Outfield Matters: Rising Above Youth Baseball Bias

outfield matters

In youth baseball, the outfield is viewed as less prestigious or exciting compared to the infield. It’s very common to see the outfield as the place where less skilled or less experienced players are often assigned, creating a negative perception. But what if this common belief is not only wrong but also harmful to how our young players grow and improve in the game? We need to change this way of thinking because the Outfield Matters.

This article aims to challenge common misconceptions about the outfield in youth baseball. By examining the game’s nuances, opportunities it offers, and how top professional players excel from this position, we highlight the outfield’s significance.


The Underappreciated Outfield In Youth Baseball

The outfield holds a peculiar place in youth baseball’s collective psyche. Many Little Leaugers see it as the area where the ball rarely goes, which results in no action. The infield’s fast pace and numerous opportunities often attract young players eager to get some action.

Consequently, being assigned to the outfield is sometimes seen as a setback, or even a punishment, giving rise to a negative outlook on these very important positions.

This perception is further reinforced by the distribution of players within youth leagues. Often, less experienced players are placed in the outfield, wrongly implying these positions are less important or skilled. It’s a misleading perception, and it doesn’t account for the skills the outfield positions demand.

Unfortunately, these misconceptions can rob young players of an opportunity to learn and grow in a significant aspect of baseball. The outfield holds more value than it seems, crucial for a well-rounded appreciation of the game. To progress, we must recognize the importance of positional versatility, especially in the outfield, for youth baseball development.


Why Outfield Matters – Positional Versatility

In youth baseball, learning to play all positions, including the outfield, is incredibly valuable. Why? Firstly, it helps a player’s understanding of the game. A player who experiences all baseball positions gains a deeper understanding of the sport’s nuances. They also learn to appreciate the unique roles and challenges each position presents.

Secondly, positional versatility can significantly improve a player’s overall athletic skill and adaptability. Different positions demand different skill sets. The infield demands agility and reflexes, the outfield requires speed and a strong arm, and pitching or catching calls for strategic thinking. By playing different positions, players can diversify and work on these skills, which can be transferred to other sports.

Finally, being comfortable in a variety of positions can increase opportunities for playing time. Coaches value players who can fill in where needed, providing flexibility to the lineup. Therefore, learning and embracing all positions, including the outfield, can be a great strategy for young players wanting to spend more time on the field.

Testimonials from experienced coaches and professional players describe how important positional versatility is. They often emphasize how learning all positions helped them understand the game better. It enhanced their skills, and ultimately increased their value to their teams.

My son typically plays in the infield but would occasionally play center or left. Whenever he was put in the outfield, he looked at it as a punishment. I’ve always told him that as he gets older, the competition for playing time is going to increase. When he gets to high school, having the ability to play all positions will get him more playing time.


A Closer Look at the Outfield

At first glance, the outfield might seem less complex or demanding compared to the infield. This couldn’t be further from the truth though. The outfield plays a massive role in the game’s strategy. These positions offer challenges and opportunities that are different from other positions on the field.

Catching fly balls is perhaps the most visible role of an outfielder. This requires not only speed and agility but also an ability to predict the ball’s trajectory. Fielders must be able to make split-second decisions under pressure. Preventing extra-base hits by catching fly balls or quickly getting a ball back in can be a difference-maker in the game.

Moreover, outfielders often need to make long throws, which requires a strong and accurate arm. Whether it’s throwing to the infield to prevent runners from advancing or making a direct throw to home plate to stop a run, an outfielder’s throw can really affect the course of a game.

Yet, youth baseball often overlooks or undervalues these skills and contributions, even though they’re highly valued at the professional level. To highlight their importance, let’s turn our attention to professional baseball, where some of the highest-paid players have made their mark as exceptional outfielders.


The Success of Professional Outfielders

When we shift our view to the MLB, the importance of the outfield becomes much clearer. Many of the highest-paid and most recognized players in the sport are outfielders.

Take, for instance, Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the sport’s brightest stars and highest earners. He started as an infielder in the Red Sox system but transitioned to the outfield to take advantage of his agility, speed, and arm strength. Mookie Betts has not only changed games with his bat but also with his amazing outfield plays. How’s right field look now?

Another example is Mike Trout. Trout’s combination of power and exceptional fielding has earned him the status of one of baseball’s most valuable players. These players, along with numerous other highly-paid outfielders, have become game-changers for their teams.

Interestingly, these professionals often started their careers in youth leagues where teams might have underrated or overlooked them as outfielders. Their success reminds us of the untapped potential in the outfield.

Highest paid outfielders in MLB:

NAMEAVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY
Aaron Judge$40,000,000
Mike Trout$37,100,000
Giancarlo Stanton$32,000,000
Kris Bryant$28,000,000
Bryce Harper$27,500,000
Christian Yelich$26,000,000
Mookie Betts$25,000,000
Juan Soto$23,000,000

2023 MLB Draft Results

Want more proof that outfield matters? Something really cool happened at the 2023 MLB draft. Four out of the first five picks were all outfielders. Typically, you’ll see a few shortstops or pitchers mixed in but the talent was so extraordinary that teams couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to draft these kids.

NAMETEAM POSITION
Paul Skenes, LSUPiratesPITCHER
Dylan Crews, LSUNationalsOF
Max Clark, Franklin Community HSTigersOF
Wyatt Langford, FloridaRangers OF
Walker Jenkins, South Brunswick HSTwinsOF

However, to tap into this potential we need to change the narrative surrounding the outfield in youth baseball. Let’s explore how we can go about doing just that.


Changing the Narrative: Why Outfield Matters

To challenge the negative perceptions of the outfield in youth baseball, we need a concerted effort from players, parents, and coaches. Recognizing the outfield’s importance and its role in player development is the first step toward reshaping this narrative.

Coaches play a large role in this process. They can highlight the positions during team discussions, training, and games, reinforcing their importance in strategy and skill development. Coaches can also give all players an opportunity to play in the outfield, promote positional versatility, and dispel the notion that only less skilled players belong in the outfield.

Parents, too, can help shift perceptions by encouraging their children to embrace all positions, including the outfield. Celebrating great plays in the outfield, discussing professional outfielders’ accomplishments, and emphasizing the importance of positional versatility can all help create a more appreciative view of the game.

As for the young players, learning to value every position, including the outfield, will only deepen their understanding and love for the game.

The long-term benefits of this change in perception extend beyond youth leagues. Players who learn to value and understand the outfield will not only be more versatile and skilled, they’ll also be better prepared for future opportunities, whether in high school, college, or even pro ball.


Final Thoughts – Why Outfield Matters

As we’ve explored throughout this article, the outfield holds significant importance in baseball which often goes unrecognized, especially in youth leagues. This oversight, fueled by misconceptions and lack of understanding, can impede young players’ development and enjoyment of the sport.

By learning and embracing all positions, including the outfield, young players can not only improve their overall skills and deepen their understanding of the game but also increase their opportunities for playing time. The examples of MLB star outfielders further underscore the potential and significance of these positions.

The time has come to change the narrative around the outfield in youth baseball. Coaches, parents, and players alike need to recognize and promote the value of the outfield, not as a less glamorous or less critical part of the team, but as an area that offers unique challenges and learning opportunities.

Let us look at the outfield not as a neglected space but as a field of potential. Remember that Outfield Matters!

Chris F.

Chris F.

Chris Forbes is the founder and editor of BaseballMode.com, a leading blog in the youth baseball space. As a lifelong baseball player, coach and fan, he decided to team up with his young son to offer advice and share their experiences with the sport they both love. Chris lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children.
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