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Outfield 2: Tracking Fly Balls

Tracking fly balls means getting a good read on the baseball, choosing the best route and moving efficiently, and positioning yourself for the throw.
Pro players give free tips for tracking fly balls

Doug Bernier tracks down a fly ball. Image by Ed Wolfstein

Getting the initial read on the baseball

Tracking fly balls that are line drives right at you can be the most difficult balls to get reads on.

  • Your first move should be to hold your ground and wait until you can get an accurate read on the fly ball.
  • It is better to get a slightly later jump after holding your ground, compared to committing in one direction and then determining you are going the wrong way. Once you have a read on the baseball, go get it.
  • It is always easier to start moving backwards and adjust in, rather than taking a couple steps in and then having to go back on the ball.

Coming in on a fly ball

It is easier to come in and catch a fly ball, than to run back and catch a fly ball. Running in, you don’t have to worry about things you can’t see (the wall). Everything is in front and your eyes can fixate on the baseball in the air while your body doesn’t have to fight against itself, which can happen sometimes when going back on a ball.  Plus it is just easier running while looking forward than running and looking over your shoulder.

  • As the ball goes up and we get a read on it, run in and get it.
  • Make sure to call the baseball loud and clear, to get any infielders out of the way.
  • In the event there may be a collision with an infielder, it is the outfielders responsibility to slide, so the contact made won’t be a massive hit.
Tips from Yankee’s outfielder Kevin Russo.

tips for outfielders, how to back up plays, outfield positioningLeft field is the most difficult position in the outfield. The balls that are pulledby right handed hitters can be much more difficult than the balls pulled by left handers you’ll get when playing right field. Righties will hit any type of ball to left field (hook, topspin, or slice). Balls hit from lefties that are hit high in the air will work back toward the field or leftcenter gap, just a little bit. The lower the baseball is hit from a lefty the more slice it will have off the bat. Centerfield.  When you play center field you have the best view and can get the quickest read off the bat. Reading spin off the bat is much easier in center. This is the easiest position in the outfield. Right field.  Lefties will a hit more true back spin to the pull side than right handed hitters. Right handers will slice balls most of the time to right field.

The Diagonal Run: Going back on a fly ball

This learned skill makes outfielders good defenders when they can cover a lot of ground, especially on balls hit over their head and to their diagonals. Being able to read the baseball, and then using efficient footwork to go after it, is a skill that you can always improve. Pro Tip: Working on your footwork in batting practice taking balls live off the bat is the best way to improve your skills.  On balls hit over your head to your left, you will use a variation of the crossover step that we use on balls hit directly to our right or left.

  1. From a ready position, you will take your right foot and drive it over your left foot in a 45 degree angle. This so you can get momentum running backwards as well as cover ground to your left.
  2. This first step puts you in the right direction, now you just start running and tracking down the baseball.

The same diagonal crossover step applies when you are going over your head and to the right as well.

Balls hit directly over head

Tracking fly balls hit directly over your head can be the most difficult because it can be tough to read exactly where the baseball is going to end up. You have to pick a way to turn and run. It is much quicker than back peddling, which should be avoided whenever possible. But sometimes when we turn and run, we have to make adjustments to get our body in a good position to make the catch, especially if we don’t initially read the fly ball well, or the ball is hooking more than we thought.

Here is a scenario to illustrate

You are playing in left field. A right handed hitter is up and hits a line drive with a little air underneath it in your direction. The ball starts out about 20 feet to your left and is going over your head. You use a crossover step and turn to your left and start working back on the baseball. Then, the ball starts hooking and now looks like it is going to end up on the right side of your body.

So… How do you play this ball?

You have two options: Option #1: You can watch the ball the whole time and have your feet cross over in front of your body. This option will slow you down if you have a long way to run, but you don’t lose track of the baseball. When to Use: Option 1 is a good way to get your body turned around when you don’t have to far to run. Any time you can see the ball the whole way, it makes it easier to catch the baseball. How to Execute:

  • As you are running back, turned to your left side, and looking for the ball over your right shoulder, you see that it is starting to hook back to your right.
  • To properly execute the crossover in front of your body, you will follow the flight of the ball with your eyes and chest.
  • As it starts hooking back to your right and your upper body starts moving with the ball, you will take your right foot and try to throw it back to your right, opening up your body to the baseball.
  • Once your right foot hits you will throw your left foot over your right trying to keep as much momentum going as possible. Your upper body will follow your feet and now should be getting in a good position.
  • From here you are now facing your right and tracking the ball over your left shoulder.
  • After this move your body is in a much better position to catch a hooking line drive that ends up to the right side of your body.

Option #2: Your second choice is to take your eyes off the baseball for a split second and have your feet crossover behind your body.This technique will allow you to continue running without slowing down. The downside to this way is that you take your eyes off the baseball for a second to get your head turned the other way. When to Use: Option 2 is useful when you still have a lot of ground to cover and you need to keep your running speed going and can’t afford to lose any momentum. This takes practice because you will take your eyes off the baseball for split second. Same scenario as above. You initially start running back facing your left, tracking the ball over your right shoulder and notice it is hooking more than you originally thought. The baseball is hit pretty well and you need all of your speed to get there. You need your body facing the other way to give yourself the best opportunity to catch the ball. How to Execute:

  • Once you see you need to change directions, take your head, which is looking over your right shoulder, and quickly spin it around so you are looking over your left shoulder. Doing this will briefly take your eyes off the baseball.
  • Once you picked up the baseball again your body will naturally follow the head and start working the other way. Your hips will swing around helping your feet to get where they need to be. The great thing about this move is that your feet don’t have to drastically change positions so your stride will not be compromised.
  • With your head making the biggest move, it allows for the other parts of your body to continue running without too much interference.

Pro tip for when runners are on base: Getting behind the baseball

On a routine fly ball where a runner on the bases is attempting to tag up and advance to the next base, we need to put our self in the best position to throw him out. Here is how the pros do it:

  1. Get the read and get moving.  When the baseball goes up in the air, race over to where it is going to come down.
  2. Get into position. Instead of just catching the ball we need to prepare our self to make a strong throw to a base. As the ball is coming down from the sky, we want to be about 10 feet behindthe spot where it would hit the ground .
  3. Get momentum started. We will start gaining a little momentum into catching the baseball. We want to get as much started on our throw before we actually have the baseball. As you get closer to the baseball you can pick up speed.
  4. Catch and Crow Hop. Once you catch the ball, go directly into a crow hop and get rid of the baseball.

This really helps getting rid of the baseball quicker and it allows you to get as much as possible on the throw. ——————————– I hope this article on tracking fly balls has been helpful to you.  If so, I hope you’ll share it with your friends to help us get the word out about all the awesome free info here on PBI.  Also, I invite you to leave feedback or ask questions in the comment section below.  Play hard!   – Doug——————————–

More free instruction for Outfielders:

All Outfield Articles All Baseball Instruction Articles

About the Author: Doug Bernier

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 11 years. After hitting .361 with the New York Yankees this 2012 spring training where he relieved Derek Jeter at shortstop, Doug spent the 2012 season with the Yankees’ triple A team. Click here to get personal, one-on-one instruction with Doug Bernier

2 Comments

  1. …did you just say center field is the easiest outfield position?

    • Will,

      Yeah I said that centerfield is the easiest outfield position to see the ball come off the bat and to see spin. The corner outfield spots get more hooking and nasty top spin line drives than you would get in centerfield. Even routine fly balls usually have a slight hook or slice towards the foul line where the center fielders routine fly ball stays straight.

      Centerfield however is not easy. You must be able to cover a lot of ground and help out your corner outfielders. I am not trying to put down the centerfield position but I have talked to many outfielders, especially center fielders that have made the transition to a corner outfield spot and they thought it was much more difficult.

      There is usually a much easier transition from a corner outfielder to center field, they usually make good reads and feel pretty comfortable. The biggest hurdle is speed. You must be able to run if you play center field. Speed isn’t as big of a deal for the corner guys (even though it really helps).

      Doug Bernier
      Pro Baseball Insider

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