One characteristic of every good infielder is good hands.
I would say it is fair to say having good hands is the single most important part of becoming a great infielder.
When I talk about hands I am talking about any time the baseball is coming in contact with your glove or you are exchanging it to your throwing hand. This includes both receiving throws and fielding ground balls.
You can have a cannon for an arm, all the range in the world, and the ability to read every hop, but if you do not have good hands to receive the ball all those skills are not going to be maximized.
You will see many bad body/weak arm/slow footed infielders, especially at the corners and second base, at the top colleges and top levels of professional baseball.
Well, how do they make up for their downfalls?
The key starts with good hands.
For example, you have two-second basemen- one has a very strong arm, but slow/bad hands. The other has an average at best arm, but tremendous hands/exchange.
The guy with the tremendous hands will be able to turn over more double plays simply because he will be able to throw the ball quicker.
The time the ball is in the air is very insignificant compared to the time it takes us to catch the ball, get it to our throwing hand, and then throw the ball.
Good hands will also make up for bad reads on ground balls.
Take the classic two hopper for example:
Infielder A has bad hands. Infielder B has good hands. They both get a bad read on the ball and create an in-between hop for themselves. Infielder A will most commonly either violently attack the ball and miss it, or he will try and pull his hands back, and the ball will shoot under his glove. Infielder B will be able to rake through the ball and turn tough in-between hop into a manageable quiet, soft scoop.
What good hands look like:
Great hands are not an impossible skill to obtain. It is easy to see when an infielder has good, soft, quiet hands. Bad hands often look hard, violent, rough, with a lot of movement. It can often be tough to differentiate between the two, especially to the untrained eye. But there is a big difference.
How to obtain great hands:
Like anything else in baseball, the best way to obtain great hands is through repetition.
Just like the swing, you do not want to just pick up the bat and go hit a live pitcher.
First, you want to hit off the tee or take dry swings, then progress to front flips, then progress to live batting practice, then to a game. Ground balls are no different! It should be a progression every day.
Start when you play catch.
Each time the ball is thrown to you work on exchanging it (getting the ball into your throwing hand) as quickly as you can.
If you drop it, so what! Without errors, you will never learn to make gains.
Now progress, get a partner and simply just throw each other short hops.
If you have a machine, set up a machine to shoot out short hops at a comfortable speed at first.
Simply work on attacking the ball with your glove open, hand facing down as quietly as you can. Start with one hand. Work straight-up, to the forehand side, and to the backhand side.
You can never have enough reps of this and it is easy. You can even do it in your house!
Now on a field, progress forward. I personally prefer going to my position, at infield “in” depth and getting on my knees. Then, have someone hit fungos right at you.
This will force you to use nothing but your glove and learn to attack each ball.
Next, stand up, do the same thing, do it with or without your throwing hand. I always prefer to start any drill I am performing with only my glove hand.
Next move back and take regular ground balls.
Every day when you start taking ground balls, first do not worry much about your feet, only worry that you are nice, slow, and easy with your hands. Rep after rep, day after day, you will notice a difference in your hands. Remember your glove is not just your tool, if you want to have great hands, think of your glove as a part of your hand!