Interview: Fielding Instructor Tony Franklin

San Diego Padres Roving Fielding Instructor Tony Franklin is charged with making the defense better in the infield. He inherited a tall task as three prospects ended the year in the top ten throughout all the minors in errors.

Would you describe your role as the Roving Fielding Instructor:

Tony Franklin: A lot of people say I am around just to mess with everybody. I am the Infield Instructor and Coordinator and my role is to try and help the infielders get better. The way I do that is two basic fundamentals I always focus on that I believe are the basis of any athletic thing you ever do, footwork and balance. For me, the whole game is to be able to get off your mark with a good start and you do that with balance. Your footwork to begin the play and throughout the play becomes important, especially since the game is so fast.

I always tell the guys, ‘baserunners don't wait so you can get ready to throw the ball. You have to be in position to throw the ball as you are catching it.' And that comes from better footwork and balance.

Are there specific exercises that you have the fielders do to improve?

Tony Franklin: There are a few detailed things we talk about but it is not unlike any other athletic sport that you participate in whether it be basketball, football, table tennis, even swimming, soccer, the whole thing – every coach will tell you the whole game is footwork. You have to move. Your movements have to be precise. The thing that we do is do a lot of repetition with those things so they become comfortable with it and it becomes second nature to them. These are things that we learn as we are youngsters in little league. It just gets a little more intricate as you go up the ladder. As you get into high school and college the game gets a little faster so you have to do these things a little quicker but it is nothing different than what you learned at a very early age.

When does a player have too many errors:

Tony Franklin: Right now. This is professional baseball and we have to be good at what we do at each level. Now at the lower levels you figure some of the younger kids are going to struggle a little bit more than the older guys. But right now it is important – and it is important to not only them as individuals but us as an organization from a development standpoint that they do understand that. That they take stock in the fact that they are missing too many plays and do something about it.

How do you do something about it? You go out there and you work your tail off. There is no magic in the game. There is no magic in getting better except going out there and taking as many as you can, reading the ball as well as you can, catching the erratic hop as well as routine hops – that is what makes infielders become better.

I think they all are blessed with a certain amount of ability. And this is why they are here. What I can do for them is put them in a better position to do what they do naturally. I also say there are a few things we need to talk about such as hand position, if there hands are a little too low maybe we can get them a little higher and help them become more comfortable with that. If the feet are not moving as quickly as I think they should I try and explain why feet need to move a little quicker. They don't surprise me when they do these things because they all have the ability to do these things it is just a matter of them doing it on a consistent basis. That is when people say, ‘this guy is pretty good.'

People always talk about how fast a guy can get rid of a baseball but I don't think that is the case. It is not his hands so much as it is his feet. You get your feet in position to throw – that is what make your hands look quick. As far as their ability to do things and play the game well, none of these guys has surprised me because I always feel that they have the potential to be extremely good. Some guys are going to catch the baseball better than others but I think we can help all of them improve to a large degree. And when you do that, people are going to take notice. ‘This guy is pretty good.'

Talk about the players that seemingly have trouble with the easy play but also make the great plays that they perhaps shouldn't and how you get them to make the routine grounder:

Tony Franklin: That is always been the task at every minor league level, Double-A, Triple-A and Major Leagues. Catching the baseball is pretty much an innate thing. It is something you are blessed with doing. This is why you participate in this game. What I try and do is put them in a better position to do those things and do it with your basic fundamentals. The flashy plays, the game of the week ones, the ESPN highlights, those things happen every now and then but the plays we want you to make are those two-hoppers to your left or two-hoppers to your right, the ball is hit right at you, that routine double play ball, those are the plays we need you to make on a consistent basis. Those are the plays that are going to happen four, five, six times a game.

They are humans. Humans are prone to mistakes.

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