To fellow coaches and parents, if you ask youngsters which position they want to play, many would say shortstop. While many players want to play shortstop, only a few really can. The shortstop must have good range, which means a good quick lateral movement. The shortstop must be quick to react to sharply hit balls, getting into a fielding position for a backhand in a flash. Shortstops should have strong throwing arms to make long throws in the hole, or to get runners on slow rollers.
They must be agile enough to run down humpback liners or pop ups in shallow left field. The shortstop must be able to make numerous plays from a wide range of spots in the field. Their responsibilities include taking throws on steal attempts, covering or holding runners at second base. They must back up second and third base on steal attempts. The shortstop makes take defense signs from the bench. They often get the defense set for the next play. Many times, shortstops aren’t the biggest or strongest players on the field. They are usually one of the best athletes on the team however.
Shortstops must be willing to keep working on their skills, even during the off-season if they want to continue to play the position. The shortstop must be able to learn to judge the field conditions and adjust accordingly. During warm ups before the game, they see how the field is affecting grounders. If it is a fast track, they will play back some. Grass infields or slower infields will allow them to play in somewhat.
Mindset is so important at short, because there may be more than one play you could choose to make on any hit ball. Knowing whether to go for a play at the plate with less than two outs must be determined, and thought about before they receive the ball. If your team is up by five runs, throw to first base. When your team is down by three runs it becomes an option for the out at the plate.
Strong armed shortstops can hold a runner. Alert shortstops look back an average runner at second or third base to save a run. “Looking back” the runner is just a brief glance at the runner to freeze them and stop their momentum to whatever base they are trying to advance to. Simply not looking back a runner will let an average base runner move up a base they should not have.
Taking charge of pop ups, and directing other fielders on who should catch them on the left side of the infield is another duty of the shortstop. With a runner at second base, the shortstop should use the “daylight play”to keep the runner close.
When the shortstop uses the daylight play, they start out the play five or 6 ft. behind second base, 4 ft. down the baseline towards third. As the runner begins their leadoff, the shortstop quickly comes up right behind the base runner, looking at length of their leadoff.
If the shortstop determines lead is too large, they quickly cut towards second base, holding out their glove arm as a signal for the pitcher to make a pickoff attempt. If the shortstop determines the lead is safe, they will quickly shuffle to the right back towards their position.
When the pitcher, who is in the set position, sees daylight between the runner and the shortstop, they start their delivery towards home plate. This daylight play gets rid of most of the running back and forth by the shortstop and second baseman.
Keeping the runner close to second is very important for obvious reasons. The daylight play also helps keep middle infielders in position more often to field baseballs. It reduces the pitcher inducing a ground ball, only to see it go through the infield for a hit because the infielders were late getting back to their positions.
These are just a few of the scenarios faced by shortstops. I will cover more in upcoming articles. Please encourage your youth baseball players to stay upbeat and positive even after mistakes. You can lead the way by staying that way yourself.