The position of shortstop is unquestionably the most challenging and demanding position on defense. The position is usually filled by the best defensive player on the team.
The shortstop occupies the infield area between second and third base. Since most batters are right handers who tend to pull the baseball when hitting, the majority of ground balls are hit at or near the shortstop. I work hard coaching my shortstops year after year and have come up with these 8 shortstop drills to build an elite shortstop year after year.
Shortstops need to have a good throwing range and a strong arm. They also must have the best fielding skills on the team. I rely heavily on my shortstops and remind them of these important aspects when playing the position.
- Be a general on the field. Communicate with everyone, such as letting the team know how many outs there are, both infield and outfield players.
- Shortstops must be able to attack the ball. They don’t have the luxury of the first baseman who stands in one place, although first basemen must be able to catch poorly thrown balls that bounce or are wild throws. The third baseman allows fast hit baseballs to bounce off them and land on the ground in front of them.
A shortstop needs to be able to move in every direction, and have fast, powerful bursts of energy to field balls, especially when there are runners on base. He doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for the ball to come to him; he must go to the ball. He has to be able to make quick plays.
- The shortstop throws from several positions. He must be able to throw underhanded, overhanded and sideways (laterally). And, his throws must be accurate in each of these arm slots.
The drills that follow will help shortstops get better at their fielding skills. In some ways, they carry the team and are always involved in critical plays every game. The key to these drills is repetition. Learning a skill requires it to be repeated constantly until it is mastered. The key to making an elite shortstop is repetition in drills, plain and simple. There is no fast track success at shortstop.
Catch the Ball Backhanded Drill
A skill of great importance in every elite shortstop is the ability to make backhand catches. Balls hit to the right side of the infield are coming to shortstop and third base at great speed. The third baseman’s advantage is that he can block the ball with his body, then bend down, pick it up and throw to second base or first.
Shortstops, on the other hand, need to move to their left or right to make backhanded catches and then to throw the ball either underhanded or laterally to second, or over the shoulder to the first baseman to beat the runner.
For this drill, coaches will use their shortstop, first and second basemen. Use a fungo bat and a baseball. Coaches can also roll grounders.
Have the infielders assume their normal positions on the field. This drill not only tests the shortstop’s fielding skills but also his ability to throw accurately in all three arm slots. This is a graduated drill, which means that in the beginning the ball is easily fielded, and over time, the challenge increases.
- The Coach hits the ball directly at the shortstop
- Shortstop fields and makes an overhand throw to first base.
- The first baseman throws to second base
- Shortstop runs to the second base bag in time for the first baseman’s throw
- Next, the coach will place hit to the shortstop’s right with a fungo bat
- Shortstop fields and second baseman moves to his bag.
- Shortstop scoops the ball barehanded this time and throws laterally to second base.
- The second baseman throws ball back to the coach
Here, we have two easy plays the shortstop performs, the first one to first base followed by a relay to the shortstop waiting at the bag at second base. He throws the ball overhanded to first.
Next, the shortstop fields the ground ball barehanded then throws in a sideways motion to second base, who relays next to first, then back to home plate.
Coaches should remember that repetition is the key to the shortstop making these plays so they become second nature. Therefore, repeat these two simple plays 10 times. It should take about 5 minutes or less.
Now the coach will place hit the ball harder to the shortstop’s right; he fields the ball and throws to both the first baseman and then second as before. The only difference is that the ball is coming at him faster.
Increasing the speed of the ball requires the shortstop to react faster, balance himself and throw to first and second.
Shortstop Test: Hit Baseball to the right with a Runner on First
The setup is the same as in the previous drill, except that now there is a runner on first base. This drill will require the shortstop to react faster in order to beat the runner who is running to second base after the hit.
Have a half dozen of your players stand in a line near the first base bag. One after the other they will get on first and run to second when you hit the ball to the shortstop.
- Runner at first, coach hits the baseball at a moderate speed to the shortstop.
- Shortstop fields the ball and throws to the second baseman
- Next, the coach hits the ball to the right of shortstop, who fields and throws to second.
- The runner runs back to first and goes to the back of the line of runners to wait for his turn again.
- The coach now hits to the right of the shortstop
- Shortstop scoops up the ball and throws in a sideways motion to second to get the runner out
- As the drill progresses, the coach will hit the ball harder in the same sequence directly to the shortstop and then to his right. Note the shortstop will knows where the coach places the ball. The ball is hit the hardest now, but the shortstop doesn’t know where it will be hit. Here is how the repetition progresses.
Slow ground ball:
- Direct 1 time
- To the right: 1 time
- Direct: 1 time
- To right: 1 time
Continue for a total of ten times each.
Fast ground ball
- Directly once
- To the right once
- Directly once
- To the right once
Do this sequence a total of 5 times
Hardest ground ball: Coach hits with as much power as possible with the fungo bat.
Direct, then to the right 5 times each
If the team runners in the first base foul area are prepared to jump off the base to second base, the drill shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes to perform. The coach should have a bucket of balls at home plate and a team player to catch the balls in play which are thrown in by the second baseman.
Shortstop Fielding and Throwing Drill: 3rd Iteration
After spending about 15 minutes completing the two drills above, the shortstop is tested with hard hit baseballs. In this drill, get the first and second baseman involved to practice completing successful double plays.
The coach stands at home with a bucket of baseballs and the fungo at. There are runners at home plate and at first. Have several players line up behind home and the rest of the team at first base.
This is an exciting team drill for the players that not only tests the shortstop’s skills at the highest level but also serves as practice for the runner as well as the right side of the infield.
- Coach hits hard to the shortstop to his left and right and directly at him.
- The runners advance from home and first base as soon as the ball is hit.
- The shortstop throws to second
- The second baseman relays the ball to the first baseman to complete the double play.
The drill should go on until all the runners have advanced from one base to the next. You can repeat the drill and have the runners run twice, even three times.
The important aspect of this drill is that it is fast. The faster the relay from shortstop to second, then on to first, will create a quick and lively pace. This means that as soon as the ball reaches the first baseman for the out, the coach immediately puts another ball in play to the shortstop. The runners need to leave the field rapidly.
In this drill, the infield moves fast and their performance is tested at the highest level. The shortstop is the key player, though, because he needs to successfully field the ball and get it to second base as quickly as possible. If runners are moving fast, he needs to react fast to make the play. This applies a high level of pressure on the shortstop and simulates real game situations.
Popup Behind Shortstop and Throw to First Drill
This drill tests the shortstop’s ability to catch pop files behind him and to his left and right; then he attempts to tag out the runner who is leading off first base. Shortstops field more ground balls than popups in normal game situations, but many times they commit errors on popups, especially when taking time to get the ball out of the pocket and make an accurate throw to first. This drill tests shortstops’ fielding and throwing accuracy.
The coach has a bucket of baseballs, and the first baseman is on the field with the shortstop. Place a runner about three feet off the first base bag in fair territory.
The coach hits a routine fly to shortstop 5 times. The runner leads of the first base bag. The shortstop catches the ball, then throws hard to first in an attempt to beat the runner back to the bag.
In the next sequence of 5 hits, the coach hits the ball further behind the shortstop. The shortstop must say “I got it,” and move his hands in a “clear the area” motion, then set up to catch the ball.
Coaches address a lot of issues during typical team practices so individual player drills must remain short out of necessity. This drill should take less than ten minutes, and when it’s completed, the shortstop can continue practicing catching popups on the sidelines with another player who simply throws him pop flies. Remember, the more repetitions your shortstop performs, the better he will be at fielding ground balls and popups.
Glove and Ball Coordination Drill
A shortstop goes through about a half dozen movements when fielding a baseball, and they need to have above average dexterity to be the elite player on the field.
The shortstop performs this drill by himself either at home or before practice. His ball handling skills will improve greatly by repetition and constant movement.
For this drill, the shortstop starts in an athletic stance, in a crouching position. For about 30 seconds and in a clockwise direction, the player moves his glove first around his left leg and then his right, moving the ball from the glove to his throwing hand. After performing about 10 to 15 repetitions, he repeats but now in a counterclockwise motion.
As he progresses, he moves the ball faster from his glove to the throwing hand, through the legs faster and faster. Clockwise should take 30 seconds, then reversing the direction for the same period of time.
After completion, the shortstop puts his feet together and repeats the same motion. This glove and ball coordination drill should be done 3 or 4 days a week at home, and before practice begins on the field.
Short hop drill
This drill can be progressive like the first three on this list. The objective is to get the shortstop able to field short hops or unpredictable bad hops hit to him.
For this drill, the third baseman stands at his bag and relays the ball back to the coach at home. Another player stands at home and hands the coach a baseball form his bucket after the completion of each play.
The coach hits a line drive short hop to the shortstop, who fields the ball and throws it to the third baseman, who relays it to the catcher at home plate. The coach hits balls first at average difficulty 5 times
Now the coach hits harder line drives both to the right and the left of the shortstop, who must field and relay the ball to the first baseman
Short Hop Drill with Runner at the Plate
The coach stands at home plate with a fungo bat with a runner next to him at home plate. He hits hard short hops to the shortstop and the runner at home runs up the base path. The shortstop fields the ball and throws it to first base in time to get the runner out.
For this drill, all the players on the team line up in a single file at home plate. The speed of the drill quickens as the coach hits balls that are gradually harder to field, requiring the shortstop to move out of balance and get the ball to the first baseman in time for the out.
The coach can quicken the pace of the drill by hitting the next ball the moment the first baseman catches the ball thrown by the shortstop. He can place the ball in a bucket on the first base sideline and set up for the next play.
Note that this drill is fast-moving. The faster the shortstop is able to react and field the ball and get it out of his glove with an accurate throw to first, the better he will become. Note also these drills are highly repetitive in nature.
If the coach notices that the shortstop is struggling, he can stop the drill and work with him to make corrections.
Slow Grounder to Shortstop Drill
This drill is a variation of the previous one, but the difference is crucial to performing it successfully. In youth baseball especially, the infield, especially the shortstop and third baseman, will likely field a half dozen or more slow infield grounders in each game.
The coach hits a slow ground ball in the direction of the shortstop, who has assumed his normal field position. The runner moves to first from home and the shortstop springs into action to retrieve the ball. He scoops it up with his throwing hand and gets the ball to first in time for the out.
The shortstop may not be able to set up for an overhand throw to first, so this drill tests his skill at throwing from an angle to first.
The coach must be aware this drill is a difficult one, so he can modify the runner’s speed from home. For example, runners can run slowly from home to first base intentionally. When the shortstop’s reflexes and “acrobatic” throwing skills are better developed, the coach gradually increases the runner’s speed to first base.
Like the catcher, shortstops are relied upon up heavily since the rest of the team assumes he can complete every play successfully, no matter how difficult it is to field or throw the ball.
When the shortstop position is solid and reliable, the whole team works better, especially the rest of the infield. When the shortstop reaches an elite level of fielding, he raises up the rest of the team higher up, each position playing with greater efficiency. If your shortstop is elite, your team as a whole does better, resulting in more activity in the win column.