Ask TBP: Is Age 14 Too Old for a -5 Bat?

Now onto this week’s question:
Every player on your son’s 14u team is now swinging a -3 bat, as are most kids that age. The team is playing in a tournament where lighter, more powerful -5 bats are legal for that age group. In the first pool play game, your boys get trampled pretty badly by opponents using -5’s and launching hit after hit. Otherwise, the teams are pretty evenly matched.
It’s now bracket play and your team is once again facing the -5 sluggers. A couple of your boys still have -5’s in their bags. Do you allow your team to use the lighter bats to be more competitive against these opponents? (After all, they’re perfectly legal, even though many people consider -5’s in 14u an unfair “bush league” advantage.) Or do you stick with -3’s and remind the boys that they don’t need to take the easy route to winning?

Navigating Travel Baseball Book CoverYes, the boys need to learn to hit with -3 bats for their future. So skip the -5 tournaments if your perfectly acceptable, admirable philosophy is to prepare the boys for the future.  However, if you decide to play these type of tournaments, allow your boys to play by the rules and compete head to head.  Don’t put them at a disadvantage on principle, it serves no one.

We have a very serious, professional coach, whose main, selfless goal is to help the boys get ready for high school and ultimately college ball.  When we encountered this situation, our coach was adamant about using only -3 bats for the reason mentioned above.

We competed, but ultimately got hit hard in the championship game by kids using -5 bats.  We used our best, hardest throwing pitchers, guys you can rely on to get outs.  They got plenty of strike outs, as usual.  But  when the ball did get hit, balls that would have been routine outs ended up getting hammered into bullets that either shot through the infield, or landed at or over the outfield fence.

Our players were so discouraged and really lost some respect for the coach for forcing them into a major disadvantage.  They still talk and joke about it two years later (outside of hearing range of the coach, of course).  Tony Midea, baseball coach, dad and author of the book Navigating Travel Baseball 7U to 14U: What Parents and Players Need to Know

greg and brodyI totally agree that -5 bats at 14u should not be allowed.  At 14u, many of these kids are about to finish their first year of high school.  There is a big transition from using -5 bats to -3 bats and I think that at 14u no kid should be allowed to use -5 at any time. All through their high school careers, -3 bbcor is the only option other than wood they will have.  I think they should stick to their course and continue to figure out how to make -3 work for them.

I’m sure the kids did want to pull out a -5 bat and use it, especially if they were taking a pounding with the other team hitting seeds all over the field.  And as a parent sitting in the stands watching this, you probably  want your kids to do just that, use the hotter bat.  But we need to look at the big picture.  First, this is 14u ball, a loss is not the end of the world.  And two weeks from now we wont even remember this game.  And your job as a coach is to prepare these kids for the next level of ball And the only option at the next level is the dreaded -3 bbcor bats!Greg Slaughter, Little League and travel baseball coach and dad, Dexter, GA

I just had this conversation with my 13 year old son. He has a Drop 3, and used it all Fall on his 3 teams. He got a lot of at-bats. One of rob monacothe leagues in the Fall allowed Drop 5, but for the sake of getting used to the Drop 3, he didn’t want to switch.

Now back to that conversation. His Club team this Spring uses Drop 3. His Travel team allows him to use Drop 5. I asked him straight, “Do you want to do it for Travel? You’re allowed.”

The answer was “No. I want to stay with my Drop 3.” I told him that it could help him a bit and he cited “timing” and “adjustment” as his reasoning for not wanting to switch.  

Look, for me, I always feel like it’s up to the kid. If my son was slumping, he may start asking a lot of questions about the Drop 5 just because he knows if he can hit with it, it can bring him some confidence. But ultimately my kid wants to power through the Drop 3 because he knows that’s his bat of the future. And so… a Drop 3 it is… and I respect that.Rob Monaco, Little League commissioner, coach and baseball dad, Bergen County, NJ

dan schillaci

At this age they need to swing the -3.  After all, they will have to use these in high school.  In order to better prepare for the -3 transition, I have the boys swing heavier, (and way less balanced) wooden bats.
I think the tournament organizers are doing a disservice to the boys by allowing them to use -5. Dan Schillaci, baseball coach and dad, Pleasanton, CA

