The Convoluted Bat Needs of 13u Baseball Players

Getting the right bats for a 13u player is far more complicated than any other age. Not only do a variety of bat standards apply depending on context, but BBCOR bats are looming in the near future for players who hope to continue playing in high school. As if all this weren’t enough complication, a new bat standard, USAbat, was introduced. Even this level of complication isn’t enough: the date of the age cutoff has shifted for most recreation leagues across the country.

Dealing with bats for a 13u player is a confusing mess. I’m here to help sort out the mess so families with 13u players don’t end up with 5 (and soon 6!) bats like we did:

This article defines a 13u player, states who must use BBCOR bats, discusses the logical progression to BBCOR, and goes into all the permutations of which bat is needed for which context.

What Exactly is a 13u Baseball Player?

For many years, the age cutoff for 13u was April 30 for every type of youth baseball organization. That is, you were a 13u for the first 7 months of the year if you turned 13 years old on April 30. If you turned 13 years old on May 1, you were a 12u for the first 7 months of the year. Then, on August 1, the 12u player turns into a 13u player, while the 13u player turns into a 14u player. In other words, August 1 is the date when all players advanced to the next age category, even though April 30 is the cutoff that defines the player’s baseball age.

This continues to be true for most travel ball tournaments in the USA. USSSA is the largest national travel ball organization and there are several sizable regional travel ball organizations such as ALL WORLD in the CA/NV region that all continue to use this age cutoff system. Even though the system has not changed in many years, it’s still confusing enough to people that USSSA has an online baseball age calculator. Other travel ball organizations such as ALL WORLD also have online baseball age calculators.

Several years ago, the national Little League organization shifted the age cutoff date 4 months later to August 31. Little League has grandfathered these changes for some age cohorts. Therefore, anyone in Little League as of the time of this writing needs to figure out for their player whether the age cutoff is April 30 or August 31. A few years from now it will be August 31 for all.

In 2018, the national PONY recreation baseball organization switched to the August 31 cutoff as well, but with no grandfathering.

Simple example: My son turned 13 in March 2018, so he is a 13u in every possible context. He will be a 14u starting August 1, 2018.

Complicated example: One of my son’s teammates was born in June, 2017. That player is a 14u in PONY league, but a 13u for travel ball. On August 1, he will be a 14u for travel ball as well. The 4 month window between May 1 and August 31 puts has caused his baseball age to shift for PONY and Little League (including the PONY World Series summer tournament), but not travel ball.

Once you understand baseball age, you can work backwards from BBCOR to determine bat requirements for a 13u.

Who is Required to Use a BBCOR bat?

The BBCOR standard has been in place at high schools since 2012. BBCOR bats have a wood-like barrel performance and cannot be lighter than drop 3. For example, a 31-inch length BBCOR bat must weigh at least 28 ounces.

BBCOR is required in the following contexts:

  • All levels of High School baseball
  • Many 7th/8th grade middle school baseball teams (13 to 14 years old)
  • Most 14u travel ball tournaments

Note that technically, players may choose between BBCOR and wood bats in most of the BBCOR-required contexts. However, wood bats break so frequently that players rarely choose to use them.

My understanding is that nearly all 14u travel ball tournaments require players to swing BBCOR bats. So let’s say you turn 13 in April of 2018. Starting August 1, 2018, you’ll be using a BBCOR bat in travel ball games. Some 13u players are required to start using BBCOR earlier than that as part of a middle school baseball program or if playing on a 14u team.

Preparing for BBCOR Bat Use

It is much, much easier for players to swing a light bat than a heavy bat. At the younger ages, many players have poor hitting mechanics, and the quickest fix for that is to switch to a bat that is so light that it can be used to good effect in spite of poor mechanics and/or lack of strength.

Some kids who never develop good swing mechanics continue to use a light bat until they are forced to switch to BBCOR at the age of 14. I see some players on my son’s 13u and 14u PONY division swinging drop 10 bats. Switching to BBCOR (combined with better pitching) from a drop 10 bat is so drastic that typically, mechanics change for the worse and hitting results plummet. The switch to BBCOR contributes to some players deciding to quit the game.

The local coaches with whom I’ve discussed BBCOR have all said that it’s very helpful to practice with increased weight for many months before BBCOR bats are required. So it might look something like this:

  • January through May of 13u year: Use a drop 8 bat for games, drop 5 off the tee. Even better if a player is big/strong enough to start with such heavy bats at an earlier age, but many players won’t be big enough until they’re 13.
  • June and July: Use a drop 5 bat for games, BBCOR off a tee
  • August: Begin using BBCOR always as a 14u.

Also helpful is to regularly do calisthenics such as pushups, pullups, crunches, planks, and squats.

It’s very important to maintain good mechanics when switching to a heavier bat. It can be helpful to practice with the heavier bat off a tee, being careful to focus on good mechanics, rather than just at batting practice and games where the player will focus more on hand eye coordination than mechanics.

Other Bat Standards

USSSA BPF 1.15 was the standard in youth baseball from the ages of 7 to 13 for many years. Pretty much all youth baseball organizations, both travel baseball and recreational leagues, followed this standard until December 2017. On January 1, 2018, most recreation leagues adopted the new USAbat standard. Most travel ball organizations continue to use the USSSA BPF 1.15 standard.

Why does this matter for 13u players?

The purpose of the USAbat standard is the same as BBCOR: To bring aluminum or composite barrel performance more in line with wood, thus returning the game to its traditional hitter/pitcher balance. It worked. It’s no longer as easy to hit the ball hard or control bats, so there are fewer multi-base hits and the balance of the game has tilted back towards pitchers in organizations that use USAbats.

Given a choice between a USAbat or a BPF 1.15 model, batters will of course choose BPF 1.15 because they have more barrel pop, more bat speed, and they are easier to control.

Putting it all together:

A typical player will likely use a USAbat model for rec league, a BPF 1.15 model with more pop for a 13u summer team, and a heavy wood or BBCOR bat for training to prepare for the August 1 switch to BBCOR for the 14u summer/fall team. In some cases, BBCOR will be required earlier for middle school.

My 13u Son’s Convoluted Example Season: 6 Bats in One Year

My son has a March birthday and is smaller than average for his age. This season he weighed in at 88 pounds and 5′ 0″ as a 13u, and it was his first time playing on the big field (60′ 6″ mound distance, 90′ bases). His 13u and 14u teammates ranged from 5′ 2″ to 5′ 8″, and 100 to 145 pounds. Size matters when selecting a bat.

Our rec league decided to have a transition period for USAbats. Our league did require USAbat for 2 5/8″ bats. However, the league allowed use of 2 1/4″ bats with either the old BPF 1.15 standard or the new USAbat standard. We wanted 7u through 10u players to have access to very light bats. Light, 2 1/4″ USAbat models for 2018 were, in actual fact, not light.

For the 13u/14u division, BBCOR is also permitted and sometimes used by the bigger players.

4 months before his 13th birthday, I acquired a drop 8 Axe bat, the USAbat Axe Element. I figured he would continue to grow and pick up weight and therefore be able to “grow into” a 31″ bat. I was wrong. He did not grow much and he picked up no body weight at all from October to April. The weight gain was due to working out a lot from June through September, but the workouts did not continue at the same rate or intensity as before.

But even had he grown, or worked out a bunch, I was still wrong. I didn’t realize how close he was to swinging BBCOR. When it dawned upon me that he was going to be swinging BBCOR in August of 2018, I realized that given his size, his first BBCOR model would best be 30″. So he needed to be moving up in weight, for sure. But not length.

Before I realized all this, he tried swinging his 31″ Axe Element for months, but he never could swing it as well as any of his 30″ bats, even ones that were heavier or very end-weighted. It was not even close, even with easy batting practice pitching.

By mid-April he gave up on the 31″ drop 8 bat. In his occasional batting practice, he had been using a wood axe bat to try to build up his strength. It was 30″ drop 5, 2 1/4″. But our league doesn’t allow wood bats. So he tried using his Techzilla XP, a drop 9 30″ 2 1/4″ bat that is really more like drop 7 by actual bat weight, and is heavily end-weighted to boot. In batting practice he could sometimes get hold of one good with this bat, but he could not hit consistently well with it.

I also acquired a 30″ version of the drop 8 Axe Element USAbat. So he tried that one too. He gradually became more consistent with the 30″ Element in batting practice but he preferred to use the Techzilla because of the potential for a bigger hit. However, umpires decided it was not legal. It says BPF 1.15 on the Techzilla but did not have the USSSA stamp, so they believed that it didn’t satisfy league regulations.

He used the 30″ drop 8 Element for the rest of the spring season. He got better and better with in batting practice, but performed poorly in games. When he’d use his last year’s Axe bat in batting practice, he was much more consistent and could hit the ball further, but that drop 10 model was USSSA and therefore not legal for play.

So far I’ve discussed 4 bats he used: the drop 8 31″ and 30″ Elements, the drop 9 Techzilla, and the drop 5 wood Axe bat he used at the cages and off the tee to build strength. Being his 13u year, it got more complicated.

In prior years, there were always plenty of kids for select teams. Typically there was one team that was a year older than him, and 2 teams at his age. However, players gradually drop out of baseball as they get older. This year, there were only enough players for a combined 13u/14u team. He made the team but that’s when we learned that 14u requires BBCOR at travel tournaments. After looking briefly into BBCOR options, our son agreed with me that it made no sense to participate in tournaments where he’d be required to swing BBCOR—he just wasn’t big/strong enough yet. But we did learn that he would have to swing BBCOR by August as a 14u player in travel tournaments.

So instead he tried out for and made a local 13u travel team that is part of a long-term development program for youth baseball players. Now that he’s on the team, he can’t wait to use his last year’s drop 10 bat in games, so he can get some hits for a change. This is bat #5.

