Once a player has the technique to consistently field a ground ball, the next step is teaching them how to properly read the ball as it comes up through the infield dirt. These are two separate and equally important skills. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a player with a glove that seems like its made out of glue – if he can’t put himself in the right spot to make the play, it doesn’t matter how good his glove is. To help players learn how to properly read the baseball as it hops up through the infield, I like to give the players a run through of the ‘Read the Hop’ drill.
Your fielders should line up in single file at shortstop or second base. Coach will be at home plate with a fungo bat and balls.
On the coach's signal, the players will drop down into ready position. The coach will then hit a fungo ground ball to the infielder. He will charge the ball aggressively, field it and make a strong throw to first base.
The coach will vary the speed and type of ground ball, giving the player a variety of short hops, long hops, slow rollers and straight ground balls. Also vary the direction of the hit, going to the left, right, and directly at the fielder.
- The easiest ball to field is a big hop, which allows the fielder to see the trajectory and speed of the ball early, then line himself up to make a play. With practice, short hops can also become routine, if the fielder can scoop them directly off the ground before they can move too much in any direction. Regular ground balls are the most difficult, as the ball makes contact with the ground multiple times, and can make multiple changes of height and direction.
- Time your footwork with the pitch so that you can quickly move in any direction (avoid being flat footed)
- Read the placement of the pitch and angle of the bat to determine if the ball will be pulled or hit to the opposite field. Try to see which way the head of the bat is going, shift your weight in that direction, and get a good jump on the ball.
- Take the proper angle or route to the ball
- Charge hard to get to the ball faster and shorten the distance of the throw
- Circle the ball when possible, so that your momentum is going toward the target (first base) as you field it and begin your throw
- Align your body toward the target as you break down to field the ball
- Follow through toward the target
On slow rollers, field the ball with the glove and quickly transfer it to the bare hand to make the throw. If the ball has stopped rolling completely, field it with your bare hand.
Figure 1: Player Executing Read the Hop Drill
Figure 2: Read the Hop Drill Bird's Eye View
When a batter connects and starts booking it for first base, every single millisecond counts, and learning how to put yourself not only in the best position to field the ball, but in the best position to make a play with it after. And while each millisecond may not seem like a big deal individually, at the end of the game, all of those milliseconds can often be the difference between a win and a loss.