August 29, 2013
UCLA’s defense the last three years has been extraordinary.
In 2013, the Bruins recorded a .980 fielding percentage, the best in school history, as UCLA committed only 52 errors in 2,624 chances.
The previous two years, the Bruins posted .976 fielding percentages which ranked second in school history both seasons.
It is no coincidence that UCLA’s fielding success has happened under Bruin Infield Coach T.J. Bruce who has been with the Bruins the last three seasons.
He is without a doubt one of the top infield coaches in all of baseball and utilizes many progressive concepts that allow infielders to have soft hands and make play after play with precision.
UCLA won the College World Series last season for the first time in history with great pitching and defense. But not until now has an in-depth story been written about how defense is taught at UCLA.
In posting a 5-0 record during the College World Series, UCLA’s infielders only committed 2 errors, and turned 4 double plays.
There were a number of outstanding defensive plays that contributed to 10 consecutive wins during the entire NCAA tournament.
Infielders only committed four errors in those 10 pressure packed playoff games.
“You don’t ever want to see your infielders lose their athleticism. That’s been the biggest key for us the last three years at UCLA.
“Teaching them that every play is different is also important. We had 769 assists during the past season in 66 games, and every ball that was hit to our infielders was different. And the key to our success is having the players have a solid foundation.
“I also believe that the earlier the separation of the hands, the earlier your feet must get into motion. No one ever thinks that way. As soon as you break your hands, your feet must do something. They have to move. I always tell my infielders that if they have bad feet, they will go and play in the outfield.
“That’s no knock on our outfielders who do a great job. But infield play is done with your feet. Nobody stresses that. And I feel it is crucial. In fact, I utilize a drill where I have them about 40 feet away from me and have their hands tied behind their back or have their hands in their back pockets.
“Then I roll balls to them and have them simply stop balls with their feet. This really helps them move their feet and makes them realize how crucial footwork is. It doesn’t matter which foot touches the ball. I just want it instilled in their mind that they need to touch the ball with one of their feet.
“If one of my guys can touch a ball with their feet, they will throw you out. That’s always been my theory. I want them to expand their minds on infield play because it can be tedious working on infield play with thousands of balls they will receive during a typical year in practice.”
For the rest of the in-depth story (first of a 2-part series) on how T.J. Bruce teaches infield play at UCLA, purchase the Sept. 6 issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. Bruce explains his system for consistent improvement with infielders, working on different hops, and the notorious 4-ball drill for third baseman and other infielders.