The best high school baseball teams are well-rounded, and in every fielding position there is a well-trained athlete who can deftly field every ball that comes his way. A competent outfielder has the ability to track fly balls and catch them. He also can make a cutoff throw to infielders effectively and make strong and fast throws to home plate. These high school baseball outfield drills are designed to improve outfielders that coaches can rely on to make the big plays.
In every position in baseball, footwork is key, but for outfielders, footwork is critical. Running and body mechanics and hip movement all work together in making an outfielder truly accomplished in his position.
What Skills Should an Outfielder Have?
Outfielders, more than any other position on the team, need to have excellent eye to hand coordination. Not only do they have to catch a baseball hurtling through the air at great speed, they must also be aware of the fielder next to them, should the ball fly into the gap, and also the location of the wall in relation to their bodies.
Outfielders must have well-tuned body mechanics. They need to be able to run swiftly and change directions instantly. Therefore, outfielders need to put in a lot of practice time. In the game of baseball, it’s all about repetition. The more you work on each skill you’ll need to be a great outfielder, the easier it will become.
The critical areas outfielders should develop are:
- Running mechanics: Outfielders need to be able to run very fast, and to change direction rapidly. Fly balls move in unpredictable ways when it’s windy. Its movements seem capricious. One moment it’s coming straight at you, only to shift direction in the wind in the final second. The thankless nature of the game is that there is no excuse for not catching the ball, no matter what the weather conditions are.
- Footwork: How well you run depends on how good your footwork is. Wearing cleats, you should learn how to use these shoes to your advantage. You can start a crow hop by jumping off from the toe and pad of your foot to get a higher jump. The best footwork is most like a dance. Being light footed will make you a faster runner.
- Hand and Eye Coordination: Your feet are approaching the ball and set you up to catch. At the same time, you are looking at the ball as it soars down to your glove. You should to be able to track the ball well and position your glove to catch it without looking at the glove. When balls are hit over your head, footwork, running mechanic and eye and hand coordination are all in play simultaneously. Stay light on your feet, track the ball well, and get your glove in sync with the baseball you’re tracking.
- The Game around You: There are 8 other players on the field, and there may be a runner or runners on base. All of them are watching you, and gauging your throwing skills. Runners are betting the ball will go into the gap, so they take a big lead off the bag.
In a different game situation, the runner is holding on the bag and waiting to tag up. He’s guessing you are not a great thrower, so the sacrifice fly that was just hit will be successful and will allow the runner to get into scoring position.
You need to be aware at all times. It is like multi-tasking: You’re tracking the ball, and at the same time you must know where to throw it. Your throw must be quick, pulling the ball out of your glove, crow hopping, rotating, and throwing the most powerful and accurate throw you can so the ball hits its target.
The only way to develop these skills is with drills, with each drill focused on each of the four skills mentioned here by itself. One drill that focuses on body mechanics, exclusively, another that tests your footwork and your ability to change direction rapidly, and so on.
Once you’ve improved though several repetitions of the same physical movements, you apply it to simulated real game situations. In practice, the coach may put runners and base while hitting a fly ball to you. It’s great practice to try and throw out the runner going to second or third base. Throwing to home should be practiced also.
Remember, the more reps, the better. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great fielder. It takes a lot of hard work!
Drop Step Drill
Watching pro baseball games, one notices that the outfield players are never standing still. With every pitch, they get into ready position with their eyes on the batter. It’s clear they are always moving, never standing idly.
In the drop step drill, our goal is to eliminate false or incorrect steps that could make an outfielder miss a catch. All that is needed is a traffic cone, and an outfielder with a glove. This is a simulation drill the outfielder can do on his own at home, or with the coaches’ instruction at practice. The drill is designed to be done on grass.
Place a cone in a grassy area where you can run in three directions to your right, left and both sides. Look ahead and pretend there is a pitcher throwing to a batter at home. The pitcher winds up and throws and you move, taking steps forward to the cone.
A ball is hit to your side of the outfield, so you explode out of your ready stance and take a drop step back to your left. Run with 7 big strides in a straight line back and away to catch to the ball.
Outfielders should work this drill in all directions from the traffic cone. Get in ready position and explode away from the cone 7 spurt steps back to your left and right, and then to your direct left and right.
