Choosing the Right Big Barrel Bat
A big barrel bat is a bat that has a wide diameter in the sweet spot of the bat. By high school regulations, a bat can not exceed 2.625 inches. A big barrel bat will be lighter and shorter in length than a high school bat, but will have a diameter in the sweet spot as wide as 2.75 inches. They have become popular because younger players make contact more easily and they feel that they are getting more pop out of their bats. The best big barrel bats are ones that have a wide sweet spot while still having both power and evenly distributed weight.
One of the first things you have to be aware of when you buy one of these bats, is not all leagues allow them. Little League, for example, enforces the high school standard diameter at younger levels, which would prohibit all 2.75” bats. Look at the specifications and if the information is not there, check the website to see if the particular bat is allowed in your league.
If your league allows them and your coach encourages them, they can be a good thing for young players as they can bring about greater success at the plate and build up confidence. Some coaches are hesitant about them because as players develop, they will have to transition at some point to the bat regulations of high school and the different shape of the bat causes young players to develop batting habits that may make the switch harder. So it is also good to talk to your coach ahead of time.
If you are sold on the advantages of the big barrel, here are some tips to help you make a selection:
How to Size a Youth Big Barrel Bat
On the high end of length and weight, the bats overlap with high school sizes. All of the main manufacturers produce a 31 inch, drop 5 big barrel bat (drop 5 means that the length in inches minus the weight in ounces equals 5; in this case 31 inches – 26 ounces = 5). You can get big barrel bats as light as drop 12.
Finding the best one depends on the age, size, strength, and personal preferences of the hitter. With big barrel bats you might want to go a little lighter than stated weight because, as the weight is more concentrated near the tip of the bat, they feel heavier to the hitter.
Start light and work your way up to find the comfortable weight. Many more problems are caused by a bat that is too heavy. Once you are making solid contact with a lighter bat, you can always move up the ladder to drive the ball further with a heavier bat. If the bat is too heavy it will damage your swing and lead to frustration and poor confidence.
By the time kids are old enough to use big barrel bats (9 to 10), your lowest options are around 26 inches with a drop 12. That would be a good place to start with an average-sized 10 year old. Bigger kids can swing bigger bats, but you never want to compromise bat speed. As players get older, the swing speed has to keep up with the pitching speed. The most important thing is having a bat that you can swing smoothly and quickly. You can get away with poor mechanics for a little while when pitchers are slow, but when the speed picks up poor mechanics will sink you. A bat that is just heavy enough is what helps develop the right swing.
A longer bat will also give you more power, but it also reduces bat speed. The “sweet spot” is farther form the batter’s hands and thus harder to control, but the arc of the swing is bigger, giving it more power. Make solid contact with the shorter size first and then move up.
Remember that you are steering toward the standardized high school bat sizes as kids older. The smallest bat there is 31 inches, 28 ounces. So from age 10 to 14 you are moving from a drop 12 or 13 to a drop 3 bat. A player should be operating at the minimum high school length by about age 12 and then gradually use a heavier bat as he gets stronger in that 12-14 period.
Our Top 4 Best Big Barrel Bats
The baseball bat business is a wide open field in the sports economy. For big barrel bats alone there are eight different reputable companies: Easton, Louisville Slugger, Marucci, DiMarini, Rawlings, Wilson, Axe and Combat. I can’t do justice to this range of products, but from my kids’ leagues, from coaches and from a little research, I have picked a few of the best big barrel bats to use.
DiMarini Junior Uprising
This bat comes in at the low end of the price spectrum, and it is still a decent single piece aluminum bat that has a nice smooth swing. If you are of the opinion that bat swings for younger players are slower, so that an extra hundred dollars will only buy you a yard of distance on the grandest of hits, think about a solid choice from lower down the ladder.
What do you sacrifice when you pay less in a bat like this? There is a cheaper alloy so you have less power per ounce in the bat. There is a little more vibration in the handle, especially when you do not catch the sweet spot. They get dented more easily. I would not buy a used one, but this is a nice bat for those who want to wait a little time for greater investments in baseball equipment.
Marucci Cat7 (Big Barrel Options)
This bat is an upgrade of a popular bat, the Cat6, and it is a definite advance, providing a bigger sweet spot and more power. The name of the game in developing these bats is to provide the fat barrel without increasing the MOI (mass moment of inertia), which might sound techno-nerdy, but is a real factor. MOI tells you where the weight of the bat is, and if the weight is unevenly distributed, it can make the bat feel lighter or heavier to the hitter depending on whether the weight is closer to the handle or further away from it. Marucci has developed a new alloy that has thinner walls with more flex. This gives you more power for the weight. Their design has also attempted to redistribute weight in the bat to lessen the inevitable problem of higher MOI that big barrels cause.
