannot stop without taking many steps toward third base.
* Of course, this same footwork on the backhand play is necessary when throwing to first base, too.
Feed # 5 On the slow hit ball the shortstop must open up their body so the second baseman sees the ball. They should be sure to get the force out on this play as turning it is tough on slow hit balls, or simply go to first with the throw.
Turning Double Plays
Turning the double play is not as difficult as the second baseman's turn because the runner is in front of them, but it nonetheless requires speed, timing, athleticism, and precision. Shortstops must get to the bag as quickly as possible and either set their right foot on the back left portion of the second base or slightly behind that corner of the base. Once seeing the direction of the throw, they go to meet the ball with their left foot as their right foot remains on the bag, or slides across the outside corner with the right foot, before squaring their body to throw to first. This timing is crucial and when done correctly, it is one of the prettiest plays in baseball. The ability to adjust to slightly off target throws is necessary and takes athleticism and anticipation.
Additional Shortstop Plays
Of course, along with the backhand play, a couple of other difficult plays require much practice by shortstops. On balls hit up the middle shortstops have to spin totally away from first base after the catch and throw while rotating back towards first, while there momentum takes them towards right field.
Additionally, maybe the most important play for shortstops is the ability to charge the slower hit balls. There are many decisions to make on this play including
A. deciding whether to throw on the run or plant their feet
B. deciding whether they should round the ball and catch on throwing or glove side
C. Deciding to throw from a low angle or come up and throw over the top
Because of these decisions, based on how much time they feel they have to get the runner; the slow roller makes shortstop play crucial and obviously, very difficult.
Finally, like the other middle infield position, part of how to play shortstop is to be aware of their responsibilities on backing up throws, bunt plays, pick-offs, and cutoffs and relays on balls hit to the outfield.
After playing major league baseball, Jack Perconte has taught baseball and softball since 1988 and offered valuable coaching training too. He has helped numerous youth players reach their potential, as well as having helped parents and coaches navigate their way through the challenging world of youth sports. Jack is one of the leading authorities in the areas of youth baseball training and coaching training advice.All Jack Perconte articles are used with copyright permission.
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