Building Your Defensive Lineup

Written By: Eric Tyler

If you've ever written a lineup card for a baseball or softball team, this article is for you. This is designed to help you not only put your lineup together as a coach but also help parents discover what position is best suited for their child. Everyone wants their son or daughter to be the shortstop, but the fact of the matter is their skill set makes them a perfect fit somewhere else. Find where your player will flourish not just the most popular position. And as a coach, find out where to use players to maximize their individual skill sets.

Why is this Important?

As stated above, everyone wants to pitch and play shortstop. However, playing these positions can expose a certain player’s weaknesses while playing a different position, say centerfield, may highlight the same players strength such as their speed.  Just because shortstop is the most popular position doesn’t mean everyone can play it. Different skill sets are needed for different positions.

How Does This Relate to Little League?

Throughout this article, I will explain, position by position, what is required to play the said position. This article is designed for the little league coach, parent, player. Not that a high school or middle school parent couldn’t benefit from reading and understanding this article, there are just certain skills mentioned that are designed specifically for the little league age bracket.

Such as the importance of the catcher being the best at actually catching the ball. Or the fact that in Little League the first baseman doesn’t need to be left-handed whereas they get older it is more beneficial (holding runners, turning double plays, etc..). This article is designed for coaches that want to maximize their team's skills while hiding their weaknesses and the parent attempting to find the right fit for their son/daughter.

Infield

Catcher

Ham Porter from the movie "The Sandlot"
Ham Porter from the movie "The Sandlot". Photo via GetYarn.io

What better place to start than behind the plate. As they get older the catcher becomes more and more important, and as they reach the kid's pitch age the one skill that a catcher must have is a little self-explanatory. They must be able to CATCH the ball. Shocking, I know. But seriously, as kids are trying to learn how to pitch, the catcher is most valuable in making that transition.

Without a reliable catcher, the pace of the game is atrocious and you have almost no chance for the pitcher to be confident throwing their best stuff. With that being said, the catcher has to be the best on the team at receiving the ball. The arm strength, ability to block, and leadership qualities can come later if the player can’t consistently catch the ball and get it back to the pitcher, none of those other qualities matter.

First Base

 

Now we make our way down the first base line and cover exactly what is needed out of a little league first baseman. As stated before, it is extremely beneficial for the first basemen to be left-handed at an older age. However, at this young age, there are bigger things to worry about. Besides the catcher, the first basemen will be completing the majority of the team's outs. Therefore, this must be your next best catcher of the ball.

With the majority of outs being determined by the first baseman's ability to catch the ball to secure the out, it is an absolute necessity for them to be a reliable target for infielders. After that required skill is out of the way, now you can look at some skills that aren’t a must but create some advantages for your first baseman. Tall is one advantage that many of your infielders will thank you for. The most reach and bigger target the first baseman can be, the better.  So if you have found the big kid on the team that can reliably catch the ball, you’ve found your first baseman.

 

Little league first baseman showing off his flexability
Little league first baseman showing off his flexability. Photo via Pintrest

Second Base

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The idea behind this article is to show coaches how to maximize their team’s skills as well as teach parents where their child may be most effective. In doing so there will be positions that you can improve your team by placing players in certain positions that hide their weaknesses. Second base is the first position we visit that you can do this. Second base is the easiest position on the infield. The player must be reliable fielding ground balls but does not have to be perfect as they are able to misplay ground balls and still have enough time, with the short throw, to complete the majority of outs.

Speaking of the short throw, the player isn’t required to have a strong arm. So as a coach you are able to take a smaller, weaker armed infielder and have them shine at second base. And as a parent, your child may be fast enough and a good enough fielder to play shortstop, but playing that position may expose their arm. Therefore, that player would flourish at second base while being exposed at shortstop, making them more valuable currently and on future teams, as a second baseman. Don’t take it as a demotion for your child, take it as the coach maximizing your son/daughters skill set.

Shortstop

Carlos from the movie "The Benchwarmers"
Carlos from the movie "The Benchwarmers". Photo via Tumblr.

Ah, the coveted shortstop. The position everyone wants to play and almost no one is suited for. Simply put, the shortstop should be the best player on the team. This should be the most reliable player. They should be fast to cover the most ground and have a strong enough arm to make the throw across the infield.

As a parent, everyone wants their child to play shortstop and be seen as the best player on the team. However, playing shortstop can expose a player quicker than any other position on the field. Little Johnny may be a great player in mom and dad’s eyes, but if his arm isn’t strong or doesn’t have the speed to cover much ground, he will get exposed as a bad defensive player, whereas a second baseman he may be seen as a great defender who can really help a team. As a coach, this is the one position that when the ball is hit to them, you feel the most confident that an out will be made.

