Every baseball team wants to place their fastest player in center field because there is a lot of ground to cover, but there is a lot more to playing center field than speed. Center fielders need to be excellent defenders as well as excellent hitters. So, what makes a good center fielder?
A good center fielder is someone who is fast, has strong defensive skills, and is a solid hitter. Good center fielders also need excellent vision, as center fielders play further away from home plate than any other defensive position.
For those wondering about what else makes a good center fielder in baseball, here are 9 characteristics of great center fielders:
- Strong defensive skills
- Excellent speed
- Strong arm
- Great vision and depth perception
- A solid hitter
- Good leadership skills
- A quick learner
- Highly alert
For the rest of this article, I’ll dive deeper into these 9 characteristics that are required for any player to make the starting lineup as a center fielder.
1. Strong Defensive Skills
Defensive skills are the most crucial characteristic of any outfielder, not just the center fielder. Your fielding abilities are the primary reason you’re in that position because coaches won’t put anyone in the center field they can’t trust to lead the outfield.
2 reasons why a center fielder should be the best fielder in the outfield:
- Center fielders have the best visual of the pitcher and the hitter. This puts them in a position to better predict how the ball will come off the bat so they can cover the most ground.
- There are more hits to center field than any other outfield position. Over a two year time-span in the MLB, center fielders have received almost 4,000 more catchable balls compared to right field players and almost 5,600 more catchable balls than left fielders.
The entire outfield is useless if the center fielder cannot catch or throw so strong defensive skills are a must.
But what exactly makes a player an excellent center fielder besides catching and throwing better than most? Let’s look at the other characteristics.
2. Excellent Speed
Besides being a good defender, speed is paramount if you want to make it as a center fielder. A player in this position covers a lot of ground because they have to play their position and also have the ability to back up left or right field.
One responsibility of center fielders is to prevent hard-hit line drives from dropping between the outfielders and rolling to the wall. For this reason, the best center fielders are typically the fastest athletes on the team.
But lightning quick isn’t the only aspect of playing this position. If you don’t have Usain Bolt’s speed, you can make up for it by knowing the most efficient path to the spot of the ball. The better you are at reading the ball off the bat, the quicker you can get to the spot where the ball will land.
A great center fielder should also possess a good first step, which is the ability to quickly recognize the direction the ball has been hit and sprint towards it. Center fielders with a great first step can cover the same amount of ground as someone who is simply fast.
When coaches are looking for a center fielder, they also observe how the player stands in their ready position as they wait for the pitch. Is the person ready to run and catch the ball in milliseconds without wasting time? How quickly is the transition between the catch and the throw? It’s all about athleticism and staying ready all the time.
Learn more about what is the ready position in baseball.
3. Strong Arm
Players must throw the ball accurately over a long distance to be an effective center fielder. Center field is usually the furthest distance away from home so center fielders need to be able to make long throws.
Right fielders are generally known for having the strongest arm in the outfield, but center fielders also need a strong arm. The stronger your arm, the better chance you have at playing center field.
4. Great Vision and Depth Perception
Instinct, depth perception, and vision are also crucial characteristics of a center fielder. Center fielders must be able to effectively read the ball off the bat and predict where it’s going. Most of the time, a center fielder catches fly balls while they are stationary, but there are also plenty of times where a center fielder needs to catch the ball on the run.
As mentioned above, the center fielder receives a lot of hits, usually more than any other outfielder. Therefore, this outfield captain should see the hitter’s bat path and predict how it’ll go. If the hitter is late or early on pitches, the center fielder will need to adjust their position accordingly.
Additionally, the center fielder communicates with the other outfielders during fly balls to prevent a collision. They see when the ball is going and they will either back up their fellow outfielders or call them off if they’re better positioned to catch the ball. Without great vision and instinct, players will struggle at center field.
5. A Solid Hitter
One of the most overlooked aspects of a good center fielder is their ability to hit the ball. Most people associate center fielders with their ability to play defense, but it will be difficult for a coach to start a player in center field if they are unable to hit.
The good news for center fielders is that they don’t need to be power hitters. Power hitters are a welcomed addition to any team, but since most center fielders are fast, they have the additional ability to be dangerous on the base path.
When it comes to hitting, center fielders can easily make the starting lineup as a contact hitter.
Learn more about the 12 characteristics of highly successful hitters.
6. Good Leadership Skills
The center fielder is considered the captain of the outfield. They communicate with the left and right fielders on how to adjust depending on what the center fielder is seeing.
In addition to coordinating with the left and right fielders, center fielders also have precedence over any other fielder when going after the same ball. As an example, if a center fielder and a left fielder are running after the same fly ball, the center fielder has priority for the ball. If the center fielder calls for it, the left fielder should back off.
The same is true when a center fielder and an infielder are going after the same ball. Usually, the center fielder will call off another player by yelling “I got it!” or “Ball!”, and the other player will allow the center fielder to field the ball.
When all teammates know the priority of who can call off another player, collisions are prevented, confusion is eliminated, and the chances of the defense catching the ball are greatly increased.
The center fielder will only utilize this authority if they’re better positioned to field the ball than the other player. By this virtue, a center fielder must be a good communicator and have a loud audible voice.
That said, the center fielder needs to be a great leader for the other players to listen to them and stand down. Their ability to delegate, communicate effectively, and earn others’ respect is crucial to being a great outfielder.
Center fielders are among the most important players in baseball, so they must be in good condition. Coaches everywhere look for someone lean, strong, and has an overall athletic package.
Height is not the most important factor for center fielders if you possess all the other characteristics, but most center fielders in Major League Baseball are around 6 feet tall or taller.
According to Nelson Gord of NCSA, there’s something called the eye test, where coaches look at whether you’re dressed for the part, athletic enough, tall enough, or explosive enough. The entire package has to win the eye for them to consider you a great center fielder.
Here’s a YouTube video of Nelson Gord on what coaches look for in a center fielder:
8. A Quick Learner
All great center fielders had to learn what they didn’t know. Playing center field isn’t a skill that comes naturally to players so good center fielders need to have the ability to learn quickly if they want to maintain their role as a starter.
For example, players may be fast and strong, but they are lacking in their ability to hit. In these scenarios, a good center fielder needs to know how to make adjustments so they can also be successful at the plate.
The desire to learn new skills and take steps to learn from mistakes makes you a better player. Most players greatly benefit from working closely with a coach on whatever skills they are looking to develop.
9. Highly Alert
Center fielders have the unique ability to be involved in a lot of plays. Even if the ball is not hit towards the center fielder, center fielders need to be able to back up the left fielder, right fielder, and whoever is covering second base.
In addition to backing up teammates, center fielders must also be able to read whether the hitter is late or early and position the outfield accordingly.
For example, if a hitter is strong, the center fielder will instruct the outfield to play a little deeper. On the other hand, the center fielder may shade more to the side of the field a hitter usually hits towards. This ability to observe and see what most people don’t see is what makes a player great in the center field.
Learn More About How to Play Center Field
This article is one part of a complete guide on how to play center field.
To learn more about how to play center field, read these additional articles:
- What Is a Center Fielder in Baseball?
- Center Fielder Roles and Responsibilities
- 9 Characteristics of Good Center Fielders
- The Dimensions of Center Field in Baseball
- Where to Stand in Center Field?
- Who Is the Cutoff Man for Center Fielders?
- 4 Scenarios Where Center Fielders Should Back Up Teammates
- What Size Glove Should a Center Fielder Wear?
- 9 Reasons Center Field Is a Good Position in Baseball
- The Best 14 Drills for Any Baseball Outfielder