Professional players in the Bigs and Minors are only allowed to swing a wood bat, made from a single piece of wood. The primary woods used–to best balance swingability with durability–are maple, ash, and birch.
Since professional players can only use wood bats, should our high school and youth players do the same? If you ask most stars in the “Show,” they’ll tell you they’ve been swinging a wood bat since their youth. But why?
It’s simple. Wood bats give immediate feedback, helping you improve your game in real time.
READY TO TURN YOUR LITTLE LEAGUER INTO BEAST MODE AT THE PLATE? GRAB A WOOD BAT!
Now that we’ve established the benefit to using wood bats starting at an early age, it’s time to find the perfect bat and start practicing! But that’s easier said than done.
When it comes to wood youth baseball bats and reputable wood bat companies, there is a lot of inconsistency in models, weights, and woods. There are 3 extremely important factors to consider when choosing a wood bat for little leaguers and high schoolers.
WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT WHEN CHOOSING A YOUTH WOOD BAT?
✔ Wood Quality – look for straight grains from one end of the bat to the other end
✔ Weight Relative to Length (Drop Weight) – too heavy or too light kills a swing
✔ Distribution of the Weight – too much in the barrel causes loss of bat speed
HOW TO TELL IF A WOOD BAT IS HIGH QUALITY
Much of the wood that ends up in big box sporting goods stores is wood that large bat manufacturers need to get rid of, as it doesn’t meet specifications for use with professional customers. This is the reason most parents will purchase from a reputable company’s official website.
Wood quality is fairly straightforward. When you’re searching for a youth wood bat, follow these tips:
- Seek a manufacturer that uses only the top grade of wood called premium grade. These pieces will have the straightest grain lines running from barrel end to handle end, impacting durability.
- Beware of hidden flaws: if a bat is painted all black and is a great price, it likely is hiding a piece of wood that shouldn’t have been used for a game bat.
HOW TO CHOOSE A BAT WITH THE RIGHT DROP WEIGHT & WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION
In addition to wood quality, you’ll want to consider the weight of the bat relative to the length(also known as drop weight), and the distribution of that weight throughout the entire bat.
The drop weight is the most significant factor in developing great swing form. If a bat is too light or too heavy, it will negate the benefits you get from practicing and playing with a wood bat.
When you’re assessing whether a bat is too heavy or has too much weight out towards the barrel end, follow these tips:
- Watch to see if the batter drags the bat through the strike zone.
- A tip-off is the hands coming through the strike zone before the barrel
- Watch to see if the batter turns over his wrists when swinging
- A tip-off is the bat logo and engraving being 180 degrees from where it started
- Watch for a chopping motion in the swing for
When you’re assessing whether a bat is too light, follow these tips:
- Watch to see if the swing is super fast
- Watch to see if the swing looks like the hitter is golfing, swinging from low to high
- Watch the bat! It won’t last long: durability drops substantially when a wood bat is too light.
LOOK FOR THESE SPECS IN YOUTH WOOD BATS
From ages 5-11 years old, most players are required to swing a maximum 2-¼” barrel diameter bat, per Little League rules. Since players of this age have yet to begin filling out with muscle, a high school age drop weight of -3 is way too heavy.
Many wood bat manufacturers recommend and sell a maximum drop weight of -5 for 5-11 year olds. As an example, this means a 31” bat would weigh 26 ounces. Other manufacturers list a weight range but make no commitment to exact weight. When 1 ounce is the difference, in a high school hitter’s bat, between a singles hitter and a home run hitter, this is still an issue. Amazingly, the biggest name, with the longest history, doesn’t even list the weight of their youth bats. Yikes!
So, is a wood bat that’s only 2 ounces lighter than a high school age bat really appropriate for a 5-11 year old? We don’t think so! We recommend the following youth bat sizes:
✔ Little Leaguers (5-11 years old): 2-¼” barrel + age-appropriate -7 to -8 drop weight
✔ Pony Leaguers (12-13 years old): 2-½” barrel at a -5 drop weight
Why would most wood bat manufacturers create a wood bat for a 5-11 year old that’s only 2 ounces heavier than a high school age bat–and so far away from that of a metal bat? The only explanation is that they know that the heavier the bat, the more durable it will be...and the more likely a parent will trust the brand and become a repeat customer. What they are hiding from the customer is what a too heavy bat is doing to swing development. All the good that comes from swinging a wood bat is wiped away when the weight is not appropriate for the age.
At Phoenix Bats, with one of the lighter 2-¼” bats on the market, we believe a bat that is -7 to -8 drop weight best supports proper swing form development. The trade-off of a little less durability for better success at the plate is well worth it. Again, be sure to watch your player’s swing: is it level through the zone? With a properly weighted and balanced bat, it will be.
WHAT ABOUT THE 12 YEAR OLD WHO HAS OUTGROWN A YOUTH BAT BUT ISN’T IN HIGH SCHOOL YET?
At age 12-13, the youth player begins to add a little more muscle and strength. A youth bat won’t hold up as well due to such and due to the physical development of the pitcher your hitter may face.
The progression toward his high school age bat (full-size and full -3 drop weight) starts with getting used to a full-size, 2-½” barrel (Pony League standard). But, to add the weight of a high school age bat will hamper swing development, for the same reasons discussed about -5 youth bats. So, a -5 drop weight is used for this transition bat, providing a perfect bridge for the 12 to 13 year old, out of youth, but pre-high school. Swing form is maintained and proper development continues.
Most wood bat companies offer a -5 drop weight—the same weight they offered for a youth 1-8 years younger. Not all companies offer the full size (2-½”) barrel to go with that drop weight, limiting the preparation for high school age baseball.
WHAT SIZE YOUTH WOOD BAT IS THE RIGHT LENGTH?
If your youth player is already swinging a metal bat, you should stick with the same length in a wood bat. The only exception would be if his metal bat is miss-sized.
WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT METAL BAT WEIGHTS ARE MUCH LIGHTER
Don’t let the heavier weight of a properly weighted wood bat concern you. Remember, metal youth bats are excessively light, and are the core contributor to poor swing form.
Most metal youth bats have big barrels, pushing the weight distribution out toward the end of the bat. To allow for a faster swing, the metal bat is made too light. The result is a golf-like swing, from low to high. This is not a swing form that will serve the youth player well, as he will eventually move onto high school baseball, and hopefully even further. A proper baseball swing should be fairly level to drive the ball into the gaps, and beyond.
Even at the high school level, big-barreled metal bats are extremely light relative to design. You would never get a big-barreled wood bat, of quality, in anything but a weight that is inappropriate to maintain great swing form and bat speed.