What position should my child play in youth baseball?
First, the basics: there are nine positions on the baseball diamond: Pitcher, Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Third Base, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field and Right Field. Now that that’s out of the way, which position should your child play?
As you probably guessed, the first response is, “It depends.” But, to help you through this, we’ll list each position below along with the basic skills needed to play each position adequately.
Qualities needed for a pitcher: first and foremost, in order to be a pitcher, your child should be able to throw the baseball pretty hard (fast), relative to other kids of the same age. But along with that velocity, your child also needs to be able to throw the ball accurately. In terms of pitching skills, we call this, “Control.” In other words, even if you can throw harder than everyone else, it doesn’t help if you can’t throw strikes.
Can my kid learn to throw hard? Yes. Coaching a child on the proper throwing mechanics will not only help your child throw harder, it will help your child throw harder with less effort. Also, with proper throwing mechanics comes improved control. While your child may not be ready to pitch on the mound this year, keep up the proper throwing mechanics and, sooner or later, they may get their chance.
Other necessary skills for pitching
Stamina: your child may throw up to 75 pitches in a game depending on the division he or she is in.
Strength: believe it or not, pitching uses your whole body, not just your arm. In fact, strong legs and a strong core are more important than a strong arm.
Maturity: pitching can be frustrating while a young pitcher learns how to master throwing hard while also throwing strikes. Keeping your emotions in check is absolutely essential.
Qualities needed for a catcher: like pitchers, catchers are expected to have an exceptional throwing arm so that they have a chance to throw out base-stealers. Beyond the string arm, catchers also need strong legs as they will be crouched down with every pitch. Last, catchers also need to be able to – you guessed it – catch the ball. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. A catcher’s mitt is padded to protect your catching hand while catching an endless supply of hard-throw balls. Because the catcher’s mitt is so bulky, it’s often times harder to catch with until the player gets used to it.
Other necessary skills for playing catcher
Stamina: crouching down for every pitch, standing back up, chasing wild pitches, throwing out base-stealers, diving for errant pitches in the dirt – all this happens just about every inning and it can be very taxing.
Being right-handed: in youth baseball, this isn’t as much of a factor, but you’ll still rarely see a left-handed catcher even in the younger divisions. If you’re unfamiliar with baseball, there are zero catchers who throw left-handed in Major League Baseball. Most batters are right-handed which means they’re in the way of a catcher’s left arm. Also, throwing a base runner out at third base would require a complete shift in positioning of the body whereas a right-handed catcher can simply throw across his body with no delay.
Observance: the catcher is involved in every single pitch and he sees the entire field at all times. Knowing where his teammates are positioned and how to correct them is a great asset in more-advanced and older catchers.
SIDE NOTE: Major League Managers and even Pitching Coaches are often former catchers. After years of seeing the entire field as well as watching the mechanics of every pitcher in every game, catchers typically end up being extremely knowledgeable (we call this “Baseball IQ”). This often leads to them being excellent coaches and managers.
Qualities needed to play first base: first and foremost, you must be able to catch the ball. Second, you should also be able to field a bad throw that gets to you on a “short-hop” (a throw that bounces just before getting to the first-baseman). This is an acquired skill over time and there are several drills to help all players field short-hops. But no player on the field will need to master this skill more than the first baseman.
Along with all infielders, a first baseman must also be able to field ground balls properly. Plenty of ground balls are hit to the first baseman, so fielding them is obviously essential to getting batters out… Aside from catching and fielding ground balls, another helpful attribute for first basemen is the ability to stretch out to get the ball when catching it. The further out the first baseman can stretch to catch the ball, the sooner the runner is out. This makes the difference in a lot of close plays at first.
Other necessary skills for playing first base
Catching the ball: this is pretty obvious. You have to be able to catch the ball at first base or else you’ll never get anyone out. If you want to play first base, the absolute first skill you’ll need is catching the ball.
