Let's start off super simple...
In baseball, like most sports, there is a defense and an offense. The defensive players are known as 'fielders'.
There are 9 fielding positions in baseball.
For the purposes of getting to know the different baseball positions, let’s go in numerical order based on the scorebook.
The positions in baseball are as follows:
3. First Baseman
4. Second Baseman
5. Third baseman
7. Left Fielder
8. Center Fielder
9. Right Fielder
Let's discuss each fielding position in more depth…
The 9 Baseball Positions Explained
(Notable Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Nolan Ryan, Corey Kluber, and Aroldis Chapman.)
The pitcher is the defensive player that starts every individual play.
They are positioned on the pitching mound and must be touching the rubber to deliver a pitch. The pitch will be thrown to the catcher who is positioned behind home plate.
The objective of the pitcher is to get batters out; either by a struck ball or strikeout, where the hitter records three strikes in an at-bat.
To be an effective pitcher, the player must be able to throw accurately to various targets in the strike zone.
The most elite pitchers are able to combine pitch location with varying speeds, ball movement, and ability to strategically sequence pitches to deceive the hitter.
It is a bonus to have a pitcher who is quick and athletic to field their position, but many of the best pitchers in the history of the game were not the most agile.
Pitchers can be either right or left handed, with a preference for left-handed pitching.
"Why a preference for left-handers?"
Left handers are more unique, giving hitters a different perception of pitches and usually different movement of pitches. Left-handers also are statistically favored the most when trying to retire left-handed hitters due to the rarity of the matchup and the path of the baseball working from at the hitter to across the plate.
When a batter does reach base, a pitcher must be able to hold the runner on. They do this by being able to vary timings of their delivery of the pitch to home plate and also the ability to perform a quick pickoff move to keep runners from leading off too far from bases.
Quick feet and quick release of the throw aides in effective prevention of stolen bases. Worth noting is the left-handed pitcher’s considerable advantage at holding runners on first base due to them facing the base and also the pickoff move they are able to perform which is much more deceptive to a runner.
There are also varying roles for pitchers...
1. Starting Pitcher
Starters begin the game as the pitcher and are usually asked to pitch for many innings at a time. They tend to be more control specialists with many different pitches to throw.
After the starter is tired or has been proven ineffective by yielding too many runs, hits, or walks, a relief pitcher is used.
2. Relief Pitcher
Relief pitchers come in during the middle of the game.
Relief roles also vary from long relief (a pitcher coming in to pitch lots of innings in one game), middle relief (usually the late innings, but not required to finish a game) and closer (the pitcher who will try to record the final outs of a game).
Relief pitchers generally are harder throwers that rely on only a couple of pitches to retire batters; although there are many exceptions to that generality.
They also tend to have less stamina and may be asked to pitch in back to back games.
Ultimately, the pitcher’s number one job is to get opposition players out without giving up runs.
(Notable Catchers: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez, and Ivan Rodriguez.)
The catcher is known as the field general of the defense as they are the only player facing outward toward the entire playing field.
He is positioned behind home plate and the batter to receive pitches from the pitcher.
The best catchers are a coach on the field as they are experts in defensive positioning, calling pitches, and also communicating.
They will sometimes go talk to the pitcher to calm their nerves, give words of encouragement, or sometimes advise the pitcher to make an adjustment.
Catchers put down signs that are hidden from the offense to indicate to the pitcher which pitch to throw each play, usually indicating location as well.
Sometimes the catcher will call his own pitches, while at many levels of baseball the coach will call the pitch from the dugout and then the signal is relayed to the pitcher.
Due to the nature of the position, the catcher must have quick feet, quick hands, and also be extremely tough.
When pitches are thrown in the dirt, the catcher is required to block the ball by using their body as a shield to prevent the ball from getting past him. If a ball gets past the catcher, it is almost certain to result in a runner advancing to a base.
The quickness of feet and hands is also important in the case of managing baserunners. In order to throw out a stealing runner, catchers must be able to receive the pitch and release the baseball exceptionally quickly.
A strong arm on a catcher is very preferable. If a catcher is able to deliver a throw with higher velocity, that makes up for a slower exchange or footwork.
Catchers are generally shorter in stature and right-handed. Right-handed catchers are able to deliver a better throw to third base in case of a steal. In fact, left-handed catchers are nearly unheard of in professional baseball.
Catchers vary in hitting ability but are usually more valuable to a team for their defense. Those who can also hit well provide a luxury to a team and are a very hot commodity.
Also worth noting is that the catcher has one of the game’s umpires positioned directly behind him for the entire game. So not only does the catcher need to be tough, smart, and athletic, but also must be a diplomatic representative of the team to the officials.
Having the proper demeanour may lend itself at times to the benefit of the doubt on pitches that will favor that player’s team, although a good official won’t allow that to factor in.
3. First Baseman
(Notable First Basemen: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Lou Gehrig, and Paul Goldschmidt)
The first baseman is the most involved defensive player in the game in regards to playing action other than the pitcher and catcher.
The first baseman is positioned closest to first base, usually playing a few feet behind the baseline and into fair territory from the first baseline.
First baseman can be either left handed or right handed, but there is a preference toward a left-handed first baseman defensively...
Left-handers have their glove on the right hand, allowing for better positioning for tags on pickoff plays, and also have their throwing arm on the side of their body that allows them to throw to second base on a potential double-play situation without rotating their body.
