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Players should focus on mechanics of speed, incorporate resistance and plyometric training

12/5/2011

A baseball player's speed is crucial on both offense and defense. It's a key tool to play college or pro ball.

Los Angeles Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke believes a player can shave tenths of a second off a sprint with different workouts and drills.

"If you're a base stealer, it's very important or say a left-handed hitter that bunts a lot," Roenicke said. "It's important for an outfielder too. If he can track down a ball and he's got five feet more range, he's going to catch some more balls over the course of a season."

For Roenicke's players strict speed work during the season is limited but the players practice simulating specific movements they make during games.

"When we do drills to run routes and in the outfield, it's to try to get the footwork so they're right on line going after balls, so that cuts down on their time," Roenicke said. "We work running bases from first to third because we want them to be able to cut the corner sharper, which also cuts down on time."

Five drills to improve your speed on the field

1. Doug Gizzi, a performance coach with Zone Ready based in El Segundo, Calif., noted that some of the fundamental training used to help baseball players improve their speed is similar to the workouts of athletes who play other sports. But with baseball players, he focuses on first-step quickness to improve a player's explosiveness out of the batter's box or when chasing a ball.

Gizzi described one drill where a trainer will drop a tennis ball three to five yards in front of an athlete, who has to try to catch it before it hits the ground. (See an explanation of the tennis ball drop exercise here.)

2. Another thing that makes baseball players unique is that when they are running the bases, typically their eyes are focused on a coach instead of straight ahead, Gizzi said.

To ensure that you are running in a straight line, even if your eyes are focused elsewhere, he suggested a drill where you have a player run straight up a line on a football field while they are looking at a stationary object not directly in front of them so that they can get used to running straight without wobbling or moving off the line.

3. A drill to improve a player's ability to catch a fly ball would be to have an athlete run down another line, throw a ball in the air and have him track it. You can also have an outfielder stand 10 to 20 yards away and then toss a ball short to make him run forward to catch the ball.

4. Base running is also a unique property of the game because you want players to run in an arc to round the bases.

"We'll have players work on running at angles," Gizzi said. "So we'll put cones down and have them running around in a circle so you get used to leaning into your turns.

5. In order to improve a player's reaction on a base, Keith Chatelain with Tom Shaw Performance will have a player line up as if he's getting ready to steal on a hard surface. Once the player moves, a trainer will drop a racquetball eight yards away. The player has to catch the ball before it bounces twice.

"You'll see guys who aren't the fastest, but from home to first, they're faster than the faster guy on the team because their reaction time is just faster," he said. "If I had to name three things baseball players should focus on, it's mechanics, resistance and explosive/plyometric training."