A key trait of every good infielder is the ability to choose exactly when he is going to field the ball in relation to where the ball is in its current hop. In an ideal world, an infielder would field every groundball when the ball is at the height of its bounce or just starting to go back towards the ground. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.
When an infielder is attacking the baseball, there are two different points during the ball’s bounce at which the infielder should try to field the ball. The first one, as I said above is when the ball is at its peak or just starting to head back toward the ground. This is what I refer to my players as a “long hop.” The second place an infielder should try to field the ball is just after the ball has hit the ground and is beginning to go back up. This is what I refer to as a “short hop.”
Why is fielding the ball during one of these two points important?
The reason fielding the ball at one of these two points is important is because these are the two points where you know the ball will be. If you watch good infielders take ground balls, their hands “beat” the baseball to the spot where they are going to field the ball. The only way they can have their hands in the spot where the baseball is going to be before the baseball gets there is by knowing what hop they are getting. “Soft hands,” which every infielder wants to be classified as having, come from the hands beating the baseball to the spot. Watch in this video how Betancourt’s hands beat the baseball to the spot: Betancourt Video
An “in-between” hop occurs after the ball has hit the ground and as the ball is heading upwards towards its peak. A lot of bad infielders get stuck trying to field groundballs during this hop. The reasons why it is very hard to field a ground ball during an “in-between” hop is because a) the ball has just left the ground and the infielder doesn’t have time to judge exactly where it is going to be and b) the baseball has a lot of top-spin and the impact with ground causes it to increase its speed. Allowing the baseball to have a little more time to travel in the air will give you more time to judge the speed of the bounce and the height of the baseball.
As with any other part of the game, the only way to perfect getting the hop that you want is by practicing it every time you take ground balls. A good way to work on getting your hop is by deciding before the ball is hit which hop you are going to get, then attack the baseball and get that hop. You can work on getting long hops for a few ground balls and then work on getting the short hop. It is very important to know how to get both hops. If you have worked on this, when the game rolls around, you will be able to react and get the good hops automatically because it is the habit you have created.