What exactly does it mean for a player to have “range”?It’s a word that comes to define middle-infielders like us, and it’s an attribute every player strives to improve while tracking down the ball on the diamond. So what does “range” really mean? Is it strictly a physical trait? Is it another name for speed? How do you measure range?
Let’s start with a simple definition of range in baseball terms: range is the amount of space a player can cover to successfully make a defensive play.
From this we can see the value in having a great deal of range. Players who have the ability to cover more ground can make more plays, getting more outs for their team by turning would-be hits into routine outs.
Many interpret range as a purely physical trait though, equating range to the speed that allows a player to cover a larger area in less time. We’ll admit, speed is definitely a big part of expanding your range on the diamond, but there are some other ways you can become an asset to your team by making plays that may otherwise have been hits.
Hustling is the easiest thing to do in baseball, and any player can run hard. The best players don’t just run hard though, they run smart. Every ballplayer should work on improving their speed, but use these tips to develop your range with more than just speed, and gain an advantage over your competition.
Positioning for the BatterDon’t just waltz out to your position and stand where you always do. Pay attention to each batter as your team moves through the opponent’s line-up. There’s a lot to learn from foul balls and hits alike.
Is the batter consistently swinging late? Begin to shade that batter as if he’ll hit to the opposite field.
Is the batter constantly getting ahead of the ball and launching deep fly balls down the foul line? Shift over and play that hitter to pull with some power.
Is the batter fouling balls straight back? Look for that hitter to get under the ball and lift a pop-fly.
As your team moves through the opponent’s line-up a second time, remember what each batter did in their first at-bat and make adjustments based on the information you have stored. Don’t expect each batter to do the exact same thing each time they come to the plate, but position yourself a step or two in whatever direction the hitter seems to hit most consistently.
That step or two can be the difference between a hit and a great defensive play.
Positioning for the PitchFor middle infielders and the center fielder, it’s important to watch the catcher’s signs on every pitch. The players at short, second and center are expected to cover the most ground and they will make the most plays. Every hitter wants to hit to the big part of the field, and that’s right up the middle. As a result, shortstops, second baseman, and center fielders that possess great range are invaluable to any team.
Knowing the pitcher’s strategy can give each of those positions a better chance to make a play. When the catcher calls for a fastball, expect the batter to be a little more behind the ball, perhaps hitting up the middle or away. When an off-speed pitch is called, expect the batter to get ahead of the ball, perhaps pulling a weak grounder.
You should develop a good understanding of what your pitcher throws and the types of swings it forces opponents to take. Many young players will go out and simply man their position without giving a single thought to the count or what pitch is coming next. These are the players who get caught off guard when a ball comes their way.
Don’t just coast through the game, focus your attention on each and every pitch and you’ll find that you are more prepared to make every play you can.
Taking the Right AngleMany fielders make a mental error by taking an improper angle on the ball in play. This results in dropped fly-balls or groundballs that roll past the defenseman.
You always want to get behind the baseball first. Taking a sharp angle to cut the ball off is really only warranted at the most extreme limits of your range, where you have no other way to get to the ball. Otherwise, you should get around the ball, which allows you to get into the proper fielding position. On groundballs, this is with a wide base, your butt down, and your hands out in front. On a fly-ball, position yourself so you can catch the ball in front of your body, with your momentum moving forward towards your target in the infield.
By getting behind the ball, you increase your chances of making a play because everything is happening in front of you, where you can see it.
First-Step QuicknessYoung players often complicate their footwork by adding unnecessary steps. These additional steps reduce the player’s range because they are taking more steps without covering any more ground.
The cross-over step is the most important step in baseball. It allows a player to change direction quickly and to cover a lot of ground in very few steps. But young players typically falter by moving the wrong foot first. Watch out when one of your players crosses over to go right, and the player makes an initial small step with the right foot and then crosses over with the left leg. That’s two steps – one small one, and one full stride.
Help that player execute the crossover properly. The initial movement is a pivot, not a step. The first real step, then, is the crossing of the left leg over the right one, and the second step becomes another full stride for the right leg in the direction of the ball. Two steps, two full strides and the player has covered twice as much ground.
ConclusionYou don't have to be one of the fastest guys on the team. What you lack in raw foot-speed, you can make up for with strategies like the ones above. You run as hard as you can, but run smart.
By taking in a wealth of information on every pitch and during every at-bat, you can position yourself in such a way that plays that would normally push the limits of your range became routine.
Nothing works faster than your brain. While the speed of your legs is limited, your brain’s quickness can help you get into a great position to track down balls which you would not normally get.
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