The first bats in conformance with the new USAbat standards went up for sale on September 1, 2017. Since then this site has maintained a database of all USAbat models currently available or expected to be available soon. The list has not grown by much since September. Many of the lighter models won’t be released until 2018, as some bat makers struggle to get these models to meet the new standard.
So how are the early USAbat models actually doing in the hands of young baseball players?
My son has only personally tested one bat model, but reports are coming in from other parents testing various models, including one parent who spent over $3000 of his own money to test many of the new bats. In this post I share some of these early takes, including some personal observations I have from visiting my local Big 5 and weighing a few bats. Quite a bit of the information for this article comes from a USAbat thread at Baseball Fever, where coaches and other avid youth baseball parents honestly share information.
tldr version: Most of the expensive composite USAbat models disappoint, while a few of the more affordable single-piece aluminum bats stand out as good values.
Read on for details, including recommendations for a couple specific models that seem like early standouts.
Before I go on, please understand that we’ll have much better information by April of next year, after we’ve seen these bats used in a few games. It’s one thing to test bats with a batting tee, at the cages, or off coach pitch. It’s another thing entirely to see how well kids can control their bats when experiencing the pressure of actual games, especially if kids pitch.
I’ll be sure to write a more comprehensive and reliable bat buying advice guide in April 2018, similar to my previous guide. I’ll also write a comprehensive review of the bat my son will be swinging in 2018, similar to the review I wrote on his 2017 Axe Bat.
This article assumes you know all the technology and vocabulary related to youth baseball bats. If you don’t, be sure to read my deep dive into bat technology.
So let’s start with the heavier bats:
Drop 5 and Drop 8 bats
If a player is big and strong enough to swing it, a heavier and longer bat will provide plenty of pop just from the weight of the bat. This makes it easier to make a heavy bat that meets the new standard and seems to perform well. There’s a reasonable selection of drop 5 and Drop 8 USAbat models to start with. For the most part, these bats will be appropriate for the ages of 12 and up, though a big 100+ pound 10-year-old can also find success with a drop 8 bat.
I have so far seen few reviews of drop 5 and drop 8 bats from parents of kids who use them. However, I have experience with one of them:
My son will be turning 13 in early 2018, so I got him his first drop 8, the Element Axe Bat model, in a 31″ length. We took it out for 30 minutes and he compared it to two other bats he owns, the MB50 that he used last year, and the Anderson Techzilla XP which had previously been too heavy for him but is comparable in swing weight to the Element. I threw him easy-to-hit daddy pitches.
Being used to last year’s 30″ drop 10 model, he hit best with that one. The new model is both heavier and longer. His swing was slower and he couldn’t control it as well, so hit quality was less consistently good with the new Element. However, when he did manage to hit it solidly, he could hit it just as far as with his lighter Axe Bat. And he was able to control it considerably better than the Anderson Techzilla.
Overall he and I were both pleased with the new bat, as the pop seemed, at worst, only slightly less than his previous bat despite the tougher new standard. We are confident that he’ll do much better with it a few months from now when he’s a little bigger and heavier. At the time of testing, my son was 4′ 10″ tall and weighed 86 pounds. I expect that he’ll be over 100 pounds and over 5′ 0″ tall for most of the time he uses this bat, which will mean a higher swing speed, better bat control, and a return to the consistent hit quality he had with the lighter drop 10 Axe bat he used throughout 2017.
My son and I are not the only ones who appreciate the Element USAbat Axe bat model. A number of other comments and reviews from early adopters are positive about this Axe bat model, including a few comments left on my site from kids who are a couple years younger than my son, using a shorter Element. The Element is looking to be one of the best USAbat models so far.
If you decide to buy the Element direct from the manufacturer, you can use the coupon code JGOL10 to get a 10% discount at checkout.
What about the other drop 5 and drop 8 bats? I have yet to hear anyone praise another model of bat besides this one. However, I simply haven’t seen much commentary on other drop 5 and drop 8 bats, so it could be that a few more good ones will emerge early next year as baseball seasons begin in areas of the U.S. with good weather.
Lighter USAbat Models Between Drop 9 and Drop 12
I have seen much more review and discussion of the lighter bats. There is a growing consensus that it’s a waste of money to buy a light, expensive composite USAbat model. “Dead Logs” is an expression I’m seeing a lot.
