When Carlos Molina started coaching baseball, he noticed the young players weren’t logging a great deal of time working on fundamentals and footwork in the outfield.
Coaches were instead preaching the importance of playing sound infield defense, because a lot of the times young players don’t hit the ball too far.
Molina, who coaches in the Fountain Valley (Calif.) Pony League in the 9 and 10 year-old age group, implemented a couple key outfield drills. He teaches the same drills to 6 year-olds as he does to his older players.
Molina’s favorite outfield drill is what he calls the “cone drill.”
It’s a drill aimed at tracking fly balls that are hit over players’ heads. It teaches the outfielder the importance of staying behind the ball, the drop step and the initial crossover.
Molina sets up a number of cones — which represent the flight of the ball — in three rows: one set goes straight back, and then one set to the left and one to the right. Some of the cones are set up deep and some are shallow.
“They’re drop-stepping on the side of the cone, and then the next step is crossing over and then staying on the outside of the cone all the way until the last cone,” Molina said. “That simulates one main focus of staying behind the ball. The young kids tend to attack the ball too early, and they get underneath it and the ball crosses right over them.”
The players begin to learn that if it’s a deeper, higher hit ball, they have to take a deeper initial crossover step. If the ball isn’t hit as far, a smaller crossover step should suffice.
It’s been an effective drill for Molina to aid young players.
“It puts a seed in their head, that’s the main thing,” Molina said. “It’s very simple, and it’s basic footwork on reading a fly ball and making sure your initial step is back and then your next step, if you’re continuing to go backwards, is crossing over.”
After the players have the fundamental steps down, Molina will bring a ball into the equation and hand toss it into the air. The kids track down the ball using the proper techniques.
“At first, it’s just running the patterns and getting the footwork down without the ball,” Molina said. “From there, it’s showing them the ball and having them read the ball in my hand, so they’re constantly looking at the ball and getting comfortable with running and looking. Then they figure out where their target end point is, that’s the last cone.”
Another go-to outfield drill for Molina is the “backup drill.”
Two cones are set up so players know where to line up: one in center field and another in either left or right field.
Then one player from the center field cone and one player from the corner outfield cone both converge on a fly ball. The players learn to call for the ball and call off their teammate. Molina lets the players know the center fielder is the captain and always has the last call. The outfielders learn the timing of when to start calling off their teammates, and when it’s too early or too late.
“It teaches them they have to constantly be moving when the ball’s in play in the outfield,” Molina said. “The younger you are, you tend to watch a lot. ... You’re teaching them there’s a place to be, there’s a job to do.”
The players also figure out they have to back up the player who is calling for the ball.
“That drill itself teaches them a lot of outfield fundamentals and skills,” Molina said.