For most teams, catch is part of the warm-up at the beginning of practice. Many people use this time to chat with teammates or as a transition from school to the “important” part of practice. However, playing catch is one of, if not the most important parts of practice and baseball in general. Catch is something you do every day, giving you the opportunity to build good habits through quality repetition and focus. Since the majority of infield put outs require both catching and throwing, infielders are in the positions that can benefit the most from a quality catch-play routine and focused catch.
Here are several ways to make the most of playing catch, but remember, it all starts with focus!
When you field a ground ball in a game, you are not talking or carrying on a conversation with anyone, are you? This is because the level of focus required to make such a play would make it extremely difficult to do. We want to practice like we play, so the first step to improving catch-play, and perhaps the most difficult is to not talk and instead, focus on what you are doing. If this is too difficult, save your chatting for between throws.
Now that you have complete focus on the task at hand, incorporate these steps into your routine.
Work on your spin. Watch an MLB game and look at how many times the infielders are throwing the ball max effort across the diamond. You will find that it is not very often. Instead, they spin or use touch to get the ball to 1st on time. Work on creating proper backspin and see how much velocity you can create with your wrist and hand. This will help you make a variety of throws and save wear-and-tear your arm.
Keep active feet. It’s really easy to get lazy when you are just playing catch. Keep your feet active and move to the ball so you are always in an athletic position. Try to catch the ball in the center of your body.
Work on transfer. As infielders, it is an essential skill to be able to get the ball out of your glove as quickly as possible. Every throw you receive is an opportunity to practice this valuable skill. You don’t have to fire the ball right back to your partner, but work on getting the ball in your throwing hand as quickly as possible and getting in a good throwing position. Try to stay short and compact, as you would want to be when you have a fast runner barreling down the line.
Incorporate position specific actions into the routine. In other words, put yourself in as many different athletic positions that you might find yourself in during a game and work on going from that position to throwing. This will force you to stay athletic and establish a good feel for how to use your body. Several examples of this are:
- As you move beyond 90 feet, take throws from your partner as if you are a relay man on a cutoff. Work on catching the ball with your shoulders turned, having your back foot hit the ground just after the catch, and shadow a relay throw. Work on moving to the ball so that you are catching the ball at chest height.
- Shadow some double play turns. Orient yourself so that your partners throw simulates a double play feed and apply the proper catching/footwork technique.
- Get into a variety of fielding positions and then throw from there. This could include right at you, forehand, backhand, diving, etc. Get creative here.
Pick a specific target (something small). Pick the logo of a shirt, hat, or your partner’s hip. This will force you to focus and train you to not only throw to a specific area, but a specific target. Alternating from hip to hip is an advanced way of doing this after you have a single target down.
Play quick catch. You probably already do this as a drill, but doing it more will not hurt. Work on the transfer and get rid of the ball as quickly as you can.
Infielders control the defensive tempo of the game and there is a lot riding on being able to catch and throw efficiently and accurately. Working on your skills during practice instead of using catch play time as a time to chat with friends will help you take your infield game to the next level without having to put in any extra time.