Baseball 101: Overview of defensive positions

For my first Baseball 101 post, I thought I’d start with something very basic.  Let’s take a look at the defensive positions on the baseball field with a brief overview of their roles.

A complete baseball team requires a minimum of nine players, one for each of the of the positions on the field.  For the sake of simplicity, ease, and shorthand on a game’s boxscore, each position is assigned a number:

1 – Pitcher
2 – Catcher
3 – First base
4 – Second base
5 – Third base
6 – Shortstop
7 – Left field
8 – Center field
9 – Right field

Out on the field, they line up like this:

Photo source:

In today’s world, a starting lineup can sometimes include a tenth player, the designated hitter, who bats in place of the pitcher.  The designated hitter is not assigned a number, but rather is identified as the “DH.”  In the Major Leagues, use of the designated hitter is permitted in the American League, but is still prohibited in the National League.

Now for a brief look at these positions.  Please keep in mind that there are many more intricacies to each position’s duties and abilities than I am describing here.

Pitcher (P) – The pitcher is the catalyst of every play in the game.  The pitcher throws the baseball from the mound, in the center of the diamond, towards the catcher behind home plate.  The object is for the ball to cross the plate without the batter hitting it, or to force the batter to hit the ball into play in a way that allows the other defensive players to get him out.

Catcher (C) – The catcher crouches behind home plate and in front of the home plate umpire, and his primary duty is to receive the pitches thrown by the pitcher.  The pitcher and catcher are in constant communication with one another, verbally and via unspoken signals, regarding the best way to pitch to each batter in order to get him out.  Since his position provides a complete view of the baseball diamond, the catcher is also tasked with directing the other players on the field prior to and during defensive plays.  Also, since base runners must cross home plate in order to score, the catcher also serves as the primary defender against opposing runners trying to score.

First base (1B) – The first baseman, as one would expect, plays closest to the first base bag and is primarily responsible for covering that base.  The vast majority of defensive plays are completed by throwing the baseball to first base, in order to get the runner out.  In the event that the first baseman has to field a ball in play, whether it is a regularly hit ball or a bunt play, the pitcher is charged with covering first base.

Second base (2B) – The second baseman plays towards the center of the of the field, usually just to the right of second base.  A lot of double plays begin by throwing the ball to second base, and the second baseman often takes these throws and makes the pivot to turn and throw to first base for the second out.  The second baseman also may serve as a cutoff for throws from the outfield.

Third base (3B) – The third baseman plays closest to third base.  This position is often referred to as the “Hot Corner,” since the defender is positioned very close to the batter, and right-handed batters will often hit high-speed shots in that direction.  Like the first baseman, the third baseman is a key defender against a bunt play.

Shortstop (SS) – Like the second baseman, the shortstop plays towards the center to field, except that he is positioned just left of the second base bag.  The duties of a shortstop are very similar to those of the second baseman, except from the opposite side of the base.  The shortstop may be responsible for covering either second or third base, depending on the play.

Outfielders (OF or LF, CF, and RF) – Outfielders defend from their respective positions in the outfield.  These players are responsible for catching long fly balls or tracking down ground balls that make it past the infield.  Because of this, good outfielders typically require good speed, as well as a strong throwing arm to get the ball back to the infield quickly and accurately.  Outfielders also help to back up plays in the infield, in the event that the ball gets loose.  Left fielders typically back up plays to third base, center fielders back up second base, and right fielders back up first base.

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