The third baseman plays a key role in defending against sacrifice bunts.

Sacrifice bunt is laid down.  Do you know how to balance base runners with fielding a bunt play?

Sacrifice bunt, Runner at 1st and 2nd base

With runners at 1st and 2nd in a sacrifice bunt situation, your responsibility gets a little more complicated.  THE RUNNER KNOWS THAT.  So you should be familiar with what to do in this scenario, because the hitter will be trying to lay the bunt down in your direction.

Third baseman bunt position for runners on 1st and 2nd, Diagram, advanced baseball instruction

Runners on 1st and 2nd

The Details.

 In a bunting situation start where the infield grass meets with the dirt and take a step or two towards the hitter. Position yourself about 10 feet from the foul line.

Pro Tip:  Being closer to the foul line makes it easier to field a bunt because everything will be either at you or to your left, and your angle to the baseball will make your throw to first easier. It is much more difficult to field a bunt with your momentum going to your right and having to throw across your body to first base.

  • Get ready.  From this starting position open your body and legs up toward the pitcher so you can easily see the hitter, pitcher, and runner at 2nd base.
  • Your predicament. The first baseman doesn’t have to hold the runner on at 1st, so he can get a good jump toward the hitter and field the bunt. While the 3rd baseman can’t vacate his position too quickly because of the runner at second. The hitter should be trying to bunt the ball to the third baseman.
  • Multi-tasking.  The third baseman has to watch the runner and make sure he isn’t stealing third base. If he is not stealing, watch the bunt attempt and take no more than one or two steps in toward the hitter. You must be able to get back to the bag if the runner decides to take off.
  • Who makes the play?  If the ball is bunted, and the 1st baseman, pitcher, or catcher can make a play on the ball, you must get back to the 3rd base bag. Expect the ball to be thrown to you. If the hitter is slow, you may be able to turn a double play and throw him out at 1st base after you get the force out at 3rd base.

If the ball is bunted toward third base where there is some uncertainty of who should get the ball between you and the pitcher, call him off. When in doubt, go get the ball and get the out at 1st base.

This can be a tough play for a third baseman, just remember even though you want to get the lead out, it is much better to get an out at first base and have the runners move up, than not to get an out at all. Communicate with your pitchers and know which of them are better at getting off the mound and fielding bunts than others.

The one rule to remember above all else, when in doubt call the ball and get an out at first base.

Pro tips for third baseman

  • There are many situations when a team may choose to bunt.  It helps to know when a bunt is likely.  For example, perhaps the team is not hitting well and wants to get some momentum going by changing things up.
  • If your pitcher is dominating and hits are few, the other team may resort to some serious situational hitting strategy to make things start happening. This becomes more likely when there is a runner on 1st base, 2nd base, or 1st and 2nd bases with no outs.
  • Typically it will be the 6th inning or later, and the hitter is not a power hitter but is setting up for the guy hitter after him.
  • It helps to know hitter’s tendancies, as well as some general indicators. For example, if a guy looks like he has some speed, then there is a good chance that bunting is his bag of tricks.

Sacrifice Bunt, Runner at 1st base

The hitter is most likely trying to bunt up the 1st base line. Of course, it won’t always go as planned, so be ready. If the hitter is a lefty, chances increase for the ball to be coming your way.

Important:  If the bunt comes your way, the third baseman (you) will charge the ball.   This is because you won’t have the responsibility of getting back to cover the third base bag right away.

Third base bunt positioning - If there is a runner on 1st base and the batter attempts to sacrifice bunt, the 3rd baseman should charge the baseball.

Runner on 1st base. The 3rd baseman charges when a sacrifice bunt is hit down the 3rd base line.

The Details.

In a situation where you know or suspect a sacrifice bunt, start on the infield grass. If you are really sure, you can always take a couple steps toward the hitter so you are around 80-85 feet away from home plate.

Once the hitter squares around to bunt, charge in hard, but always stay aware that if you get to close he could pull his bat back and swing.

Since the first baseman has to hold the runner on at 1st base, he will be getting a later jump towards the hitter. This is why the batter should be trying to bunt the ball up the first base line.

If he gets the bunt down and someone other than you fields the ball, start making your way back to the 3rd base bag so the runner won’t move up to third base.

If the batter does bunt the ball down the 3rd base line, know that you may have a play at 2nd base with the shortstop covering. That potentially could turn into a double play.

A bunt placed down the 3rd base line and there is no play at 2nd, make sure of the out at 1st base. Then, either the 3rd baseman or the catcher needs to cover 3rd base, so the runner stays put at 2nd.

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Questions about proper third base bunt positioning?  We’re happy to hear your comments below…

What to Read Next: More Free Instruction for Third Basemen

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About Author

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 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger's AAA team the Round Rock Express. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

1 Comment

  1. Edward Giannantonio on

    So this just happened to me on. 50/70 11u game. Man on first base,. Batter squares off to bunt, base runner steals on first move. My SS goes to cover 2nd on the steal, 3rd basemen crashed the bunt and gets the out at 1. Yep, the base runner runs all the way to third on the steal with no one covering.
    Never planned for it. My SS covers third when I have men on 1 and 2 and 3rd base crashes. At my level, they’re and steal 3rd when he moves up to play the bunt.

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