If you have read our other articles on improving catch play for infielders and catchers, this post may seem like we are being repetitive. This repetition should help you understand just how important playing quality catch really is! Playing quality catch is the single most important thing you can do to improve as a defender. This article focuses on how outfielders can improve their daily throwing routine and use it to set a strong foundation for their defensive ability. Having a strong and accurate arm is more than just a sexy tool you use to get recruited, these skills plus other defensive benefits from playing quality catch will help your team win games. Try these tips to improve your game without having to spend any extra time on the field.
Long toss to build arm strength. Many position players make the mistake of assuming long toss is just for pitchers. Having a long toss routine as an outfielder will help your catch play stay focused, improve your throwing intent, make your catch play more competitive, and of course help build a healthier and stronger arm. After you are completely warmed up, as you move out and stretch out your arm, put some loft under the ball. As you bring it in, put the ball on a line with some pull downs. You can use these throws to simulate throwing through the cut man to a base.
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 when you receive it. This will allow you to work on transferring the ball from your glove to throwing hand effectively each repetition.
Make the ball be where you want it to be. What we are talking about here is focusing on the position of your body, so you catch the ball where you want. This means you are playing the ball and not vise-versa. Try to catch the ball in a particular spot on each throw, for example the center of your body or over your left shoulder. This will keep your feet moving and your focus locked in from partner release to catch. One throw you may have to take a few easy steps back and the next a few hard steps in or to the left. It will keep you on your toes, and without even thinking about it, you are working on your judgment skills and routes. Always make sure you secure the ball from catch to transfer.
After you are somewhat loose, use the shorter throws to practice throwing as you would to get the ball back in to a cutoff man on a base hit. This seemingly easy throw is often difficult for outfielders, who either throw it in too hard or lob it in too soft. Both these types of throws can lead to the hitter taking an extra base. Work on spinning the ball and throwing it in with the arm action of an infielder. These throws of 60-80 feet don’t require the full wind up, just a simple shuffle and throw. One problem outfielders often have is the inability to throw with different arm actions that in-game circumstances may call for. Don’t be a robot during catch play who can only throw with a long and wound up arm action. Practice variety and be an athlete.
As you move back, simulate speed pick-ups/fly balls with a quick exchange and throw. Don’t wait until you are hit a ground ball in a critical situation or a fly ball with a runner tagging up to work on transferring the ball from glove to throwing hand quickly. Start like you would when you pick up rolling ground ball and quickly bring glove to throwing hand for the exchange at center chest, while executing a “pro-step” or “shuffle step” as if you were charging the ball and making a quick throw. Do the same to simulate getting behind a fly ball, catching it in the appropriate place, exchanging quickly and getting off a strong throw. If you do this 10-15 times each time you play catch, you will be able to do it efficiently on autopilot when the game is on the line. Need more resources to help you break down the components of a “pro-step” and exchange? We suggest checking out @JT_Maguire35 on Twitter. He has instructional videos with pro examples like this. His wealth of information is sure to make you a better defender.
Work on your long hop throws. This is perhaps the most important throwing skill an outfielder can master. All outfield throws to bases or relay men should be a long hop or no hop. Instead of throwing all high-arcing throws when you move to long-toss, mix in some outfield specific skills, like keeping your throws low and hard and using a long hop. This could be good to do on your pulldown phase as you come back in (as we mentioned), giving you practice at various distances. Try to make the hop reach your partner thigh to belt high. It is okay to throw a ball with some loft to stretch your arm out or work on building arm strength, but you don’t want to make a habit of doing that on throws in a game. If you need to, place a marker 10-15 feet in front of your partner to remind yourself how far out front the ball should bounce. A drill you can do that helps you work on long hops and charging ground balls/line drives is rapid fire long hop. Each partner is working to create long hops. As the receiving partner gets a long hop, they get behind the ball and charge it as if it is a base hit. They work on their pro-step and transfer, delivering a long hop to their partner, who works on the same thing. After each throw, the outfielder turns and jogs back into position. Like quick catch for infielders, this drill helps you work on footwork, transfers, long hops, and staying in shape, all in one!
For more information on quality catch play and the recruiting process, check out why recruiters are watching you play catch before they offer you a scholarship and improving your overall game through quality catch. Both are must-read articles for serious college bound players.
Just because outfielders don’t get the volume of important throws in a game that other positions get on a regular basis, it doesn’t mean that the ability to play catch is any less important. Outfielders who take their catch play seriously and use it as a time to get better reap the benefits in many ways. They are also putting their team in the best position to win games. What are you waiting for? Improve your routine starting today!