That’s a tough one, and I don’t know if there really is a right way to answer this. First, if a tourney allows -5 bats, I have a hard time giangiuliocalling playing by the rules ‘bush league.’ I also understand that there is a tough balance between development and competition. I want to see every player develop and grow to be able to succeed at the next level. In that light, staying with BBCOR could be the right choice as it would hopefully pay dividends further down the line. However, you also have to weigh the pros and cons of using a slightly more easy to swing -5 in light of the competition. Leveling the playing field a tiny bit more, and potentially giving your team a chance to match up better and thus move on in the tourney has to be a consideration, too. After all, remember that there is more to the game and player development than just hitting. If you match up better and get to play 5 games instead of 3 by, in part, using the -5 bat, might that not really be a plus for your player’s development as a whole? 2 extra games of hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing catching, running, etc? Sure, you might wish you had let them get those extra reps with the BBCOR, but I doubt that swinging a bat 2oz lighter for 2 days will do irreparable damage.

The other thing to mention is that although I’m aware of the differences between BBCOR and lighter bats, I also know enough to say with a lot of confidence that the bats are not likely the only difference between one team, hitting and the other not. Early on in my son’s travel career I hated any big barrel bats. I would see my son’s team swing their 2 1/4’s and get trounced by teams swinging these tree trunks apparently made of a carbon fiber/rubber composite that added 100′ to every batted ball. But then reality slowly crept in. Sure, larger sweet spot, more trampoline, etc, there is a bit of an advantage there. But ultimately I came to the realization that the big difference is that those boys always driving the gap and pelting the outfield fence on every other swing were simply better hitters. After tons of work over several years, I can honestly say that I still see some advantage in the equipment, but it’s not as big as I once thought. So yes, -5’s might give a slight advantage over the -3 BBCOR’s, but I’m sure that the bats were not the only reason for the tramplings.

Again, probably no wrong answer here, so I would say ultimately that that decision might be best left up to each player and their family to make. And those that would choose to bring out their -5’s probably should be safe from ridicule. Christopher Giangiulio, baseball coach and dad, Berwyn, PA

Holding aside the debate on whether drop-5 bats should be allowed in 14U baseball, I have no qualms using any equipment within the regulations of a tournament or league we are playing in.  In this situation, there is nothing unfair about using them.  The tournament rules permit their use and presumably the coach knew so when he entered the tournament.

8u travelIt would be great if we could align on a single set of equipment standards.  Perhaps the USABat standard will get us closer.  Without it, we have a situation where many kids have two or three bats in their bags.  It is a huge cost burden and can create a barrier to entry.  It also proliferates the idea a piece of equipment will make a kid a better player.  You can’t buy a good swing.

That said, in the situation above it is incumbent on the coaches to decide, one, are they philosophically opposed to drop-5 bats in this age group, and two, are they comfortable playing against teams which use them.  If the answer to either question is no then they should not have entered the tournament.

As for whether to let your kids use drop-5 bats, I think equipment is a very personal choice for each player so I wouldn’t mandate it.  With my nine-year-olds, I will tell them to get a different bat when they walk up to a plate with a bat that is taller than they are, but at 14 years old a player should have a feel for what works for them and, even more importantly, what they think works for them.  Baseball is a game of confidence and if a player feels better with a certain bat they are likely to perform better with it.  So I would let each kid decide which bat they wanted to use though I would remind the drop-5’s were an option.

Also, I wouldn’t tell my players to use the drop-5’s simply because this particular opponent is using them.  My players who chose to do so would have been using them from the first game in pool play and not just because this opponent is using them.  Again, it’s about what the coaches are comfortable with and not individual game by game advantages.  And that should guide your decisions.Brian Sieger, baseball coach, dad and author of the blog 8U Travel

Coach-Baseball-RightWe try very hard to prepare all of our kids, no matter if they are 7 year olds at our summer camps all the through our varsity high school team to prepare for the next level! We try to emphasize that winning, though important and a great motivation tool, is just a quick fix in the grand scheme of development. Doing things the “right” way – regardless of success and setbacks – is what we try to teach. Kids learn how to do this through baseball. In this particular situation using the right bat, the -3. They will be better prepared and will know that the “right” way is ultimately what matters.Steve Nicollerat, co-founder,


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9 thoughts on “Ask TBP: Is Age 14 Too Old for a -5 Bat?

