The Early Years
While offense and defense in baseball seem like very independent skills, they become more and more intertwined as players age and are being evaluated. For this reason developing quality defensive skills and picking defensive positions wisely is important to understand for any higher level baseball or softball player.
As you will read more about later in this article, certain defensive positions have more value than others. That being said, young players should build a good foundation by learning to play all positions because the particular body type, skills, and abilities of a player can change drastically as players age. Learning all the positions is also a great way to grow a young player’s general baseball knowledge so that they can instinctually know where every player on the field should be. The only exceptions to this rule are left handed players who should understand all positions but focus their skill development efforts on outfield, 1st base, or pitching. The baseball field simply isn’t set up well for left handers to play 2nd, 3rd, SS, or catcher. Most players should continue to play a wide variety of positions until at least middle school. For a great example of the value of understanding all positions, we can look at Lebron James who’s basketball IQ added to his freakish athleticism makes him arguably the best player ever. Here was a recent quote from The King himself:
I think the best thing for me personally is that ever since I was a kid I’ve always learned every position on the floor. When I started playing ball, for some odd reason, I could learn every single position on the floor all at one time, as a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center and know all the plays, what they’re doing and what’s the reads.
As players enter middle and high school, it is normal for there to be narrowing of the number of positions in the player’s arsenal. This happens because body types, skills, and talents are being more solidified and more repetitions can be taken where that player fits best. Most players simply let their coach dictate the positions they will play but I encourage players to advocate for themselves and take ownership of their own careers. In order to do this, you may have to go above and beyond at practice to show that your defensive skills make you worthy if playing your position of choice. The positions in the middle of the field (SS, 2b, CF, C) tend to be more highly valued than positions on the corners (LF, RF, 3b, 1b).
While not everyone can play shortstop, I do think it is advantageous for aspiring players to develop their skills for SS, 2b, C, or CF. The reason for this is multifactorial. The first factor is that these positions are more highly valued by coaches, scouts, and the baseball community at large. For example a good defensive shortstop who struggles at the plate will still have a good chance of making a team and getting significant playing time compared to a good defensive right fielder who struggles at the plate. This is due in part to the types of athletes that you are being compared to. Most college and professional corner outfielders are absolute monsters who have passed through the weeding out process because of their size and hitting abilities. In other words, no matter how good your defense is, if you play the corners, you better be able to hit. A good case study for this concept is the career of Omar Vizquel who was an unbelievably skilled defensive shortstop. Vizquel had a career batting average of .272, 80 HR, and an OPS of . 688 and is on the hall of fame ballot. While these offensive numbers are not terrible, they in no way indicate a potential hall of fame acceptance. It was clearly Vizquel’s defensive prowess that made him a three time all star. Let’s pretend that Vizquel played LF instead of SS for a moment and was equally as skilled a left fielder as he was a SS. Do you think he would be nearly as highly regarded as he is today? Not a chance.
Another reason to develop at the highly valued defensive positions is that they generally require more athleticism. The work it will take to become skilled at those positions will help in every other facet of the game because the player’s athletic ability will be boosted. Even if these positions will not be the final destinations for players, it is smart to continue to play them through high school because college coaches and professional scouts often believe that players in premium defensive positions have the ability to move to non-premium defensive positions but not the other way around. For instance, both San Diego Padres star Wil Myers and Bryce Harper were primarily catchers through high school but were moved to corner outfield for their professional careers.
While I don’t want to overestimate the importance of playing certain positions, I do want talented young players and there parents to be aware of the impact it can have on the perceived value of a player as a whole. I was a walk on player at Appalachian State solely because of my defensive skills as a catcher. I wasn’t a great hitter or runner but I could defend. Had I been equally as good at 3b, 1b, LF, or RF, I have no doubt that I would have never had the great experience of playing collegiate baseball.
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor