Commentary

College coaches look for combination of factors in the field

Originally Published: November 12, 2010
By Scott Mayes | Special to ESPNHS.com

Shortstop Bryant Hernandez made the every-day play and the spectacular play for the University of Oklahoma.

In fact, he was the best fielder coach Sunny Golloway has seen in five years leading the Sooners program.

Hernandez, a ninth- round draft pick, is now making those plays in the Dodgers farm system.

"He had a special athletic ability," said Golloway, 48. "His feet were great, his arm was a cannon. I can picture him a million times diving to his back hand and getting up to make a play. He would catch flares no one else in the country was going to get."

What Golloway describes is exactly what's needed to be a premiere fielder.

Soft hands, quick feet, an accurate arm and razor-sharp instincts. They're all part of the equation and part of the package college coaches are looking for in the recruiting process.

But Golloway also thinks evaluating fielding comes with its challenges.

"Of all the tools, fielding is the most difficult one to evaluate in all of baseball. Speed is easy. If you have a stopwatch, you can tell someone is fast."

There are many components needed to be excellent in the field. First and foremost, you have to be in position to make a play, said Golloway.

"Your feet are most important," Golloway said. "We don't recruit people with cement feet -- even at first and third base. Cloggers at first base can really hurt you. You've just got to have range and quickness and the ability to come get the ball."

Getting the ball requires the "soft hands" to secure it and to get the glove hand down on the infield dirt ahead of the speed of the baseball.

"I think there're people born to hit a baseball and there are people who can just field," Golloway said.

Once you secure the ball, the next step is just as important -- something UCLA baseball coach John Savage refers to as "the clock."

The throw has to be on time and it has to be accurate, something that's magnified in infield play.

"We need a guy who makes routine plays and just has that clock," said Savage, 45. "They have to have their clock set and know how much time they have. They have to know what kind of runner they're dealing with. Speed shows up every day and many don't realize how much it shows up on defense."

As important as the clock is, if the throw isn't accurate, it simply doesn't matter.

"You'll see some kids in a right position, but their hands can't finish the play," Golloway said. "A lot of times, great fielders will field it, have great feet, but then shut down their mind -- field like a million bucks, but throw like a nickel."

Brandon Crawford, who played at UCLA, is the example Savage holds up. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2008.

"His strength was his range and his arm," Savage said. "He could go up the middle, very acrobatic, athletic. He could really make any play you'd want a shortstop to make."

And while arm strength is important, Savage doesn't put it at the top of his evaluation list.

"We're looking for guys that catch the ball, have good hands, good feet and get rid of the ball," he said. "How quickly he gets rid of the ball is more important than arm

strength."

Lastly, the mental part of the game is something that is evaluated based on situational baseball.

"We look at instincts," Savage said. "Is he throwing to the right base? Does he anticipate plays? "Does he recover from an error? There are lots of nuances you look for."

During routine practices, Golloway's club spends a lot of time on situations.

"We do a lot of flares over the top of our infielders," he said. "We put a runner at first base and we make a first and second basemen communicate. They'll know if it's a double-play ball. You've got to teach these situations. What makes a decision right or wrong is the speed of the ball. It comes down to sweating the small details."