One minute the Mariners’ infielders will field ground balls from their knees (to get the hands and head working together). Later, they might be required to stand stationary with knees flexed (to build strength in the quads). Or there will be a short-hop drill (to promote getting the glove in position earlier).
Brumley even has one drill in which the fielders must catch the ball without a glove “to try and control their heads,” he said. “You hope you don’t break a guy’s fingernail off with that one.”
This has been a week of discovery not only for the infielders who’ve gone through the drills, some of them for the first time, but also for Brumley, the team’s new third-base coach who is responsible for infield play.
“I’ve been so curious about why guys do things really well on the field and why guys don’t,” Brumley said.
The 46-year-old Brumley played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues, including 62 games with the Mariners in 1992, before becoming a minor league coach in 1997. In 13 years as a minor league coach, manager and coordinator, Brumley developed an intense curiosity to determine the reasons infielders make errors.
He is convinced that about 90 percent of throwing errors are committed because of poor body positioning when an infielder catches the ball.
“You’ll see a guy catch a ball awkwardly, and even though he catches it everything breaks down in the throw,” Brumley said. “Catch position is the most important thing to the throwing position because the rhythm of the play doesn’t break.”
He said the key to maintaining a good catch position is to control the fielder’s head.
“There’s a reason why they put a headstall on a horse,” Brumley said. “If you can control his head, you can control his body. Every part of our game really comes from the head position.”
The Mariners aren’t wearing headstalls, but Brumley is watching them all closely.
One unnamed infielder had looked awkward fielding grounders the first two days of camp, and Brumley gave him one piece of advice — “Keep your left eye even with your glove.”
The player did that, and things have gone more smoothly.
As for the drills, there’s a method behind what seems like madness. Take the one where the players must field ground balls from their knees.
“It’s to try to get the hands and the head to work at the same spot,” Brumley said.
There’s another drill that emphasizes catching the ball one-handed, which seems to conflict with everything kids are taught.
“You want everybody to be really confident one-handed,” Brumley said. “I’ll ask guys, ‘How many great plays did you see last year? How many of those plays were one-handed and how many were two-handed?’ They’re all one-handed. So I said, ‘What’s wrong with us creating a lot more confidence in making the one-handed play?’”
Dustin Ackley, the No. 1 draft pick who is being converted from outfield to second base, is a perfect example of a player who needed the one-handed drill.
“He wanted to two-hand every ball and fight to get to that traditional position,” Brumley said. “But the way he moves athletically, he was much better when we said, ‘These next 20 balls, let’s catch them one-handed.’ He’s really clean when he fields one-handed.”
Brumley said Ackley is a classic example of an American-trained player who has two-handed instincts when catching a ball. Latin players, he said, tend to be overly one-handed.
“I try to get all the Americans to play a little more Latin and all the Latins to play a little more American,” he said. “They’ve been taught by feel in South America and we’ve had a lot of coaching in the states.”
As a result, Brumley has drills for them all.
“Every play has its own flaw,” he said. “A lot of times where you can fix the most dominant flaw in a play, everything else kind of cleans up behind it. Not every drill works for one guy because their flaws are different. After you watch guys for a while, you can see where it breaks down, so you give them something to change their mindset toward what they’re doing and make them aware of it.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
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