Due to the first baseman’s primary role being a receiver of throws, the fielder needs to be very good at catching the ball and also scooping up balls that hit the dirt before arriving near first base.
First basemen are usually one of the best hitters on their team and usually hit for power (home runs, doubles).
It is always favorable to have an athletic player at first, but traditionally the corner infielders (1st and 3rd baseman) are larger guys that hit for power as mobility isn’t as necessary to play those positions.
First basemen usually are not known for their throwing arm strength and it is not as much of a necessity at first due to the nature of the position.
4. Second Baseman
(Notable Second Basemen: Jackie Robinson, Jose Altuvé, Ian Kinsler, and Craig Biggio)
Second basemen are known as middle infielders.
They position themselves between the first and second bases, shading toward second base to cover the middle of the infield.
Middle infielders need to be quick and agile, often having to get rid of the ball quickly and cover lots of ground. (They are heavily involved in double plays as well, where a runner is retired at second and first base in the same play.)
It is preferred for a second baseman to be right-handed. Like catchers, left-handers as second baseman are unheard of in professional baseball.
This mostly has to do with the throwing arm being away from the main throwing target, which allows for a quicker release of the ball to first base without the fielder having to pivot or turn to make a play to first.
Due to their positioning, second baseman have a shorter throw to first and usually more time to make a play, so they are traditionally a little less agile and have a little less arm strength than the shortstop.
That being said, they still help anchor the middle of the infield and are vital to an effective defense.
5. Third Baseman
(Notable Third Basemen: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, and Manny Machado)
Third base is also known as the “hot corner”. The nickname comes from the fact that third base requires the fastest reaction time on the field.
Third basemen are very versatile in skill set. They must have a strong arm due to the length of the throw to first base and they must be very quick to handle a hard hit ball by a right-hander down the third baseline or a bunt by a batter.
They do not need to be quite a mobile as a middle infielder, but it is never a bad thing.
Third baseman are usually bigger in stature and usually a prime position for another one of your power hitters. Along with 1st base, this corner infielder position is usually where you put some of your least mobile players with great aptitude for hitting.
Right-handed players are often the rule for this position; just like the shortstop, second base, and catcher positions.
(Notable Shortstops: Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor)
Shortstops are the anchor of the infield defense and are the other middle infield position. They play between the second and third bases, shaded heavily toward second base.
Their role is to cover balls hit from the second base moving to the batter’s left until the third baseman.
Shortstops at high levels of baseball are exclusively right-handed, again to allow for quick exchange from fielding to throwing without any other movement needed.
Shortstops must have strong arms to make throws from a long distance to first base. They have the most ground to cover and must be extremely agile to get up after a diving stop to retire a runner.
They are heavily involved in double plays (like the second baseman) and often times are the fielder in charge of putting out base stealers at second base.
They are the main communicator to the outfield in strategic situations with different hitters and also communicate and set up the defense in bunt situations.
In cases where a ball is hit to the outfield, the shortstop also serves as a relay to redirect throws and also complete plays at second, third, or home. Shortstops also have priority on fly balls on the infield when multiple fielders converge.
7. Left Fielder
(Notable Left Fielders: Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Upton)
Left field is one of the three outfield positions, meaning they play the positions the farthest away from home plate. It is a corner outfield position, which means they have less territory to cover.
Left fielders traditionally have the weakest arms in the outfield since they have the shortest throw to third base of any outfield positions.
Although they do have more balls hit their way statistically than right fielders due to the prevalence of right-handed hitters overall in baseball.
Outfielders can be either dexterity with no penalty. Left field and right field are also great places to put your power hitters with a little less mobility.
8. Center Fielder
(Notable Center Fielders: Willie Mays, Mike Trout, and Andrew McCutcheon)
Centerfielders are one of the most important baseball positions on the defense.
They have to cover the greatest area of any player on defense, requiring them to be one of the fastest players on the team.
It's incredibly important that they get great reads on hit balls and they must be able to read hitters to shift slightly to have a better jump on any hit ball.
They are the captain of the outfield and have catching priority over any other outfielder when multiple players converge.
They will also call off any infielder catching a ball if they can, because of their motion being in toward the ball instead of having to backpedal or catch over the shoulder.
Center fielders need to have strong arms to assist in throwing out runners on the bases on extra base hits as well. They can be either left or right handed with no clear advantage to either dexterity.
Often times, due to their athleticism and speed, centerfielders are found as leadoff hitters in your lineup and base stealing threats.
9. Right Fielder
(Notable Right Fielders: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper)
Right field is the home to some of the most iconic baseball hitters of all time and is another corner outfield position.
They usually possess the strongest arm in the outfield due to having the longest throw to third base for an outfielder. Like all other outfielders, dexterity of a player is not a factor.
They see the least amount of balls of any of the outfielders but are still required to cover lots of ground. They are most likely to be the fielder that can prevent potential triples that are hit in the right centerfield gap or down the right field line.
Offensively, right field is where your power hitters can be stationed if you already have first base and third base filled on the infield.
Each of the 9 baseball positions on defense requires different strengths and also lends itself to a certain type of offensive player.
As we've discussed, a player’s dexterity may also matter depending on the position.
With the traditional roles defined, we may see more and more shifts due to player tendencies. For example, a shortstop may play the left side of the infield by himself, or have a second baseman play in the right-field grass.
In the case of player development, the more positions a player knows, the greater the chance the coach will be able to get them in the lineup each game.