Leadership: It is often the first baseman’s job to keep his teammates involved in the game. You will often see the first baseman shout to the rest of his teammates how many outs there are in the inning.
Being left-handed: conversely to a catcher, a first baseman often has an advantage in being left-handed. His glove side will be to the infield where the vast majority of balls are hit. Likewise, when he throws to another base, a first baseman can simply throw across his body instead of having to shift his entire body from the feet up.
Qualities needed to play second base: a second baseman typically has to be both quick and fast – meaning quick reflexes as well as fast running speed in order to get to ground balls and line drives. The primary skill for a second baseman would be fielding ground balls. A second baseman can often get by without having a spectacular throwing arm because the second baseman has a short throw to first base. This is a good position to put a player who is quick, small(er), has a good glove but may not be developed in throwing velocity.
Other necessary skills for playing second base
Fearlessness: there’s a lot of action at second base and it often includes fielding hard-hit ground balls.
Concentration: playing second base includes having to catch a throw from another fielder while a base runner is also racing the second baseman to the base.
Being right-handed: right-handers can easily throw the ball across their body without having to shift their legs to get into position, whereas a left-hander has to shift their entire body in order to make a throw to first base. Getting a quick throw to first base is essential, therefore right-handers play second base (and third base and shortstop).
Qualities needed to play third base: known as “the hot corner,” third base is where a lot of balls are hit the hardest, especially from right-handed hitters. A third baseman needs quick reflexes, a good glove and an above-average throwing arm. A third baseman has the longest throw of any infielder to first base, so it is often that the player on the team with the best arm (and a good glove for fielding grounders to match) will play third base.
Other necessary skills for playing third base
Quickness: at third base, being quick (reflexes) is more important than being fast (running speed). The only time a third baseman needs fast running speed is when fielding a bunt. Other than that, a third baseman needs quick, soft hands to handle a lot of hard-hit grounders and line drives.
Confidence: like we said, there are a lot of hard-hit balls at the hot corner. Having the confidence in your glove to protect you is absolutely essential.
Balance: Because there are a lot of hard-hit balls at third base, you frequently find yourself diving more, leaning more, and falling more. Having great balance – having someone who is sure-footed – is a valuable asset at third base so you can field a tough grounder and be in position quickly to make an accurate, proper throw to first base.
Being right handed: see the same description as second base.
Qualities needed to play shortstop: This is typically where you see the most-athletic player on the team, or at least the player with the best combination of foot speed, quickness, throwing and fielding capabilities. A shortstop has the most ground to cover, and ground balls are frequently hit there, and they are frequently hit hard, especially from right-handed batters.
Other necessary skills for playing shortstop
Confidence: not only will you have a lot of balls hit your way, you will also have everyone watching you. People expect the shortstop to be the best fielder out there, so errors are magnified.
Thick Skin: (meaning you can take criticism well and learn from mistakes) as mentioned above, people expect more out of a kid who plays shortstop. Everyone makes errors, but the shortstop will hear the most negativity if there’s a bad play made there.
Game awareness: because there’s so much to do and so much ground to cover at shortstop, it is absolutely necessary for the shortstop to know where the base runners are, how fast they are, how many outs there are, where to go if a runner steals and more. Knowing the situation while playing shortstop is essential – this is not the position for the kids who want to pick flowers!
Being right handed: see the same description as second base.
Qualities needed to play left field: a left-fielder should be able to catch a ball that is hit in the air. Also, throwing accuracy is probably more important than arm strength since a throw from left field to third base or to home plate is significantly closer than the throw from center field or right field. Out of all the outfielders, the left fielder can afford to have the weakest throwing arm of everyone.
Other necessary skills for playing left field
Speed: While you don’t have to be the fastest person on the field, you should be pretty fast. Tracking down fly balls requires some speed, but always remember that the center fielder is the captain of the outfield.
