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Improving Fielding via the Short Hop Drill

St. Olaf College head baseball coach Matt McDonald still recalls practicing indoors, in a gymnasium, a few times during his playing career at the school in the 1980s. Practicing baseball in the sterile confines of a gym was, to put it bluntly, “no fun at all,” he recalled.
That said, McDonald, a star second baseman during his playing days, is a firm believer that an infielder can make strides during indoor practices in the dead of winter. As a coach, he has seen several players do drill work on artificial turf all winter in recent years, resulting in dramatically improved glove work, footwork, and reaction time come spring.    

As a collegiate head coach at St. Olaf ― an NCAA Division III school located in Northfield, Minnesota ― since 1995, McDonald has developed a few favorite drills for infielders.

But the “Short-Hop Drill” takes top billing these days, in McDonald’s mind.

“That’s my favorite glove drill that we do with our infielders. It helps guys get into the right stance (and) where they should be as they’re fielding the baseball," said McDonald, who has a 520-317 career record with the Oles. 

In the short hop drill, a fielder strictly utilizes their glove hand to field ground balls, thus improving glove mechanics. For the drill, a partner throws short hops or “skip hops” while kneeling, or from a sidearm slot, usually from 10-12 feet away from a fielder. Fielders are instructed not to move their feet during this exercise. The fielder’s partner should aim to throw to roughly the same spot with each toss. 

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Additionally, McDonald has his St. Olaf infielders try the shortvhop drill in four different forms:

1) from a normal stance, square to the baseball

2) from an open, forehand stance in which a right-hander would brace for a ball arriving to their left (or glove side)

3) from a backhand stance in which the fielder’s feet are open

4) from a backhand stance in which the fielder’s feet are closed

The short hop drill typically consists of 20 total reps.

“Essentially, what we’re trying to do is get our guys in a great stance,” McDonald said of the drill, “and then work on their glove mechanics, how we want them fielding the baseball. So we try to get them to go at it with a vertical glove, and a little bit of a forward press as they’re fielding that short hop.

“We’re just looking for a little forward press, and having their glove come and meet the baseball,” added the St. Olaf coach, who has led the Oles to five NCAA tournament appearances.

The longtime college coach feels legitimate strides can be made by players during winter months. In the months of November and December, for example, McDonald feels maturing players should largely focus on strength training. After that, the coach suggests to his players to have a friend hit grounders to them “multiple days a week.” The coach also feels strongly that playing basketball during the offseason can improve infielders’ hand-eye coordination and footwork.

No one truly loves practicing the game of baseball indoors, during seemingly interminable winters. But real gains can be made in those settings, especially if a player approaches such off-season training with the proper mindset, McDonald noted.

“It’s 68 degrees, and (there’s) no wind,” the coach said of training indoors. “So you can get some things done. We can really concentrate hard on being as fundamentally sound as we can.” 

From GameChanger and Kelly Beaton. Photo Courtesy of St. Olaf College.

Baseball, Baseball Player Development, Baseball Tips & Drills