It’s been said that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. This is particularly true in baseball—when the other team doesn’t score, they can’t win.
Players, particularly young ones, are often just as sensitive to where they appear in the field as where they appear in the batting lineup. In the formative years of T-ball and 8-and-under play it’s important to give players a chance to play all over the field, testing their arm strength, catching ability and knowledge of the game.
By the time players reach the age of 10 and older, it’s much easier to determine what type of defensive player they are. Some kids will excel in the infield while others will have a knack for catching a fly ball in the outfield.
Begin crafting your defensive strategy with this guide, specially designed for youth players. Keep in mind that your strategy will change considerably for 14 and older age groups.
Your Overall Strategy
Your most important defensive positions are up the middle. That means that your best fielders should be pitcher, second base, shortshop and center field. The left side of the field should have strong arms, while the right side of the field can have weaker arms. If you follow these general rules you’ll be positioned to win a fair amount of games this season.
The main quality you’ll look for in a first baseman is the ability to catch the ball. They should be agile and not be afraid to get in front of the ball. This player is not afraid to try anything to catch the baseball. A taller player is typically ideal, as they’ll present a larger target to the fielders and be able to stretch to catch inaccurate throws.
Every second baseman should be quick on his feet. You’ll want to find a player who can field the ball well by getting in front of it, and who shows some capacity to backhand a ground ball. This player doesn’t need to have the strongest arm, as most of his throws will just be to first base or second base, both of which will be less than 30 feet away if the player is properly positioned. This player shouldn’t be afraid of the ball.
Arguably, this should be one of your best defensive players. The shortstop should show great range and the ability to field sharply hit baseballs. Choose someone who has an above-average arm, as many of their throws will be a great distance.
Because this player has the longest throw to first base, choose someone who has a great arm—a player capable of making strong, accurate throws that will beat runners to the bag. Third base is called the ‘hot corner’ for a reason. Third basemen can’t be afraid to get in front of the ball, and they have to be quick because they’re responsible for fielding bunts most of the time.
At this age, you really just need a player who can catch a fly ball. In the first few practices of the season you’ll quickly discover who has the skill to catch a fly ball and who doesn’t. Catching a fly ball requires quickness and good judgement. Sometimes at this age it is hard to come by both. If you have a group of players who you think are outfielders, the best one should be placed in center field. This is a player that is very fast and has a good arm. They’ll be responsible for backing up balls hit to left and right field, so they’ll need to get over there quickly.
Left field tends to see more baseballs than right field in young age groups, so if you have a player who is struggling to develop, right field is an area where they will get the least action. Use practices as a time to place them in a more challenging outfield position in order to earn that position during game time.
All outfielders should possess a strong arm, as they’ll be throwing to a cutoff man most of the time. But while a strong arm is important, quickness is the most valuable asset in the outfield as they’ll need to get the ball back to the middle of the field as quickly as possible.
In the later years, the catcher rules the field. He’s in charge of everything from calling the pitch to adjusting the defensive positioning. At the younger ages, this should be a player that has a strong and accurate arm, and isn’t afraid to be behind the plate. Primarily, catchers are in charge of keeping the baseball in front of them and throwing out baserunners
For ages 10 and under they typically aren’t going to be calling pitches, but that doesn’t detract from a need to be baseball smart. They need to recognize when the infield should be playing “in” and when the defense should be in a specialized position, such as playing “no doubles.
There’s a reason that the pitcher position gets a Gold Glove award every MLB season. It’s because their job isn’t done after throwing the ball to the catcher. They’re expected to field the ball cleanly and make a good throw, too. If they’re pitching, it probably means they already have an accurate and harder-than-average throw, so let’s skip that point. Many baseballs will be hit to or around the pitcher. If they can cut them off before they get behind him to an infielder, you’ll win many games. Because at this age the catcher isn’t quite mobile yet, the pitcher will need to field balls hit gently in front of them, as well as ones hit sharply up the middle.