  • May 16, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    What is the problem playing to the rules? I happened across this discussion and don’t have anyone in 14u but I played a lot of baseball, 2 ounces either way is not making or breaking any player. Stick options are always part of th equation on how to solve what the pitcher presents. But so are stances , position in the batter’s box, stride length etc. I see nothing wrong with having a least two length and swingweight options in the bag to cover what you need to cover and that is range of fastball velocities you will see on that day. There is no higher calling to hit wood only, especially at 14. It only gives the early maturing kid an advantage that may well disappear in 2 or 3 years.

  • April 21, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I know of a very competitive organization that makes all their 15U and up hit only wood, even in tournaments where metal bats are allowed. Talk about a disadvantage. However this same organization has a 100% recruitment record. For them it’s not about winning, it’s about being the best they can be. So it boils down to winning vs. development and looking at the bigger goal. HOWEVER at 14U there are still some small kids out there on the growth fence and for these kids the drop 5 allows them to remain more in the game, so maybe should be an individual thing rather than the one size fits all approach.

    • April 23, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      Very good point, Christie! Their growth rates are all over the place. So, you’re right. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. And, yes, player development should always trump an easy win.

  • April 21, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    My twin 14 year olds swing nothing but drop 3 wood in the offseason and in the cage before the game. They’ve been doing this since 7th grade (before that they swung youth wood). They develop their swing for their high school years there, not in the tournament games. No tourney around us limits the bats to BBCOR, so everyone swings -5. I really see no harm in swinging the most forgiving bat allowed within each tournament to remain competitive.

  • December 10, 2016 at 8:46 am

    I have a 12 and 13 year old, 7th and 8th grade respectively, both playing up on a 14U. They swing the -3 in BP, in the cage, off the tee, but in a tourney, when we are hoping they win and ultimately play MORE innings, they swing the Cat7 -5. I want them to get a base hit, get a line drive, SUCCEED in the box…too many of their friends have been told to swing a -3, and weekend after weekend of 0 for 9 they lose the passion, they feel deflated, they stop showing interest. Why risk losing them to another sport or quit altogether because we force them to swing a bat meant for post pubescent high schooler?? I love to watch mine play,be competitive, contribute to the team…strike outs happen but give them the right size bat which is not a -3 when they only weigh in at 127lbs.

  • July 28, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    As an incoming Junior, I still remember a game we played in the spring before freshman year. Our whole team was getting used to -3s and some of us, like myself and my best friend, have been swinging them since the summer after 7th grade. One weekend we were in a 14u tournament and we’re playing on a field that was pretty short for the age (about 275 in the corners, 300 in center) . In the championship I had to pitch against a team using all -5 bats. It was not a very great experience. They ended up hitting 3 home runs and it was awful. Now, even without the -5s our team put one out, and hit it to the fence consistently. None of us wanted to swing the -5s. Switching from the bigger bat you would always be early, and would never really square the ball up. Not worth it.

  • May 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I personally think that -5 bats shouldn’t even be used once players get to 13. At this point, players are all at least in middle school where -3 bats are mandatory anyway. Letting players use bats that they cannot use in school ball doesn’t push them to want to be any better. If they see that within their own age group pitchers are blowing them away when they use the -3 bats, it should push them to work harder so they can for sure make their school teams. It will also help in the long run. I currently coach a 14u team now, and in the larger scale tournaments you can tell big time the players that have been always using -3 bats and the teams that don’t. The reason -5 bats are banned from middle school (in most places) is for safety reasons as well. There are plenty of 13 and 14 year old pitchers now throwing in the mid-low 80’s. If a powerful hitter uses a -5, and hit’s a pitcher throwing that hard back at the pitcher, that’s a serious injury waiting to happen.

  • March 22, 2016 at 2:44 am

    Any advice that would help us? My son is 14 and plays middle school ball. He isnt allowed to use anything but a -8 as goes for the entire team. Most of the parents are not happy with this decision as we know our kids are well capable of swinging and getting hits with a -5 but for 2 years of middle school ball all they have been allowed is the -8. So the -3 is going to be a challenge next year for high school. The parents have had one on one discussions with the coach and he still refuses to let them use nothing other than a -8. I see here that the kids mentioned are now using -3. I now feel we are doing more harm to our kids than we are helping! Any words of advise would be appreciated!

    • May 5, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      WHAT??? THat’s the most insane thing I’ve heard from a coach in a long time. -8??? In Middle School? WHY??? What in the world is his reasoning for that? Why is this guy even coaching? I bet the other coaches are just shaking their heads. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this comment earlier. I’m guilty of not checking comments. If you see this, please let me know how things are going.


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