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May 6, 2016

Chapter 4: Shortstop; 5 Focus Areas when Coaching Little League Shortstops

May 6, 2016

The shortstop is usually considered a team leader and the captain of the infield. The duties and responsibilities often go beyond simply fielding ground balls and throwing out runners. They must be aware of game situations, be responsible for communication between players and take charge when it is unclear who should be fielding an in-between pop fly. When teaching Little League shortstops how to play the game, it is important to coach them how to be a smart and reliable leader on the infield.

There are 5 areas of Focus when coaching up little league shortstops:

  • Communication
  • Positioning
  • Turning Two
  • Being the Cutoff Man
  • Training

1) Communication

Before every at bat , the shortstop needs to assess the current situation. If there is a runner on first, he needs to make sure that the second baseman is aware of who is going to cover the bag in the event of a steal. If there is a runner on first, the shortstop is usually the player with the best view of the runner, so he should yell "Going!" loud and clear if the runner breaks with the pitch.

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There are many more situations besides steal attempts in which the shortstop must make his voice heard. If there are runners in scoring position, he must remind his outfielders how many outs there are so they can be reminded of the urgency of the scenario. It is also the shortstops responsibility to take charge in the event of a popup that is in between positions. A shallow pop up in the middle of the diamond should be his responsibility, and he should call for it loud and clear.

It will be necessary to train your shortstop to be vocal and constantly remind his teammates of current game situations and be loud enough to be heard to prevent confusion and possible infield collisions.

2) Positioning

Another key to successfully coaching a young shortstop is getting them to fully understand how important it is to be in the right place on every play. Whether it is being ready to back up the third base following a bunt, or covering second on a steal attempt, most outs that a shortstop makes are due to him being in the right place at the right time to make the play.

On a normal bases-empty play, train your shortstop to line up halfway between the third baseman and the second base bag. A good depth for a shortstop to play at will be three to four steps behind the baseline. You will see major league shortstops line up much deeper than this, but as you train your young ball player you have to keep in mind that there is a huge difference in skill sets between major leaguers and Little Leaguers. A young shortstop may not be able to make a hard and accurate throw from deep in the infield, and the ball generally will not be hit too hard that they cannot field their position from a moderate depth.

If there is a runner on first and less than two outs, then you must train your shortstop to be in a position to turn the double play. Playing at his normal depth and relation to second base will not give him enough time to reach the bag before the runner on a ground ball. In this case, the shortstop should take three or four steps closer to second base and line up in the base path or one step behind the base path should there be a runner on second and he is responsible for holding him close.

If the bases are loaded, or there are runners on second and third, you should make sure that your shortstop is playing either at normal depth or closer depending on how many outs there are and the urgency of making a play on the runner at the plate.

3) Turning Two

Teaching a Little League shortstop how to successfully turn a double play can be tricky. This is very often a play where there will be contact with the runner, and you should train them to make the turn properly in order to prevent injury to the fielder or runner.

It will take quite a bit of practice in order for a young second baseman and shortstop to get the rhythm and timing of a double play, so repeated practice will be key. Start by hitting grounders to your shortstop and having him field them cleanly and toss them to the second baseman at chest level. This will allow the second baseman to take a normal stride to the bag and pivot without having to stretch for the ball. An errant toss could cause the second baseman to miss his tag on the base and result in zero outs instead of two. It is also important for the shortstop to make a good throw to his second base partner for the second baseman's safety. The play is in front of the shortstop, but during a normal double play the second baseman's back is to the runner, and a throw into the second-base base path may result in a dangerous collision.

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If the ball is hit to the second or first baseman, then it is very important that your shortstop has had plenty of practice with his footwork around the bag. In order to complete the double play, you must teach a technique that will:

  • Have the shortstop be ready just behind the bag before the ball arrives
  • Make sure that he is squared-up towards the throw
  • Be prepared to receive the ball at chest level
  • Tag the back corner of bag for the force and be able to get wide to make the throw to first

4) Being the Cutoff Man

Another important responsibility of the shortstop is to be available to receive a cutoff throw from the outfield. In a situation with no runners on base where the ball is hit to left field, the shortstop should position himself halfway between the left fielder and second base. If there is a runner on first, the shortstop should be taught to receive the throw halfway between the outfielder and third base.

Once the situation becomes more complex, so do the demands on the shortstop's cutoff duties. If there is a hit to right field with runners on base, the shortstop must be the cutoff man so that the second baseman can perform his duties at the second base bag. In this situation, the shortstop should receive the cutoff on the infield inside the base path between first and second.

There may be times when there is a deep double or a ball gets past an outfield where the shortstop and the second baseman will have to coordinate a double relay. In these cases, the shortstop should always be the deep cutoff man on extra base hits to the left side of the diamond and the second cutoff man in the infield if there is a long drive for extra bases to right field.

A good rule of thumb to ingrain into your young shortstops is that a halfway marker between the outfielder and the next potential destination will almost always be the best place to prepare for the cutoff throw. Just remember that they cannot stand in the base path if a runner is present, this could lead to an obstruction call or dangerous collision.

Once the shortstop has the ball in glove, if in the outfield, you will want to train them to take immediate steps toward the direction of home plate, simultaneously assessing the current baserunner situation. Although the next destination for the ball can vary based on the action of the baserunners, the pace could deter a runner from advancing, and the forward momentum created by moving towards home plate will increase the velocity and range of the throw.

5) Training

While we have mostly covered positioning and the mental aspects of the game in this discussion on coaching Little League shortstops, the physical side of the game is not to be ignored. In a Little League ballgame, the shortstop will generally be involved in more plays than any other position of the diamond. In order to have them ready, you should incorporate fun fielding drills into practice. Kids love to be active and stay on the move. A good way to teach players to have good positioning and be able to react quickly is to have them throw a tennis ball against a brick wall, receive the grounder and then aim for a mark on that same wall. The ball will be constantly returning to them, forcing them to urgently return to a ready position. This also allows a coach to have multiple infielders working on their skills at the same time, and will give your Little League player ample opportunity to practice away from the baseball diamond.

Since the shortstop position can be mentally and physically demanding, it’s often best practice for Little League coaches to not allow any player specialize at the position. At a young age, players will have fun playing all over the field and be able to learn the mental aspects of the game from every angle.

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