Depth perception: being able to tell where a fly ball is going when it leaves the bat is harder than it seems. Seeing the velocity of a ball leaving the bat from over 100 feet away is a learned skill. Once you have it down, you’ll live the mantra, “fly balls are outs!”
Balance: When fielding a fly ball, you want to run more on your toes than heel-to-toe. This helps keep the ball from bouncing around in your field of vision when chasing down a fly ball. Also, when you catch the ball, you’ll need to get it back into the infield quickly, so the better you can stop yourself and gain your balance for a proper throw, the better off you’ll be.
Qualities Needed to play Center Field: A good glove is absolutely necessary to play center field. If you can’t catch the ball, you can’t record any outs. Also, an above-average throwing arm is very helpful when playing center field. Center fielders have the longest potential throw from center field to home plate, so having a good arm can be really helpful, even if you are just getting the ball to your cutoff man quickly.
Other necessary skills for playing center field
Leadership: The center fielder is in charge of the outfield. If there is a question as to who should catch a fly ball, it is the center fielder’s ball until someone calls him off.
Depth Perception: Having a direct, straight-line view to the batter at home plate makes it more difficult to gage the velocity of the baseball coming of the bat. Learning what different hard- or soft-hit balls look like off the bat is absolutely essential to center field.
Speed: it’s no coincidence that the fastest players on the field typically play center field. Center fielders have more ground to cover than anyone, and they’re expected to pick up the slack for the other outfielders when they can’t get to a fly ball. In center field, there is no substitution for pure speed.
Okay, okay, here come the jokes. And we won’t lie to you: coaches will frequently hide the kid with the least baseball talent in right field. In actuality, a right fielder often grows more than anyone else throughout the course of a season because they are able to watch and learn more than anyone else. When your child gets into the higher divisions, however, right field isn’t a place to hide anyone, anymore. As kids get older, the pitchers throw harder. When pitchers throw harder, right-handed batters hit the ball “the other way” to right field pretty frequently. Subsequently, a right fielder actually needs to have one of the strongest throwing arms on the team, if not the strongest throwing arm on the team. Conversely to the left-fielder, a right fielder has the longest throw to third base to try to throw out a runner, and the throw to home from right field is also a long one. Being able to catch a fly ball is essential to playing right field, but having a strong throwing arm is also extremely important.
Other necessary skills for playing right field
Field awareness: Since there are so many plays at first base, a right fielder is expected to be ready to back any throw that might get away from the first baseman. The same goes for pitchers throwing a to first base on a pick-off play (with a runner on first base; Mustang division and above).
Patience: At some levels, there is a lack of action in right field – just being honest! Nonetheless, you’re going to get your chance to make a play out there. Being patient and being ready for your moment is essential to success in right field. And if you are one of those players who is trying to make an impression on your coach to get moved out of right field, always being ready for your big chance is the best way to do that.
Desire: wanting that chance to make a play in right field makes those plays that much more impressive. Countless times, kids complain about having to play right field… until they finally throw a runner out who’s going for that extra base. That is one of the best feelings in all of sports, and right field is one of the best positions to experience it.
NOTE: watch a kid the first time he throws a batter out at first base from right field. In fact, watch the parents in the stands when it happens. That play is rare but it makes playing right field worth it, and often, it’s more exciting to play right field than it is to play center of left field.
If you have any question about any of these positions, please talk to your child’s coaches to see what they think. They may disagree with some of these views, but it’s more likely that they’ll have even more to add to it since they’ll be able to apply the above philosophies to the actual kids on the team.
Of course, we want to remind you that the primary objective of any youth baseball league is to make sure the kids have fun. There is nothing more important than that. As long as the kids have fun, everyone’s happy, and they can have fun and be happy playing any one of the positions listed above.
Northside Youth Baseball is located at 1300 N. F Street Oxnard, CA 93030 at HH Eastwood Memorial Park. Feel free to come out and watch our games or volunteer to help the league.