Typically when learning how to play the infield, most of the instruction an infielder will receive will be centered on technical areas such as glove position, how far the feet should be spread apart, flexion in the knees and ankles, etc. However, an overlooked area when teaching young players how to field a ground ball is the ability of the infielder to read the hop and determine the hop that they should try and intersect the ball on. Reading hops is truly an art in itself and takes thousands of reps to garner the ability and "instinct" to understand. Notwithstanding the importance of the technical efficiencies necessary to field the ball, this article will briefly delve into a couple types of hops that can be expected and how and infielder should go about making the play on these hops - namely the "big, high hop" and the "short hop".
First and foremost, ground balls will take a variety of hops as they move toward an infielder. Typically, there are three types of hops a ball can take: a big, high hop; a short hop and the dreaded in-between hop. The goal of every infielder is at all costs, to try and avoid the in between hop. This is the hop that will absolutely place every infielder in a position that they simply do not want to be in. That is, fielding the ball on your heels, deep against the body while backing up. Instead of talking about the negatives of fielding an in between hop and sending the wrong message, after all, the best way to avoid an in between hop is to turn it into a big, high hop or a short hop. Let’s examine the big, high hop and the short hop and consider these hops as our priorities when fielding ground balls.
Big, High hop: This is the ball that every infielder desperately wants to try and get. It is fashioned by first recognizing and reading the ball off the bat, then moving quickly and fluidly toward the ball while creating an angle of approach. Once the infielder has ascertained the directional angle to take toward the ball, the next key is timing the momentum into the fielding position so that the ball can be intersected in the desired hop. A good key to reading these types of hops is “if the first hop is high, come and get it”. Big, high hops are not necessarily above the waist, they can be below the waist around the mid thigh area or knees.
Short Hops: The short hop is also considered an advantageous hop to field ground balls, as the ball will be fielded shortly after the ball has hit the ground for the last time. The infielder will simply move his glove in a downward plane and take it through the ball while continuing to maintain his body momentum. The glove should never be shifted in a backward direction when taking a short hop, as a backward move of the glove will only cause the hop to extend further, thereby giving the ball more time to bounce upward and turning the hop into an in between hop. Always get the glove lower than the hop and work toward the ball.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of what to work on in reading hops. Look forward to hearing some of your own tips and experiences.
Rick Johnston, Co-Founder & Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone