By Eric Johnson
Left fielders have a range of talents at the collegiate level. Coaches will put guys with widely different skills, on defense, offense, and speed, in the left field position. So defining a “mold” for a typical left fielder is hard.
Traditionally, the left fielder is not the outfielder with the strongest arm (that’s usually the right fielder) or with the ability to cover the most ground (that’s usually the center fielder). The most important characteristic for a left fielder to focus on for defense is being smart. A left fielder is constantly challenged with situational plays that can have a huge impact on the game. Take, for instance, if a runner is on first base, and a ball is hit down the line. If the left fielder makes the wrong decision, and throws to third, the hitter will advance to second and put two runners in scoring position. The left fielder always has to be aware of which runner is important, and the situation that is at hand. A left fielder who has a strong arm, or can cover a lot of ground, is a plus, but is not a necessity.
A left fielder must have at least one strong skill set, either with the bat or glove. A left fielder who is mainly offensive must have a pure hitter mentality. This hitter can either be a power hitter or a speed guy. However, it is rare that a coach will hide a hitter who does not have a clear role in left field. If you want to be a left fielder in college, and you are an offensively minded player, make sure that you focus on one part of your game, and make it so that you are indispensable. Someone who can handle the bat well and can hold their own on defense will find a home in left field.
If you are mainly a defensive player, it will be harder for you to break into the lineup in left field. It may be easier to be a center fielder with speed and range, or even a right fielder with a strong arm. However, if you are going to be primarily a defensive player in left field, you have to be smart. You must be consistent and ready to react quickly in every situation. You cannot afford to make any mistakes that will cost your team 90-foot victories.
Overall, left field is a tough position to fit into a “mold.” It’s a position that coaches are going to use for specific, and different, reasons for every team. If you want to be a left fielder in college, make sure that you apply yourself to developing your best skill set. And always make sure that you’re a smart defensive player. If you are a guy that a coach can trust to help his team to win, left field is a good place for him to find a spot for you in the lineup.