Coming off the successful transition to the catcher’s position, while still putting up solid at-the-plate numbers, Tony (playing in the minors for the Mudcats in Zebulon, North Carolina) felt it was a good time to talk about wood bats, how to choose a baseball bat, and baseball bat sizing. The following Q&A occurred shortly after his minor league season ended, but prior to the start of the fall league in Arizona, where the pro teams send some of their best prospects.
Q: At a high level, what are you looking for in a bat?
Tony: It’s really changed for me over the years. When I was in high school, my primary concern was with how light the bat was and how it looked. As a professional ball player, I started looking for bats with a little bit more head on them---so I know the barrel is there. As I’ve put on muscle, the weight difference, going from a -3 drop weight to a -2, has not been a big deal.
To me, the right bat will almost swing itself when you put it in the right spot. There are so many things to think about in this game; you know you’ve got the right bat when you feel relaxed at the plate. Of course, knowing you have a quality piece of wood doesn’t hurt either!
Q: With so many choices of handles and knobs and barrels, how do you know what the right bat is?
Tony: More recently for me, it’s been about the handle. I had surgery on my hamate bone (found in the wrist) so finding a bat that felt comfortable post injury was critical. I was throwing bats more before the injury, which isn’t exactly the best for your wrist. Now, I like a thicker handle for the top hand and a thinner handle for my bottom hand to keep my hands more in control of the bat. I also look at the shape of the bat. I want a quick slope from the handle up to a long barrel.
I can pick up a bat and immediately tell if I will like it. Just a ½ swing will do it. I don’t even need to hit a ball. Again, it’s that feel. Nothing will change my feelings about a bat by hitting balls in the cage.
One thing I will do, when I receive a new model I have ordered, is to video-tape myself swinging it. This allows me to catch any new tendencies, good or bad.
Q: Why the long barrel?
Tony: I value a longer barrel versus a thicker barrel. To me, it feels like the longer barrel has more of a sweet spot. When you see this type of bat, it still looks like a big diameter barrel, but it is more balanced, making it easier to have the bat “swing itself” as I mentioned prior.
Q: What’s your wood preference?
Tony: I go back and forth between maple and birch. I’ve been swinging birch more recently. I like it because of the flex birch offers—it gives a little more. So, when I don’t exactly hit the sweet spot, I still feel like I can get something more out of the ball. I don’t have to hit it as perfectly as I would with a maple bat. Plus, I’m finding birch to be more durable, based upon the type of hitter that I am.
I like the pop of maple, but as with any maple bat, it does sting when you mishit. With my wrist injury, I just find birch to be the best of both worlds—nice power and less stress on my wrist on the mishits.
Ash? Really not as big a fan. I just don’t like that it flakes. It’s just not as forgiving when I don’t square it up on the proper side of the bat.
Q: I recall you saying that in high school you swung a 271 type of bat (like our BB71 or JK5), but now you swing more of a gap-to-power hitter’s bat. What prompted the change?
Tony: As I worked out more and began testing other players’ bats, especially big league hitters’ bats, I realized that I was a gap-to-gap hitter. So, with this realization, I found that harder and heavier woods would fit my game better. I was giving up power for bat speed. Now, with my custom TW9 model (thank you, Phoenix Bats!), I’ve found the perfect balance.
Q: What’s your regimen, in-season, for cage work?
Tony: I like to start out with a bigger, heavier bat—one with a zero drop weight. Really the model doesn’t matter, although I’m excited to get my TW9 model as a +2 to try out. I’ll use a heavier bat the entire time I’m in the cage, doing the same number of rounds with 10-15 hits each round. Yes, it feels awkward and unwieldy to swing. But when I use it, it makes my game bat feel more comfortable.
Q: Any other drills you like to do?
Tony: I do one hand drills all the time. I hit off a tee and take 10 hits per session. I use the same heavy bat that I do in my cage BP work. It makes me feel stronger.
Q: How long do you use a bat for?
Tony: Even though I have come to know that I’m getting great quality sticks from Phoenix, I’m one of those players that uses a bat for x amount of hits and then I’m on to the next bat. Of course, how it looks and how it feels may shorten that time frame.
For the player who isn’t in a position to do such, it’s not a big deal. Just make sure you’re getting the right bat in the right wood for your game. As I learned along the way, know the type of player that you really are and get a bat which fits that style. I’m confident my friends at Phoenix Bats can assist.
Moderator: Thanks to Tony for his time. He’s a great young player that will continue to be fun to watch as he climbs the ranks in the Indians organization. You can follow Tony on Twitter (@TonyWolters) and catch up with more Phoenix Bats at facebook.com/woodbats and twitter.com/phoenixbats