Third Base

We now slide over to the last infield position and take a look at what makes a great third baseman. In my opinion, the third baseman should be your second most reliable infielder. If you have two kids who can play shortstop, put the one with the stronger arm at third. Arm strength is the most valuable skill a third baseman can have.

They don’t always have to be the best fielder as they are able to block the ball then use their strong arm to get the ball across the infield. The willingness to field hot shots from the “hot corner” is a valuable trait. It’s called the hot corner for a reason and you don’t want your third baseman dodging hard hit balls and watching them trickle into left field. As a parent, if your son/daughter is a good infielder but maybe lacks the range needed to play shortstop at a high level, they can shine at third base as there is less range needed.

Outfield

Left Field

A bored Manny Ramirez mid-game
A bored Manny Ramirez mid-game. Photo via Baseball Fever.

Into the outfield, we go and we will start in left field. Now before I start this section, to all you little league parents that think their child shouldn’t play the outfield because that’s where they put the bad players, see Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, etc.. for example. That is all. Now to Leftfield.

It goes without saying that every outfielder has to have adequate speed to cover gap-to-gap. However, left field is one position that you can hide a weaker arm. The throws to bases are shorter than say right field to third base. While speed is important a strong arm isn’t necessary for this position. As the player gets older, being a good hitter is a huge bonus, almost a necessity for a left fielder.

Center Field

USP MLB: TAMPA BAY RAYS AT CLEVELAND INDIANS S BBA CLE TB USA OH
May 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) makes a catch at the wall of a ball hit by Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis during the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-350076 ORIG FILE ID: 20170517_pjc_bk4_064.JPG

If your shortstop isn’t your fastest player, here is your guy. Speed is the number one attribute of a good center fielder. A strong arm is a plus, but not always necessary. This player must be your best outfielder and able to cover the most ground. This is the guy/girl you want to lead your outfield and catch the most fly balls.

As a parent, you have to realize that the older your child gets the more valuable this position gets. If your son/daughter can really run but struggles to consistently field ground balls, don’t continue to watch them struggle just so you can fulfill your wish of them being a shortstop. Be proud of the move to centerfield and enjoy watching them run down fly ball after fly ball and be considered valuable defensively instead of a hinder at shortstop. This is the one position on the field where athleticism outweighs skill.

 

Right Field

Bryce Harper jogging off the field.
Bryce Harper jogging off the field. Photo via Bleacher Report.

Last but not least we take a look at right field. Two words. ARM STRENGTH. This is a must for a high-level right fielder. If you have a kid on the team that could play third base but the whole ground ball thing gives them issues, this is their spot. They have the two longest throws on the field (to third and home) therefore their arm strength can show and be a plus from this spot.

They have the centerfielder next to them which can make up for some lack of speed issues and putting them in left doesn’t show off their arm. Put the strongest arm in right and push them to show it off. You may even be able to steal a couple of outs at first on line drives to right.

Final Thoughts

The idea of this article wasn’t to show where the good and bad players play, but to show what skill sets benefit the most from players where. Just because your child isn’t playing shortstop doesn't mean they can’t be one of the better players on the team. The coach may see something in your son or daughter’s skill set that will allow them to grow and show those skills in a different position.

If your goal is for your child to play the game for as long as they want to and for them to have every opportunity in the game of baseball or softball, find the RIGHT position for them, not the most popular. And as a coach, use each players position as a way to shine a light on their skills and hide their weaknesses. This will not only help you win more games, but the players to develop and hone their skills at the proper position.

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phil
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phil

Hey Eric, let me ask about a few side issues. Where do you put a kid who has a rocket arm, but you have no idea where it may end up? What about a kid who is slow-moving (but not slow running) and everything seems to take them a second or two too long? What about the dreaded “spaceshot”?

Admin

Phil,

Thanks for the response! Here are my recommendations:
-The kid with the rocket arm plays RF and tell him to never hit his cutoff man if he believes he can throw the runner out
-The kid that is slow moving plays second because he has time with a shorter throw (ex: Robinson Cano and Daniel Murphy)
-The dreaded spaceshot is something I’m not familiar with but would love to learn more about?

-Eric

phil
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phil

Oh, then you haven’t coached little league baseball if you’re unfamiliar with the “spaceshot”. He stands in the outfield with his back to the plate because there’s a bird on the fence. He’s always the one still sitting on the bench when it’s his turn to bat because nobody reminded him when he was supposed to be on deck. He’s the one who is a deer in the headlights when he’s running between 2nd and 3rd when the ball gets hit to shortstop.