Being able to play the infield is one of the most pivotal skills for all of baseball. Without a good infield, a team will not have a good defense as a whole. Each infield position compliments each other to improve defensive skills and reduce errors. The following article is a guide to playing each position in the infield, and also a summary of some of the specifics that each position asks for. Let’s start from quite possibly the most important position on the field, shortstop, and work our way around the diamond. Shortstop: Arguably the most important position in the game, the shortstop is the best fielder of the eight position players on the diamond. It takes more than just a skilled player to play shortstop; one must be extremely smart and utilize smarts with athletic ability. One of the most important things to keep in mind when playing shortstop is avoiding tension. Tension can lead to all sorts of unwanted mishaps and even injury. Another important aspect for shortstop is “infield general.” He relays signals from the manager in the dugout to the other infielders; if he wants a double play depth, then he’ll instruct the second baseman to backup. If he wants first and third (the corners) to play the bunt, he’ll have them move up. This play by five time All-Star, Troy Tulowitzki shows off his range, and athletic ability. He puts himself in great position to rob a hit up the middle. Plays like this are a premium at the position, but it’s what has separated Tulo from the middle of the pack for so many years now. Rhythm is everything at shortstop. From fielding ground balls, to getting the ball out quickly, a lack of fluid movement and rhythm results in poor fielding and errant throws. Rhythm is particularly important when turning double plays. Whether fielding the ball and flipping it to the second baseman, or covering the bag and making the throw, rhythm is everything when turning double plays. This is an incredible 4-6-3 double play made by DJ LeMahieu and Tulo. It looks as if this play was pure athleticism and skill, but without fluid movement, there’s no way LeMahieu is able to get this out of his glove. Even the bare hand catch and 180 turn by Tulo is rhythm. Other duties of the shortstop include cutting off the left and center fielder on throws home, and covering a steal attempt with a left handed batter at the plate. Rarely will they ever have to make an incredible play like this, but from time to time it does happen. Second Base: The second of the two middle infield positions, second base doesn’t require the same arm strength as shortstop because you’re closer to first. There’s also a little more room for error when fielding ground balls. When a second baseman bobbles a ball, he can still throw out the runner to first with ease. Whereas when a shortstop bobbles it, it’s a lot harder for him to throw out the runner. Although there’s a little room for error when fielding ground balls at second, there’s absolutely no room for error when it comes to footwork. When covering the bag on double plays, the second baseman is typically blind to the runner trying to take him out. You must rely on your fundamental footwork to turn two and avoid any major collisions. This is probably the hardest transition from shortstop to second, as a shortstop can see the runner coming towards him. In double play scenarios, anytime that a ball is hit left of second base, the second baseman will always cover the bag Robinson Cano is leading all second baseman this season in fielding percentage with a .997%. This was a play made earlier this year by the two time Gold Glove Award winner. Here’s a great example of Cano covering the bag and turning two. This doesn’t look anything too spectacular but it’s the type of play that second baseman will be required to make daily. Cano at one point actually has his back turned to the base runner, making it difficult to get the throw off. But he bare hands the ball plants his right foot, and is able to turn two. With a right handed batter up, the second baseman will cover second on any steal attempt. They will also cut off the right fielder on relay throws, like the video below. Third Base: Playing third base is all about reacting to the ball. You might think to yourself well isn’t that what all the infield positions are about? Yes, but in particular, third basemen must have great reaction to the ball. This is because they rarely get to pick and choose hops due to the ball getting to the corner so hard and with so much top spin. Instincts are everything at third, as a great third baseman has the best instincts of any one of the infield positions. Once he makes a decision, he must stick with it. From the angle when fielding a ground ball, to where he’s delivering the ball. A general rule of thumb for where to play third is three steps away (to the left) from the bag and two steps back. One of the most important things for third is not always throwing it as hard as you can. On a standard ground ball, the runner will be halfway to first by the time you bring your glove to your chest to throw. So there’s no need to fire back and rocket one in this case. But if you have to backhand a ball, and now you’re in the hole, then it’s time to let one go. Third base also requires to field choppers, or balls that are popped up into the air and slower than hard hit ground balls. Sometimes you’ll have to bare hand the ball and fire it over to first. Practicing these plays in practice may seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually extremely beneficial. Playing third requires high focus and no second guessing. On bunt situations, the third baseman will be asked to crash down in front of the bag and cover anything hit toward the third base line. Your range doesn’t necessarily need to be as good as a shortstop, but you still must have a good arm as you’ll be throwing across the diamond. The third baseman is also asked to cover foul ground, from third base, over to the dugout and the bleachers. Nolan Arenado is a rising star in baseball. The 25 year old third baseman was an All-Star a year ago and will be this year too. These two plays epitomize what a third baseman must do, day in and day out. First Base: The only position that asks for a lefty, first base calls for a tall, lanky defender that can get low and pick balls in the dirt. The first baseman is involved on almost every play. It’s more than just catching throws from across the diamond, a rap that the position seems to get from time to time. Positioning yourself is crucial; the first baseman must be deep enough to where he can cover ground, but shallow enough so that he’s not too far away from the bag so that he can still be in time for the throw. When a runner is on first, the first baseman will hold the runner on in anticipation for a pick off move from the pitcher. Once the pitcher gets into his stretch, the first baseman must give him a target to throw to, giving the pitcher the best shot to pick off the runner. Here is a good example of this. Anything hit too far to the right shoulder of the first baseman should be left for the second baseman to make the play. This is because the first baseman’s primary responsibility is getting to the bag in time to cover. It makes it difficult if an infielder is throwing the ball while the first baseman is running over to the bag. Being able to stretch for the ball is also crucial. The closer you get to the ball, the better shot you have to retire a speedy runner. Additionally, the ball won’t always be thrown right at you, so being flexible and being able to lay out either to the right or left is something all great first basemen have in common. Royal’s first baseman Eric Hosmer is known for his outstanding glove and ability to pick short hops. He already has three Gold Glove Awards due to plays like this. Some common errors that result in missing the ball on hops like this are stretching out for the ball too soon, stretching as far as you can, and simply standing too far upright. A good first baseman knows his limits when it comes to stretching out, but is athletic enough to get low and make these types of plays. Conclusion I hope you enjoyed the article! Tweet @GetPickk for what baseball coverage you would like to see next!