Given the new standards, composite bats aren’t going to have any more pop than aluminum. It’s possible though that some composite bats will have a bigger sweet spot and/or a faster, more balanced swing.
So far, the one and only composite bat model that I’ve seen get consistent praise is:
Easton had great success with the Mako and XL1 over the past few years so many people were hoping Easton would figure out how to bring some of that composite goodness to USAbat models. Apparently not. Mostly negative experiences are being reported for Easton’s Ghost X and Beast X models. Easton spends a lot on R&D so I wouldn’t be surprised if Easton’s 2019 USAbat models greatly improve.
Some of the lighter one-piece aluminum bats are getting good praise. The two models which I have seen receive more praise than any other are:
The 618 Solo costs nearly double the 5150 and weighs nearly 2 ounces more than advertised, so the 5150 seems like a better value. JAN UPDATE: As of end of January 2018, the 618 Solo is out of stock at many bat selling sites, which lends support to the idea that it is one of the best of the single piece aluminum USAbat models.
FEB UPDATE: In the two months since I wrote this article, I’ve seen much praise for De Marini’s 2 1/2″ model, specifically for use by 7- and 8-year-olds (but not recommended for use with older players and kid pitch as it may be too prone to denting at higher speeds):
There aren’t many low cost 2 1/4″ models available yet, but these two from Easton are getting some early praise as reasonable options for a slimmer 2 1/4″ barrel:
Do note, however, that many models are significantly heavier than what is stated on the bat. For example, the S450 drop 12 sounds very appealing given that it’s both light and inexpensive. However, reported weights for several sizes of the bat are 2.5 ounces more than what is advertised, so it may be more realistic to consider the S450 a drop 10.
In recent years, a new norm among bat makers has them printing bat weights which are a bit under what the bat actually weighs. I guess it would be okay if every bat maker printed exactly one ounce under, because at least then bat weights could be compared easily across models and manufacturers. But unfortunately, actual bat weights are off from printed bat weights anywhere from 0 to 3 ounces.
In my visit to a Big 5 store earlier this month, I weighed 5 different USAbat models. All weighed at least an ounce over what was printed on the bat. The worst offenders were the Easton S150 (over by 2.5 ounces), and the Easton S550 (over by 2 ounces).
I expect the Easton S150 will be a frequent purchase due to the $29.99 price point but I also expect a lot of disappointment because it claims to be a drop 10 and will therefore be purchased for many kids in the 10-12 age range weighing 70-90 pounds. I would imagine most kids swinging an S150 won’t realize they’re actually swinging a heavy drop 8 bat and will just think they are not very good at hitting.
I think there will be much better USAbat options coming out next year for baseball players between the ages of 7 to 12. I am especially excited to see what the lighter Axe bat models are like when they finally come out, because the axe-like knob allows for modifications to the end-cap design that will allow for more balanced swings than other single-piece aluminum designs.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, 2018 is not the season to expect much benefit to buying expensive, composite USAbat models. Bat makers are still struggling to get some of their models to comply with the new USAbat standard, so the only way many of them can do it is to make bats that are little better than last year’s $30 models.
This is not to say that all bats are the same. Axe bats look to have some advantages over the competition, at least among single-piece aluminum bats. With no light USAbat Axe models yet existing, early indications are pointing to the Rawlings 5150 as being the best of the single-piece aluminum offerings for younger players. And if your player absolutely insists on going composite, Rawlings Quatro is looking like it may be the best of the bunch so far, according to early adopters. For older, bigger kids, the drop 8 Axe Bat Element is a very good choice.
Some parents and coaches are disappointed by the quality of the new USAbat models, especially considering that they’re a little more expensive than last year’s models. I think some of this disappointment is related to the transition. The year a new model comes out will be the most expensive because you can’t get closeout models at discounts.
By August of 2018, parents will have a lot more choice. They will be able to save money by buying 2018 models on sale for closeout prices. Or they can wait a couple months for the 2019 models to come out, which I’m guessing will improve significantly from the 2018 models as bat makers continue to learn how to better make bats that meet the USAbat standard.
In the end, the batter matters far more than the bat. BBCOR made this truer than ever for the high school and college level, and the USAbat standard is now doing the same for youth baseball. The performance gap between the best and worst bats is simply not going to be as wide as it was before. Whether or not you think this is a good or bad thing will depend on your perspective.