Line yourself up. I mentioned this part in the First Base Mistakes post a while back but I'll mention it again. A good fielder knows where he is on the field at all times. A fielder should not have to be lined up by the catcher who yells "left!" or "right!" Take a peek back to the catcher a couple of times if you have to when lining yourself up. The catcher has his own set of issues to worry about. Where you are positioned shouldn't be one of them. In big, loud stadiums you might not even hear the catcher anyway.
Watch the runner tag. Whether the runner is rounding first base or third base on the play, it is the job of the first and third basemen to watch the runner tag the base on the way by. As you are moving into position for the cutoff, take a peek at the bag and see if he touches it. A runner may only miss a bag once all season but you definitely want to be paying attention when it happens.
Knowing who the outfielder is, how
good of an arm he has, and in what direction
he is moving all play a role in
the cutoff man's positioning.
(Photo by Icon/SMI)
Don't rely on the catcher. Just like a cutoff man should not rely on the catcher to properly position him when lining up the throw, the cutoff man should not always rely on the catcher to tell him what to do when the throw comes in. Sometimes catchers will screw up and either say the wrong thing or nothing at all. The most common mistake is when the catcher says nothing on a throw that is dying or a bit offline. Many cutoff men will let it go because the catcher never said "cut!" If the cutoff man sees the throw is either not going to reach home plate quickly or if he notices the ball is offline, he should not wait for the catcher to say "cut." He should cut it off and possibly make the throw to the plate himself. This also applies when the cutoff clearly sees that the runner trying to score will easily be safe. The cutoff man sees the runner round third and also sees the outfielder's throw. If he can tell by the timing of things that the runner will be safe, he should cut the throw regardless of what the catcher says and just prevent the batter or other runners from moving up another base. Of course, this requires the cutoff man to be observant of multiple things at the same time. Not easy, but as kids get older this becomes more of a responsibility.
Square then turn. When the cutoff man is in the proper location, he should square his body up to the thrower with his arms raised above his head. This gives a clear target for the outfielder to throw to. However, when the ball is released by the outfielder, the cutoff man must try to get to the proper side of the ball so that the glove side of his body is facing home plate when he catches the ball. This requires some quick footwork at times but it must be done. A cutoff man who catches the throw squared up to the outfielder will waste valuable time turning around to make the throw to home plate after catching the ball. The cutoff man who is already turned with his glove side facing home when the catch is made can just catch and throw without having to turn around first.
Be quick not strong. On most cutoff plays, a strong throw from the cutoff man to the catcher is not needed. What is more valuable is a quick throw. A strong throw usually requires more steps by the thrower to generate momentum in order to get the most out of the arm. As a result, a strong throw takes longer. A cutoff man needs to focus on being quick in his transition from catching to throwing especially since the distance of his throw to the catcher is relatively short. Catch the throw and get rid of it quickly.