He is still hitting off the tee and at the cage with heavier bats (mostly the drop 5 wood Axe bat) to gain more strength. He hardly did any of this in May but as his hitting became worse, he has gained a newfound enthusiasm for training with heavier bats off the tee. We’ll see how long this lasts, but . . .

He asked me the other day to buy him a BBCOR 30″ bat. He wants to practice with the heavy drop 3 bat before August hits. Assuming I buy the BBCOR bat, it will be our 6th bat this year. We’re just about to enter the season of bat discounting so I’m hoping to pick up a light-swinging 2017 BBCOR 30″ bat over the next few weeks.

UPDATE: I bought a used Louisville Slugger Solo 617 30″ BBCOR drop 3 bat from eBay in late June. Day after we got it, he took some swings off a tee, soft toss, and some live easy batting practice pitches. I may do a detailed review at some point but I will summarize in advance to say this bat is amazing and totally appropriate for him. He is swinging it almost as well as the 30″ drop 8 Axe Element. If he practices a bunch, I think he’ll be able to control it well enough to get reasonable results during games by August when he’s required to swing BBCOR. He is already getting some good hits with it and just needs to get a little stronger and more used to it to more consistently control it.

6 bats in one season. Would have been 5 had I not mistakenly acquired a 31″ bat. But still.

To me, 5 bats in one season seems like entirely too many. I’m fine with two bats—a wood bat for the cages and tee work, and second for games and real baseballs. Hopefully, anyone reading this will be able to plan their player’s 13u player better than I did, and maybe keep it down to 2 or 3 bats.

Even though my son isn’t ready for BBCOR, I’m looking forward to the time in the not too distant future when he’s back down to two bats. He probably won’t be able to swing a heavy bat well at first, but at least I’ll be done with the game of musical bats.

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

4 thoughts on “The Convoluted Bat Needs of 13u Baseball Players”

  1. Joe – I can attest that switching between bats can be hard for a kid. Last season my son was on his regular Little League team (Easton S500 30” drop 13 BPF 1.15), a tournament team that competed in weekend tournaments against travel teams (DeMarini Voodoo Overlord 31” drop 13 BPF 1.15), and played in a wood bat tournament (Louisville Slugger 30”).

    His LL coach didn’t want anyone on the team swinging a bat over 30”, even though my son had used a 31” the previous year with really good results. We had moved to the DeMarini in the previous off season, and were getting good results in practice, so decided to stick with it for the tournament team. At one point in the season, my son was swinging three different bats in the same week. It seemed like he was always way early or way late. It seemed like switching back and forth between bats really messed up his timing.

    This year, he’s on one team, swinging one bat – an Axe Element 31” drop 8 USAbat. He’s always been big for his age, and just clocked in at 5’3”, 110 lbs at 11 ½ years old. His hitting is down this year, but I don’t attribute that to the bat. The pitching this year is a step up from what he’s faced in the past, and his mechanics are a bit off. It seems like his stance changes with every at bat. I’m actually looking forward to the season ending next week so we have time to work together and try to iron out the kinks before next season. 2 to 3 games a week, plus team practices doesn’t leave much one on one time.

    I definitely like your schedule for moving up from USAbat to BBCOR, and will be following it, or something similar, when the time comes for him to move to BBCOR. Luckily, he’s got at least another year with the USAbat standard. After that USAbat and BBCOR are allowed, so we’ll start the transition then.

  2. You might ease the transition if you go with very balanced heavier bats. My son was swinging a 32 2 1/4 Mako XL (that actually was a semi end loaded 24.1oz) off and on from 10-12, then switched to a 33/28 3 5/8 super balanced Demarini Zen and his quote was, “it feels just like my Mako”. So despite and extra inch and four more ounces, it different effect him.

  3. This is my opinion: 11 and 12 year old players not playing Little League, having the option of using bats with a 2 5/8 inch barrel (or 2 3/4 inch barrel) should not be swinging anything lighter than a -8, preferably a -7 at the start of 13u. There are plenty of bats on the market in this class in various lengths that are appropriate for an 11 to 13 year old. By the time my sons hit 12u, they started the season with a -7; and, by mid-season, a 30/25, 2 5/8 Rip-It was used throughout tournament time. Cheap bat bought on eBay (less than $50, and yes, I’m cheap), lots of pop. Our 15u league is -5, so they were ready. And, as coaches, we talk about what is appropriate for a bat size, especially for players looking to get ahead of the curve for high school. As you stated, sound mechanics are vital. Core exercises are important, especially for kids who aren’t blessed with size and strength. I bought a used Bowflex and Total Gym on for emphasizing form, and to keep them away from weight training until they got older. Start them early with the transition to BBCOR, and make the change gradually. I still have an older 29/26 Easton BBCOR for our 13u/14u teams (Northern CT Storm). Big leap, not many extra base hits: baseball as it should be!

  4. Wish I understood all this when my kid was that age. Everyone had to have the new orange bat or the new green bat. We do what we do for them because our kids love to play….a much as we love to watch!

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