Outfielding is a vital defensive responsibility. There is a lot of ground to cover and often long periods between plays. Concentration and communication combined with good speed and mechanics are the requirements for a solid outfielder. The key word here is solid. There is no point in making spectacular plays if you are not doing the basics, such as backing up the infield or missing your target with your throws etc. Errors in the outfield are more costly than those in the infield. Whereas an infield error costs only one base; an error in the outfield means extra bases. Errors can be avoided by good preparation in practice and concentration on the field. If you make an error, shake it off; see the next ball hit to you as an opportunity to make amends. Do not compound a physical error with a mental error. Get your concentration back and move on.
Pre-pitch preparation. This cannot be emphasised enough. Want and expect each ball to be hit to you. Know who the hitter is, lefty or righty, where the runners are, how many outs there are, what the count is. It is very easy to lose concentration in the outfield. DON?T!! Know all your options before the pitch is thrown. These vary depending on whether the ball is hit short, long, in the air or on the ground, where the runners are etc. Be in ready position on each pitch by rolling on the balls of your feet, ready to run in any direction. When you see the ball hit high make your first two steps backwards; it is easier to correct yourself going forward than backward.
Communication. Outfielders should talk to each other constantly; this keeps player?s minds from wandering. Remind each other of the situation and the plays. Reading the distance of the batted ball is a difficult skill to acquire and comes with practice. Your team-mates should be helping you with this, as you should help them. Call for every ball hit to you regardless of how easy you think the catch might be. Remember the centre-fielder is the captain of the outfield and you should have preference on any ball they call for in the gaps. Make sure to let them know you are giving up the ball by calling their name. Keep talking until the ball is caught. On a short ball hit between you and the infield, you have preference. Call off the infielder as long as you are absolutely sure of making the play; otherwise back up the infielder and let them know you are giving up the ball by calling their name. Keep talking until the ball is caught.
Catching a high ball. The ideal position to be in when catching a high ball is slightly behind the landing spot. You should receive the ball into your glove moving forward, particularly when a throw is required. Your hands should be above your head, thumbs together, so you can see both the ball and your glove. Two hands in this position allow you to quickly correct any mis-field and also speed up the transfer of the ball from glove to hand for a quick throw.
Fielding a ball dropping short. Sprint forward and get your glove down; expect to catch the ball low. If you can, slide under the ball as if you are sliding into a base and try and catch it around your midriff using two hands, little fingers together. This allows for any fumbles to stay off the ground. Use two hands on all fielding plays except where a stretch is required.
Fielding a long ball. It is important when getting to a ball hit away from you, that you get into the general area of where the ball is hit quickly; only then do you slow down to set yourself to catch it like a regular high ball. As soon as you know the ball is hit long, turn and run away from the infield. Do not run backwards as you are likely to lose balance and fall over. Look for the ball over the shoulder of whichever side it was hit to. Try and set yourself and use two hands on all fielding plays except where a stretch is required.
Catching a ball on the run. You should sprint towards the ball but only bring your glove into play at the last second to prevent yourself losing balance while running. Always get your glove out even if you are not sure of making the catch. Do not dive unless you are absolutely sure of making the catch; if you miss the ball and are on the ground, the runners will advance further. Exception: if you are sure a team-mate is backing you up, a dive may be executed if necessary.
Fielding grounders. If there are no runners on base, move in towards the ball and field by getting down on one knee behind the ball and see it into your glove. Make an easy throw into 2nd base to prevent the runner advancing. If there are runners in scoring position, charge towards the ball and try to scope it up on the run and throw to the cut-off man while moving forward. HIT THE CUT-OFF MAN!! Be careful not to over-run the ball and let it get behind you.
Throwing. It is not essential to have strong arm in the outfield; accuracy is much more important at this level. HIT THE CUT-OFF MAN!! Only where a short throw is required i.e. to 2nd base, should you ignore the above rule. On all throws no matter your position or target try and set yourself before throwing to improve accuracy; this is also possible when throwing on the run, with practice.
Hitting the cut-off man. This cannot be emphasised enough especially with runners in scoring position i.e. 2nd or 3rd base. Know who the cut-off man is on each play and then listen for the catcher guiding the play. While a ball hit in front of you may be thrown directly to a base, no matter how strong your arm is a long throw loses pace the more time it spends in the air, and may not be accurate. Throw to the cut-off man?s glove side to help them make a quick release. Right-fielders, know if the first-baseman is left-handed or right-handed. HIT THE CUT-OFF MAN!!
Backing up. Always back up the infield, even on routine ground balls, bunts, foul balls to the catcher etc. You never know when there might be a bad hop, an error or a throw-down on an attempted steal. By sprinting in on every play and being right behind the infield you just might get some action and prevent extra bases. 30 to 40 feet should be close enough. Always back up your nearest outfielder making a play by running behind them, even if it looks routine. They may slip or misread the ball and you don?t want to give up extra bases. Back up every play to your side of the field, otherwise back-up moving towards the infield.