As with any position on the baseball field, there are certain things a player needs to do to put themselves in the best position to succeed. Catching a fly ball might seem like a fairly simple thing to do, but there is a lot that goes into putting your body in the position to make that catch.
Players need to be prepared when the pitcher is set to deliver the pitch to the batter. They need to be aware of not only where the ball is hit but what the situation is on the field should the ball be hit to them. For instance, are there runners on base and if so where the throw needs to go after the ball is caught?
So let’s cover not only the physical part of catching a flyball, but also the mental part the outfielder needs to use as well.
As mentioned above, an outfielder needs to come to an athletic and balanced ready position just prior to the pitcher delivering the ball. This will ensure the player will be able to begin moving quickly in the direction of the batted ball.
Read the Ball
Once you are in the ready position and the ball has been hit, the fielder needs to make a quick read on where the ball is tracking. Is it hit to the right or left of them? Is it hit short or long? This is also referred to as getting a good jump on the ball. The best outfielders are often the one’s who can make the best and quickest reads.
Get Under the Ball
Players want to position themselves under the ball and with a clear view of the ball at all times. The player should not put his glove directly in front of his face since this may block the view of the ball. They should catch the ball to the glove side of the head. Whether both hands should be used is up for debate since some coaches feel that the throwing hand may also obstruct the player’s view. Players should watch the ball all the way into the glove.
The player should position his body not only under the ball but in a position where they are ready to make a quick release. This is obviously more important with runners on base and a throw is required to stop the opponent from advancing. Players should be balanced and have their legs underneath them so they transition quickly from the catch to the throw. If possible they can also stand a few steps behind the fly ball and then begin some forward momentum as they catch the ball and release the throw.
Once the player’s legs are underneath them and they complete the catch, they need to transition quickly to the throw. Legs should be a little bit further than shoulder width apart. To make the throw, footwork is important. As they move the ball to their throwing hand and line their body to the target, they will take three steps and release the ball. This will ensure a strong throw from a balanced position. Players should practice the three-step release so they have developed consistency.
How many times have you seen a fly ball drop between fielders because they thought the other would make the play. Players need to communicate what will happen in certain situations. For instance, outfielders should always have priority over infielders and the centerfielder should also have priority over the other outfielders. When there is uncertainty, a player needs to yell “I got it” multiple times when calling other fielders off. Communication is critical.
Outfielders not only need to be aware of where the ball is going but where it needs to go after the catch. This is not something that you should make a split second decision on. Know what base the ball needs to go and always try to hit the cutoff man in the chest.
So those are some of the important physical and mental skills needed as an outfielder and when preparing to catch fly balls. Using these skills and practicing them will help you become a better outfielder.