Tag Archives: Infield play

Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

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Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Southern Indiana’s Archuleta shares ideas about infield play

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.

The coach — with the help of his son and USI infielder Alex Archuleta — presented on the subject at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

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.

Why?

“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.”

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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)