The bottom line is that this is a design that give you the advantages of the big barrel (bigger sweet spot, more quality contact) while lessening the disadvantage (uneven weight distribution that can affect the development of the swing).
The price range of new, worthwhile big barrel bats goes from about $60 to around $400 dollars. The MarucciCat7 is mid-range in price while still featuring some of the more advanced technologies.
This model is available in a few different size options. The Cat7 Drop 10 comes in lengths from 27 to 31 inches. The Cat7 Junior Big Barrel is also a Drop 10 bat, but with lengths for younger kids, 25 through 27 inches.
Easton Mako Comp 2 3/4
This is a bat that brands itself the #1 bat in youth baseball and there are many that would agree. The bat is seen in the hands of many players at the top levels of youth baseball. It represents the highest technology in youth bats, a composite of carbon and graphite with a long sweet spot and elegantly distributed weight to max out on the desired goals of power, high quality contact and even weight distribution. Even more so than a high-end aluminum bat like the Cat7, you get both smoothness and power with almost no vibration in the handle due to the two piece construction and the patented Easton connection technology. The composite allows for more complex design and the fat part of the barrel is longer than in other bats. Even the grips are deluxe.
Elegant design comes with cost and these are at the high end of the price spectrum. The Drop 10’s come in lengths from 27 to 32 inches. Easton claims that these new composites also last longer than earlier composite models and so far customer reviews agree.
Easton S3 Senior League Big Barrel (SL17310B)
With the hefty price tag of a bat like the Mako, many parents might be looking for a solid bat at a lower price. Easton offers a good aluminum bat in the Easton S3. It comes in at the lower middle of the price range and it is a solid bat with respectable pop and good durability. It covers all of the basics that you would want in a youth league bat. It has Easton’s trademark one piece construction, a long sweet spot and decent weight distribution. It also has the 1.15 BPF stamp of approval. With this bat you get the benefit of a good company lending its manufacturing expertise to a mid-price product. The trade-offs are that they can dent a little more easily than higher models, you are more likely to get a sting in your hands if you don’t catch the sweet spot, and they do not have quite as much power per ounce as higher quality alloys provide. On the other hand, you get a full 12 month warranty on what I have come to believe is a solid reliable bat.
These bats are for older players and the drop 10’s come in sizes 28 through 32 inches.
How to Break in a Big Barrel Bat, With a Word on Composite Bats
Any aluminum big barrel bat is ready to use right off the rack, but composite bats need to broken in.
Now, let’s take a step back and explain this. Any bat that is described as having “alloy construction” is using some form of aluminum. Although manufacturers do not always tell you exactly what the alloy is, as the price goes up, the quality of the alloy is going up as well. The more powerful alloys allow manufacturers to use thin walls that have more spring in them, so that when the ball collides with the bat, the walls spring back quickly, producing a “trampoline effect” that gives the bat more pop. The more expensive bats should have more power for their weight.
About 15 years ago manufacturers came out with composite bats, which are made up of graphite and carbon bonded together with resin. The composite construction allows not only for a greater “trampoline effect,” but also greater control of where the effect is greatest. The high-end composite bats actually began to outperform aluminum bats. They even became a little dangerous as the speed at which the ball was coming off the bat was causing injuries. The NCAA began regulating the bat’s power with the BBCOR (bat ball coefficient of restitution) code of 2009. For youth leagues there is a slightly different measure, but with the same purpose. It is the BPF (bat performance factor) and all bats must have a BPF equal or less than 1.15.
Again, look at the specifications on the bat and see that it is approved in your league. Little League banned composite bats altogether, but now makes some exceptions where they are judged to be safe. Many leagues require bats to meet this standard.
Composite bats have the obvious advantage that their construction makes them powerful for their weight. They have some drawbacks, though. One is that they lose their pop over time and they tend not to last as long as aluminum bats. Also, although it is a minor factor, they have to be broken in.
Breaking in a composite bat just takes about half an hour. Either hit off a tee or have a friend toss very slow pitches to you. Take about 200 very gentle swings, constantly rotating the bat so the whole barrel has been touched softly by baseballs. You will notice that the bat is gaining in power as it gets warmed up. Then you are good to go. Just pay attention to how the bat is performing. The “trampoline effect” begins to lessen over time as the material loses its flexibility and the bat starts to lose its power.
The best big barrel bats are the ones that offer you the advantages of the wider sweet spot while mitigating the drawbacks of uneven weight distribution. The ideal bat would accomplish these two things while also having a lot of power per ounce of bat, durability and a reasonable cost. Well, you are not going to get all of these things, but as you go down the price ladder, you want to find the bats that offer the most of these factors at a price that you think is reasonable for your young player. The cheaper bats above are examples of what I think is a reasonable trade-off as not everyone wants to pay top dollar, but you do want to get bats that will help kids make contact consistently without developing bad habits from swinging a top-heavy stick.