Some of the best athletes on a baseball team play third base – and for good reason.
Almost always an infielder with catlike reflexes, a cannon for an arm, and a plus bat with power at the plate, those that play the “hot corner” are quick on their feet, great baseball thinkers, and are always putting themselves in the best position to make a play.
Because they are so close to right-handed hitters (most ballplayers hit right-handed) third baseman have to be really smart about their positioning. They don’t have a lot of time to react to a hit ball, and if they are even just a step or two out of position it can mean extra bases (and lots of runs).
There are really three main positionings you have to remember when playing third base – standard depth, double-play depth, and infield in or playing the bunt. How far you play off of the bag and the line is always based off of whether runners are on the bases already, where they are, and what the pitcher is trying to do.
Standard depth as the third baseman playing a few steps behind the bag and maybe four or five feet off of the third-base foul line. Double-play depth as you playing a little deeper behind the bag and a little closer to shortstop. Infield in as you right up on the grass (or even a couple of steps closer to home plate), six or seven feet off of the line towards the pitcher’s mound.
Below we dig a little deeper into third baseman positioning and the kinds of things you need to think about when you’re playing the hot corner depending on what’s happening in the game at any moment.
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What Is The Standard Positioning for Third Basemen?
As we mentioned earlier, the third baseman is (usually) going to want to play a handful of steps behind third-base and maybe four or five feet off of the line (towards shortstop) most of the time.
This positioning keeps you deep enough in the infield to have a little extra range whether you need to go towards the bag or towards short. It also gives you an opportunity to get on top of ground balls that are hit softly in the infield grass as well as rockets that tried a short hop you when they smash into the infield dirt.
There’s a bit of a “sweet spot” that you want to play when you’re not worried about the bunt, when you’re not worried about the count, and when you’re not worried about any runners on base. This is how Minnesota Twins third baseman Doug Bernier likes to play the position most of the time.
This kind of positioning is also going to give you plenty of opportunity to get out and get a relay throw from the outfield, maneuvering to position to grab and infield fly, or cover a little pop-up headed towards the pitcher’s mound that you know your shortstop can’t get to in time.
Obviously, the count, the amount of outs, the runners that are on the bases, and the tendencies of the hitter that your pitcher is facing will all play a role in where you want to be positioned at third. But it’s really tough to go wrong with a handful of steps behind the bag and a couple of feet off of the line towards the infield.
Getting Into Double Play Depth
When you are working with your pitcher and the other infielders to generate a double-play, though, your third-base positioning is going to be a little bit different.
On top of that, your responsibilities as the third baseman are going to change depending on whether or not there’s just a runner on first headed to second, runners on first and second, or a bases-loaded situation – as well as where the ball ends up getting hit, to begin with.
As a general rule though, double-play depth as third baseman is going to position you three or four steps closer to the hitter and three or four steps closer to the shortstop position. This is going to have you in a bit of a “hybrid short” kind of position, giving the shortstop a little more protection on their right side as they shift closer to second base themselves.
The most important thing you can remember as third baseman when getting into this position is that you have to be able to quickly get the ball to second. This means you need to be able to attack the grounders coming towards you while being able to quickly pivot with an accurate route to second base.
You also want to be in the ready position early as third baseman, getting up on the toes of your feet so that you can move left or right while keeping your glove low to the ground. Don’t cheat in too far, either, or you’ll cut down your range and end up hamstringing you and your shortstop at the same time.
It’s also important that you bounce your positioning off of your shortstop before you “lock into place”.
You always want to be in regular communication with your fellow infielders, the catcher, and the pitcher so that everyone is on the same page. But it’s especially important when you are positioning yourself for a double-play ball.
Everybody in the infield is going to be shifting around (aside from the first baseman) when the double-play is on. You need to know where everyone is, where they are floating, and where your responsibilities are depending on when and where the ball is hit.
Getting Ready to Play the Bunt
Looking to cut down a runner at home (usually when someone’s already in scoring position) – often called “infield in” – or playing the bunt will have you in pretty much the exact same position.
You’re going to want to move all the way up onto the infield grass cut out or even a few steps into the grass itself. You’ll also want to migrate a little bit closer to the mound than you would have played even when at double-play depth.
The idea here is to be able to get to a ball that is softly hit or blunted down into the infield grass, gobbling up a slow roller and either getting the out at the plate or firing a laser over the first to end the inning and get out of the jam.
Because you are on the hot corner, though, you have to remember to keep your radar up.
There are plenty about situations or squeeze situations where the battery is going to adjust their approach and try and rocket a line drive over your head, to one side or the other of your glove, or straight through you.
Your positioning closer to the header is going to really test your reflexes. Make sure that your new ready position when you creep in has your glove up near your face as opposed to low ready the way you have it on double-play or standard positionings.
You need to be able to get that glove up quick in the event of a real rocket, but still have time to quickly react to a slow roller or a bunt that you might have to bare hand, too.
Covering Your Pop Fly Responsibilities
Your “radar range” as third baseman for infield flies, foul balls, and other pop-ups is going to be a little bit more limited than your shortstop.
But you’ll still have to cover plenty of ground, including anything in front of third-base, towards the pitcher’s mound, and pretty much all the way up to home plate where you let the catcher take over.
Again, constant communication with your shortstop and the man on the mound is going to play a huge part in where you move when infield fly is hit. The count, the number of outs, and the amount of runners on the base (or not) will also play a big part in whether or not you need to track down a flyball or handed off to someone like your shortstop or the left fielder.
As a general rule, though, you are responsible for everything in a 60 foot circle around third-base – aside from anything over your head and in left field. It’s always a lot easier for your outfielder to come flying in the end you to backpedal while tracking a flyball, after all.
No matter what happens, as soon as the ball is hit in the air make sure that you are tracking its position. If you feel like you can get to the ball first or that it’s falling in your area of responsibility start screaming “I GOT IT” over and over again. You need your teammates to know you are taking responsibility for the ball so that they can clear out of the way.
At the same time, keep your ears open to any other player – particularly your shortstop and your leftfielder – that are looking to call you off. Balls over your head or balls towards shortstop should be handed off immediately, giving them an opportunity to make a play on their area of responsibility.
Keep these things in mind when you are playing third base and you won’t have anything to worry about when it comes to positioning!