The bat your child swings now could be a huge help or hindrance in developing sound swing mechanics that will propel them to the next level. Follow the tips in this guide to choose the right youth baseball bat for your aspiring Little Leaguer or developing middle school player.
Wood vs. Metal Baseball Bats for Kids
Youth bats can be made from wood or metal, each of which has its own pros and cons. Which should you buy to help your child develop the swing that will set them apart at the next level?
Metal bats may be popular, but they can hold your All-Star’s development back. Metal masks poor technique (often seen in a swing that isn’t nice and level) and rewards bad swings (as super-sized hitting areas turn what should be out in to hits). This makes it more difficult for kids to identify weaknesses in their swing. Metal also poses a safety threat in youth games, as baseballs explode off the thin metallic shells of metal bats at an extremely high velocity.
A wood bat, on the other hand, is better balanced and properly weighted, assuming the manufacturer adheres to proper design and weight tolerances, critical to developing a real baseball swing. They help young players do more than make contact with the ball – they help kids learn the fundamental mechanics that produce great, level swings. When you hit the ball with a wood bat, it will go! When you don’t (unlike metal), it won’t and you will get a little sting in your hands, which is great tactile feedback. Practicing with wood unmasks issues with young players' swings - giving them the opportunity to work with their coach to fix these problems before they start playing competitively at higher levels.
Does your little leaguer dream of making it to the Show? Does your middle school player want to make varsity and earn scholarship playing at the next levels? A properly weighted, well-crafted wood baseball bat could be the best investment you can make to develop their game.
Baseball Bat Length and Weight
Beyond materials, youth wood bats also come in a variety of lengths and weights. That means that kids of all ages and sizes can find the right size bat. Bat weight is the most important thing to consider when buying a youth bat.
A heavy bat may cause youth players to drop their shoulders and turn their wrist, resulting in slowed bat speed and less contact with the ball. Often, a heavy bat swing for a youth looks like he or she is chopping at the ball. Swinging a bat that’s too heavy will cause players to lose all the swing technique benefits that come from using a wood bat.
Subsequently, using a bat that is too light, as is the case with most metal bats, also prevents a child from developing a correct swing technique. Typically, this comes through in the form of a looping, golf-like swing from low to high. While it makes for fast bat speed, it produces many fly balls. When you get a properly weighted bat in the appropriate length, the benefits of wood will appear in your youth’s at bat: a nice level swing turns fly balls into line drives. Suddenly balls are going to the wall and beyond. That level swing is the real baseball swing that comes from a properly weighted wood bat.
As for length, choose the length of wood bat that your hitter is currently swinging in his/her metal bat. Wood teaches where to hit on the bat (known as the sweet spot). By sticking with the same length in wood, the mastery of the swing spot, learned from hitting with wood, will carry back to the metal bat as all bats have this sweet spot area where you should hit. Unfortunately, it’s only a one-way street: you can become a better metal bat hitter by practicing with wood, but you can’t become a better wood bat hitter (or hitter overall) by practicing with metal.
For more information, use our youth wood bats selection chart.
Choosing a Wood Bat for a Child
The right type of youth wood baseball bat depends on the hitter who will use it. Most youth players aged between 6 and 13 can successfully use a bat with a handle length of 15/16” to 1”.
Choose a smaller barrel, measuring 2¼ inches, for kids aged 11 and under. This is what is required for most youth leagues (Little League). Suitable models include: the K240 and K455 from Phoenix Bats. The K271 may also be suitable for bigger-than-average children in this age category.
The K240, with its slower transition from barrel to handle does provide some extra inside pitch protection. If playing in tournaments or if aged 10-11 years old, who has never swung wood before, go with the K240. If experienced with wood bats or aged 9 or younger, we lean towards the K455 as it is just a little lighter. Regardless, don’t freak out about the weight of -7 to -8 drop weight youth bat (length – drop weight = ounces). Remember, most metal bats are stupid light, hurting your player’s swing. That is what we are trying to correct with a properly weighted wood bat!
For older kids, typically of middle school age, a bat with a wider barrel of 2½ inches is appropriate. These are referred to as transition bats.
Transition bats are designed for kids aged around 12 or 13 (and for the bigger 11 year old). They fill the growth and physical maturation gap perfectly that exists between a youth player and a high school player.
Featuring a full-size, 2-1/2” barrel, transition bats allow kids to get used to swinging the barrel size they will be required to swing in high school baseball. However, the weight of a transition bat is more manageable than that of a high-school bat, allowing kids to build up gradually to heavier bats, while retaining good swing technique. In Phoenix’s line, these bats are the DR100 (having more of a modern wood bat design) and the DR5S (having a handle and knob that emulates the feel of a metal bat).
Again, it goes back to proper weight: if you take the player right from his youth bat to a high school age -3 drop weight bat, proper bat technique will suffer. Players are just not there physically to handle that large a jump.
Instead, choose a properly weighted transition bat that has the modest step up in weight compared to the youth bat the child has been using thus far. And whether the transition bat is from Phoenix Bats (the DR100 or DR5s) or elsewhere, be sure that the bat is properly weighted. If it’s not listed in the product description, you know you don’t have the right company.
Youth Baseball Bats for the Little League
Little League rules specify that baseball bats should be no more than 33 inches in length. Junior League wood bats should be 34 inches or less in length. They must also be no more than 2¼ inches in barrel diameter.
Junior League and Senior League, sometimes referred to as Pony League, have detailed rules regarding the type of bats that players are allowed to use. These bats typically must be 2-1/2 inches in barrel diameter.
In Little League, wood bats must be of a single piece and meet the above specs to be compliant or of an approved composite materials.
These are general guidelines and Phoenix Bats suggests contacting your league commissioner regarding what barrel diameter and drop weight(s) are legal for game use.
Hit It Out Of The Park
The type of bat your kid uses impacts swing velocity, contact with the ball, where the ball will go, and how far the ball will travel. It even affects how quickly your all-star starts the run to first base. Because the bat affects so many facets of the game, choosing the right bat, in the right length, at the right weight is essential.
Buying the right youth wood bat will help your child develop the swing mechanics that will place them at a competitive advantage at the next level. That’s a homerun in our book.