The correct technique for a slow roller is something that every infielder needs to have in their arsenal, especially for the third basemen. Having a good grasp on exactly how to approach a slow roller and deliver it correctly is vital to the success of a good third basemen.
We’ve broken the slow roller down to three parts: recognition, approach, and execution.
Recognition: Recognition of a slow roller situation is important because there are basically four types of slow rollers that occur in baseball, and those are: bunts, swinging bunts, high hoppers, and deflections. Bunts are the easiest to recognize because the fielder has the ability to be prepared for a slow roller before it even happens depending on the situation of the game. If there are runners on first and second with no outs, the third baseman should be assuming the other team is bunting and be prepared to execute a slow roller play (also he should be positioned in front of third base on the grass making the play easier). The last three are sort of a surprise but should be executed none the less. The swinging bunt will have to be executed quicker because the fielder won’t be expecting it, therefore, probably will be a step or two slower in his approach to the ball. The high hopper is important, in terms of recognition, because any ball over the fielders head will have to be charged, as well as fielded on the correct hop (short hop). The deflection play is where the ball is deflected off another player (most likely the pitcher) and is another bang bang play. The deflection slow roller is more of a muscle memory/instinct play that can be executed with the correct training of the other three slow rollers.
Approach: The approach to the slow roller is very important. Obviously, the fielder is charging this ball much faster than a routine ground ball, so we have to make some adjustments to compensate for the small window of time we have to execute the play correctly. First, we need to have an understanding that we will be approaching the ball without very good depth. This is because we have to sacrifice the depth to gain speed towards the slow roller. Having said this, and knowing how important depth is to any ground ball, the slow roller is a relatively tough play. This is why we need to really emphasize the amount of time we practice this play, with the third basemen especially.
As we approach the slow roller we want to focus on a couple things, the first being alignment. With routine ground balls, we always want to have a left eye alignment. With a slow roller we have to align it with the RIGHT EYE for a couple of reasons. First, we need it to be on our right eye because our feet will be much more narrow compared to a routine ground ball and our left foot will most likely be aligned with the left eye putting it in the way of where our glove hand would normally be. Second, it needs to be on our right eye because it will be closer to the throwing position that we have to get into and will therefore be quicker. We sacrifice the give that our glove hand has with left eye alignment, putting us at risk for more errors, but it’s necessary to complete this more difficult play.
The second thing we need to focus on during the approach of a slow roller is left foot timing. The timing of the left foot is different than it is during a routine ground ball (talked about in left foot timing drill.
We want the left foot to land just AFTER the ball is fielded off the right eye (refer to the video above). We do this because it creates a better rhythm of the feet, and gives the arm more time to get into the correct throwing slot. If the left foot is planted when the ball hits the glove, the fielder will often have to take an extra step that we want to avoid.
Execution: Once we have the correct approach and we’ve aligned the ball right eye, we have to execute the play. The important thing to remember during execution is depth maintenance. We’ve already sacrificed a lot of our depth during the approach. As we actually field the ball the legs will be much more narrow and straight as compared to a routine ground ball. Our hand position will be much closer to our feet and we’ll be unable to field the ball in front of our cap like we do during a routine ground ball. Having said that, our chest should still be in front of our toes and we really want to emphasize keeping that depth throughout the delivery to first base. We do this for two reasons. First, it’s quicker than standing up straight, and second, when the fielder stands up straight he won’t have the velocity on the throw that he would if he’d of maintained his depth. This is due to the fact that his momentum will be carrying him in a direction away from first base. The next thing we really want to focus on is the right foot plant after the ball is fielded. We want the progression to be: ball hits glove, left foot immediately follows, fielder maintains depth, right foot plants, ball delivered to first base.
The delivery of the ball to first base is very important as well. Assuming that we’ve maintained our depth and our progression is correct we won’t have as much velocity on the throw to first base. Also, since we have to maintain depth and the ball will be thrown from below the shoulder it will have a “slice” to the ball flight. This is because the ball will have a side spin as well as our momentum will be heading towards the plate as opposed to heading towards first base. To compensate for this, we have to deliver the ball three to five feet left of first base. This not only compensates for the slice, but also will protect the first basemen, because this will most likely be a bang bang play and the runner will sometimes be in the line of the ball path if it’s directly delivered to the base.
Again this has to be practiced over and over to be done correctly, and is not only good for the third basement to practice, but is a great chance for the first basemen to work on footwork as well as picking short hops.