BY STEVE KRAH
Tracy Archuleta is renown in coaching circles for his ability to convey knowledge on infield play.
The head coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville has led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national championships in 2010 and 2014 and has conducted multiple clinics, including on the big stage at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.
At the start of Archuleta’s talk, he explained that infielders playing for him must be able to use their glove well.
He make it a point to have infielders go to the baseball with the finger tips of their glove down.
“It’s the biggest pocket,” says Archuleta. “It’s the first thing I’m looking at (a prospective infielder). When I’m watching them field a ground ball, I can teach them how to move their feet. I can’t teach them how to use their glove.”
Archuleta says he has his infielders lead with their left hand and does not even use the top (or bare) hand (to stop the ball).
“The top hand is insurance. If I’m really good with my glove, I don’t need insurance.
“I want them to be athletic and really use their glove.”
As a training tool, USI infielders use a small glove that Archuleta learned about from former Screaming Eagles assistant Vicente Cafaro, who was a San Diego Padres minor league infield instructor during the 2019 season.
What does Alex Archuleta like it?
“It makes me feel the ball in my palm,” says the younger Archuleta. “You’re not catching it the web.
“On top of that, it makes me stay down.”
Tracy Archuleta chimed in.
“I like it because it makes you get your butt down,” says the coach. “I don’t care if you’re 10 years old or 18 years old, the lower you get the more chance you’re going to have to field that ball.
“It’s amazing how they’re able to use their glove and get so much more confident.”
A drill that was introduced to Archuleta by Cafaro involves bouncing lacrosse or dimple balls. The infielder constantly moves his feet and then goes after the ball with his glove after the first or second bound to work on fielding short hops and big hops.
“It makes them be patient,” says Archuleta. “What are we doing with the big hop? We want to wait and get it.”
An emphasis for Archuleta during USI’s fall practice was getting infielders comfortable with quickly getting rid of the baseball. They constantly worked on shuffling and throwing after fielding it.
“I’m a big proponent of using my glove out in front and nothing funneling in,” says Archuleta. “Anytime we funnel in, what going to happen? The ball’s moving. I want to go get a short hop, catch the big hop and go from there.”
In making tags at second base, the Archuletas highlighted a few things.
Rather than straddle the base, the fielder stands right in front of it.
“If the (throw) is the up the line, I can move up the line and be able to make the tag,” says Coach Archuleta.
“(With the tag), it’s going to be straight down,” says Alex Archuleta. “You don’t want to catch and drag. (Going straight to the ground is) quicker and it’s easier to tag.”
Says Coach Archuleta, “There’s no way he’s going to be able to get around you. You’re always going to have a good tag.
“You go straight down the with tag. You’re not searching for something.”
If the throw bounces, the fielder catching it goes straight down with the ball to make the tag.
“This is really big for your infielders because everything we’re telling them is low to high, low to high, low to high,” says Coach Archuleta. “When we go to tag we’re high/low.”
To build power and explosiveness, USI infielders do a drill that replicates the slalom on a skier.
“Your knee can not go forward,” says Coach Archuleta. “You have to be in a strong position at all times and I need to learn to bend properly. If not, I’m not going be explosive left and right.”
In making the double play, Archuleta has his shortstop image a pole going straight up from second base and they have to get around that pole.
“Their glove hands get them into the turn,” says Coach Archuleta. “And we have to touch the bag (because the ‘neighborhood play’ no longer applies in this video replay era.”
On the DP pivot by the second baseman, he times it and moves toward the bag when he sees the ball come out of the shortstop’s hand.
The second baseman steps on the back side of the bag for quickness and protection from the incoming runner.
Archuleta, whose first season as USI head coach was 2007, sees the importance of enjoying the journey.
“I didn’t enjoy a single moment of (the national championship) in 2010 until it was over,” says Archuleta. “(In 2014,) we sat back, watched our players, watched their reaction, watched their preparation. I was able to enjoy it not only for myself, but enjoy it for them.”
Archuleta encourages other coaches and parents to do the same with their special times.
“Those moments may not happen again,” says Archuleta. “Watch those young men get after it and enjoy that moment.”
The coach also gave some insight in recruiting at the NCAA D-II level.
“We have had to move forward where we’re evaluating young men in their freshmen and sophomore years,” says Archuleta. “We’re not making that full plunge at them until they’ve fully-committed to where they’re at.”
That means being realistic.
A player should pick the school he wants to attend and then ask a question.
“Do they have a chance to play there?,” says Archuleta. “If they have a chance, go to (the chosen school’s) camps.
“Once you get in front of their coaches — if you’re good enough — they’re going to get after it. They’ll make sure they contact you and go from there.
“What if it doesn’t work out? There are all kinds of schools that will fill your needs baseball-wise and academically.”
It also helps to know the identity of the program and how the player might fit in.
“What does that coach do well?,” says Archuleta. “At USI, we’re going to try to run a lot. We’re going to play small ball.
“We’re going to try to move runners and out-pitch you.”
In working with USA Baseball last summer, Archuleta worked with Vanderbilt University pitching coach Scott Brown and learned something about the way the Commodores (which won the 2019 College World Series). At the upper echelon of D-I baseball, players are recruited at younger and younger ages — some before arriving on a high school campus.
That being said, Brown let Archuleta know that more time over the years, the top player in Vandy’s recruiting class has been the last one to commit. Right-handed pitcher Kumar Rocker, who threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the 2019 College World Series, did not commit until October 2018.
“It makes sense,” says Archuleta. “Why? The player was confident in his ability. He knew where he was going to be at.
“Don’t get in a rush.”
Tracy Archuleta is the head baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. The frequent clinic speaker led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national titles in 2010 and 2014. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)