Across the Middle Drill
Like the drop step drill, this drill focuses on catching the ball while running, proper running technique and improving the outfielder’s range.
For this drill, the practicing outfielder will need either a partner or the coach. The drill needs to be performed on grass like outfield grass. The partner has a baseball.
The fielder sets up about 20 feet to the left of his partner or coach. Partner says “Go” and the outfielder runs straight ahead for 15 to 20 yards, then turns sharply to the right. Now, his partner throws a line drive straight in front of him as the fielder runs ahead to catch the ball. The ball thrown will be directly in front of his throwing partner.
Following three repetitions from the left, the outfielder switches to the right and performs the same drill. Now he runs back 15 to 20 yards, followed by a quick change of direction to his left for the catch. Do 3 reps.
Next, the outfielder starts 20 feet away from his partner. Starting from his partner’s left, he runs further away from the partner 15 to 20 yards, then makes a sharp turn to the right, and makes a running catch.
The last part of the drill has the outfielder 20 feet away from his partner’s right. He runs further away 15 yards, then makes a sharp left and retrieves the ball, making a running catch.
Crow Hop Drill
A crow hop is a small jump in the air that helps outfielders gain momentum and gather themselves to make the strongest throw possible. Outfielders will often do a crow hop in a situation where there is a runner or runners on base. Fielders can do a crop hop fielding both fly balls and ground balls.
A crow hop is a very important part of an outfielder’s skill set. Doing this correctly will add a lot of strength and power to your throw, enabling you to throw a base runner out in time. A crow hop throw also makes your throw from the outfield get to home plate faster and with higher accuracy.
A crow hop should be done when there is a potential play with a runner on any base. You need to be conservative with your body’s movements, so you would not do a crop hop when there are no runners on base.
The crow hop move is the easiest way to get more behind your throw while using the least amount of time.
Right Handed Outfielders:
- Your left foot is in front of your right foot. As soon as the baseball is securely inside your glove, jump off your left foot in the direction you are already traveling.
- In the air, turn your body to the right and coil it up, getting ready for the throw.
- Land on your right foot and prepare to throw.
- From this position, you will be able to get your whole body into the throw.
Left Handed outfielders:
- Your right foot is in front of your left foot. With the ball secure in your glove, jump off your right foot in the forward direction you’re traveling.
- In air, rotate your body to the left and coil yourself tightly together.
- Land on your left foot, preparing to throw.
- Your throw will have greater force from this position on the ground.
Without using a baseball, with your glove on, perform several crow hops. Jump off your foot, rotate, land, press on the opposite foot and simulate a throw. Repeat until you can feel the power moving from your body and down through your arm.
This dill should be practiced as often as possible. The better you can execute the crow hop, gaining coordination through the drill, the more force you will have in your throw.
Long Toss Drill – Relay Throwing and Crow Hop
This drill works on correcting an outfielder’s timing as he goes towards the baseball, and then through it. The focus is on the best throwing mechanics that outfielders should possess. With this drill, you can improve the accuracy pf your throw as well.
This is a continuous relay drill. It’s best performed in a gym using a rubber ball.
- All the players in the relay line up at the far end of the gym.
- The first player in the line crow hops and throws the ball.
- The ball rebounds off the wall. It bounces towards the next player in line.
- Player 2 then charges and fields the ball and throws the ball back to the same spot on the wall.
- The relay of crow hop, charge, fielding and throwing to a designated target continues down to the last player in the line.
Continue the drill through the last player, then start again with the first player and continue. Try to work through the line so that each player gets at least five chances. As with all drills, repetition is key. The more reps there are, the better your footwork will be. Your crop hop skills will also improve greatly with this skill.
Outfield Catching at the Wall Drill
This drill is designed for players to negotiate the wall in relation to their running. It helps for outfielders to navigate properly and avoid running into the wall when attempting to catch a fly ball.
The drill requires and outfielder and a partner with a one or two baseballs. The drill would be best on a baseball diamond that has an outfield fence or wall. This drill can be performed with multiple outfielders.
Outfielder gets into ready position about 20 feet way from the wall or fence behind them. A fly ball is thrown in the air behind them near the wall or fence.
The outfielder must get to the ball behind him and try to make the catch while remaining aware of the barrier behind him. Throws should also be made near foul territory by the stands.
2 Outfielders near the Fence Drill
This drill focuses on outfielders communicating with each other. This is an important skill to develop. Instead of a wall to negotiate, you will communicate with either the right of left fielder, or the center fielder depending on your position.
This drill also helps outfielders to read baseballs hit off the bat and being aware of the outfield wall behind you.
Position 2 outfielders 50 feet apart and about 30 feet away from the outfield wall. The coach, using a fungo or wood bat, hits the ball from home plate. The coach can also throw the ball to the fielders for more accuracy.
Players communicate with each other in the outfield, about 30 feet away from the barrier. They decide who is going to catch the ball and who is going to back up the play if the ball bounces off the wall and goes past the outfielder who called the catch.
Fly Ball Over the head Drill
This drill develops an outfielder’s ability to catch the ball while running, improves running technique and quickness.
In this drill, the ball will be thrown directly over the head of the outfielder. He then runs straight back. He works on catching the ball over the head.
The coach places his 3 outfielders about 25 feet way from the edge of the infield. He is either at home plate, or for accuracy and using a fungo bat, he stands in the infield.
He hits a ball first to the right fielder, and the ball soars over his head. The right fielder tracks the ball and tries to catch it over his head.
The coach does the same for both the center fielder and the right fielder.
Ball Grip Drill
The best way to hold the ball before an outfielder throws it is to hold it by its 4 seams. All too often, in a play, fielders, infield or outfield, will grip the ball and throw it without adjusting their hand to the ball. This results in less control of the ball, and impacts the speed of the ball and the accuracy of the throw. The spin of the ball is inconsistent coming out of the hand.
Outfielders want the ball to travel as straight as possible. In order to do this, they must be able to grip the ball by its seams. When the ball is caught, an outfielder should grip the ball by the horseshoe of the seam. When he does that, his two fingers will be over the horseshoe and his thumb grips the other two seams at the bottom, so the throw now has a 4 seam grip.
When the baseball is in the fielder’s glove, his fingers are never more than ¼ inch away from the horseshoe stitching of the seams. All it takes is a quick spin of the ball with the wrists.
This drill only requires your throwing hand, a baseball glove and a baseball.
Stand with your glove on. Take the baseball out of your glove and toss it in the air, one foot to two feet. Catch it with your bare hand and spin the ball ¼ inch or less until your two fingers are on the seams of the horseshoe. Repeat for as long as you can, up to 50 times.
The objective is to get you to spin the ball and grip it at the seams as quickly as possible. With a quick flick of the wrist, the thumb and fingers move the ball into place.
The next step is to take the ball out of the glove pocket and flicking the ball with your two fingers and wrist. After you’ve got it on the seams out of your glove, simulate a throwing motion, doing your windup and throw.
Sinking Line Drive Drill
Outfielders will try to catch balls that are sinking fast as they approach, and they must make a decision about whether to make a diving catch or to take it on a bounce, requiring them to block the ball correctly to prevent turning a hit into a double into a triple.
The drill focuses as much on the outfielder’s decision making process as it does on properly fielding the sinking line drive.
To do this drill, coaches place his three outfielders together in left or right field. The coach is at the plate.
The coach uses a fungo bat and hits sinking line drives that will land in front of the outfielder. The fielder reacts and makes an explosive move towards the ball, attempting to catch it.
This is where the fielder should decide whether he will dive for it, sliding his glove along the grass or turf and making the ball drop in his glove for the catch. The other option is to decide to take the ball on a hop. In that case, the fielder must try as best he can to make the ball bounce in front of him, not allowing it and to behind him. This is critical in preventing turning a single into a double, or a double into a triple.
Diving straight at the ball and catching it is one of the most difficult things for an outfielder to do. That’s why it’s important to learn to field the ball on one bounce.
There are different diving techniques you need to develop:
- Diving and falling on your abdomen and sliding forward.
- Sliding on one arm with your body sideways,
- Diving across to your right or left (depending on which hand your glove is on).
Timing is important when a sinking line drive comes your way. As you run toward the ball, you will decide whether to run or dive. You’ll have a better chance to catch the ball as a line drive without sliding if you can explode off your feet quickly.
Diving and running to line drives are perfected with repetitious drilling. A drill like this can last up to 30 minutes. If a player didn’t get enough time practice his running speed and his diving and sliding, he can do it on his own time at a baseball field or any open area with grass.