JustBatReviews and CloseoutBats discuss Easton's 2017 Bat Line with line production manager Henry Fitzpatrick. Remarkable insights on the process required to bring a bat to market and why Easton is the market leader.
Brian: How have the last 4 to 6 weeks gone for you?
Max: Its been a grind, but we are seeing at the light of the end of the tunnel. We need some rest. But it has been awesome.
Brian: What do you see on the fastpitch side in terms of things players are looking for. You see a lot of folks live, because you guys have a real story. What do fastpitch players ask you the most questions about.
Max: Fastpitch is a huge market. It runs from 7 year olds to girls over 20. They love the new bats, they love the style to it. The biggest brands are Slugger and DeMarini. Easton might be #3. But, for us, we see a ton of new DeMarini and Slugger poeple that love the new Demarini bats. They just released the CFX bat. Crazy to think we have come this far.
Brian: Sounds like baseball. Looking for the new look, good balance, lots of pop.
Brian: Yes. I have a couple daughters that play. They use the LXT.
Max: When a boy comes in and asks for a new bat the parents are more likely to buy a new bat for daughters instead of sons. We can see the parents spend more money on the girls.
Brian: Yeah. My 8 and 9 year old daughters play in an all boy pitching machine league. And they use the LXT from Slugger. It is a fun sport to watch. Fastpitch rarely gets as much publicity as it deserves. You can find it on ESPN every so often. I have a treat for you, today we have Jennie Ritter. Usually we have some bat science guy. But, today, we have Jennie Ritter who is the grass roots manager for fastpitch for Wilson. She is a previous National Champion. If you are okay with it, let us get her on the line.
Max: That's awesome. Let us do it!
Brian: Jennie: thanks for joining us!
Jennie: Looking forward to it.
Brian: Talk through how you ended up doing what you are doing with DeMarini and Slugger.
Jennie: I played at University of Michigan in 2003 to 2006 and we won the 2005 national Championship. I played professionally and on team USA as well as a year in Japan. Then I retired. Slugger called me. I said yes. Was there for a 1.5 years before they were acquired by Wilson. Now I deal with evosheidl and ATEC as well as DeMarini. I am in the grassroots manager. We deal with all levels of the game at every level of association. My input on technology and getting the right piece in the market is what I do.
Max: 2005 Season, how special was that for you?
Jennie: We held the #1 ranking throughout the year yet no one thought we could win it all. But we just had outstanding hitters. From top to bottom it was really a team effort with some amazing team chemistry. The bottom of the lineup showed up when we needed it. That idea of a team has helped me for a long time especially considering what I do now on the DeMarini team.
Max: What year did you start at Slugger.
Jennie: Fall of 2014.
Max: Newer to the DeMarini line then?
Jennie: Yes. But I know them well because we competed against them for such a long time.
Brian: My #1 Question — How do you deal with the fact that you now control two fantastic bat lines in the fastpitch space. How do you help them differentiate between the CF DeMarini line and/or the Slugger Xeno/LXT? How do you convince them?
Jennie: First thing to mention is the R&D teams are separate. As such, there is quite a bit of difference between each individual bat. The benefit is that we hit each bat in the market a lot to get the right feedback. But each bat each has a different feel and different sweet spot. Our job is to come out with the best performing bat that satisfies the needs of the players. And we keep innovating.
Max: You guys are both 1 and 2 in the market right now. It is crazy to see. I am baised towards Easton, but every girl that I have spoken to in the last year is either Slugger or DeMarini.
Jennie: Every day we come to work to figure out how we can make it better.
Brian: Let's just go the slugger line: talk us through the difference between the XENO and the LXT. How would you describe the two bats?
Jennie: The LXT has a new stiffer joint this year and gives you a better feel. The Xeno will have the same technology but give some maximum flex with the two disc technology. The Xeno has a pretty large sweet spot. It is going to feel like a home run every time you hit it. So a player who likes a nice feel then the Xeno. The LXT uses a TRU3 connection piece, so that is different. In the LXT we have removed of the discs so it can have a larger sweet spot. This might mean it takes a bit more of a work in. And the TRU3 has a little more of a joint so a it has less stiffness than the XENO. But it will not feel like a home run every time like the XENO. There is more feedback in the LXT than the XENO.
Another difference is we took some weight out of the end cap in the LXT. It just gives it a lighter swing. Feedback from the new 2018 LXT has been outstanding. It is a great bat.
Max: A question we get a lot: People would hit with the XENO and people thought it was breaking. Or, that it was broken. The sound was real harsh. We looked into why it was. What is your take as to why they sound so different.
Jennie. It is because of the metal discs. It is the sides of composite walls engaging the composite discs. So, as the bat flexes then it smashes up against the discs and gives that sound. You are hearing the metal discs hitting the side of the composite wall. This makes the bat hot out of the wrapper—especially at slower bat speeds. It is how we can create some maximum exit velocity on a swing that is not necessarily the fastest.
Max: What is TRU3?
Jennie: It is the new LXT and will be in the new PXT, that we have yet to talk about. It reduces the vibration. it allows you make quicker adjustments at bat. A lot of players choose that so they can feel the differences.
Brian: The discs on the newer versions this year?
Jennie: One disc inside the LXT. Two discs inside of the XENO.
Brian: I hope the people listening caught on. We hear people all the time say that standards have made the bats perform the same. But all those tests are done at certain pitch speeds. So, the ability to use an LXT or XENO and give it good pop at a low bat speed is the world of difference. It is what drives technology and what drives price. And it is why people should feel comfortable spending more money because it gives you better velocity at better pitch speeds. I just wanted to reiterate that because I think people miss that.
Brian: We have the LXT and the we have the XENO. And now we have a bat a new 2018 bat that is a PXT. What is that?
Jennie: PXT has the LXT TRU3 connection, but it has NO discs in the barrel. It gives the bat an amazing feel. The feedback we hear is that people are getting from the LXT. It is an exciting bat. More pop and a larger sweet spot. This is the bat that is most exciting to us. It is pretty amazing what we can get out of that bat and the pop is outstanding.
Max: I've seen that bat. So far so good. It is not going to sound the same right?
Jennie: Correct. Not the same as a CF9, but not the same as the crack that the XENO and the LXT.
Brian: If you are taking notes at home: we have the PXT, the LXT and the Xeno from Slugger. Now you will see the breadth of Jennie's job because we have yet to even speak of the CFX from DeMarini. So putting Slugger on the shelf for a second, talk us through the CFX and how it compares to the CF9.
Jennie: This is a good example of changing in the barrel technology. The CFX there is an improvement on the D-Fusion handle. It gives for greater weight control and redirects energy back into the barrel. That is the most exciting thing that DeMarini has come out with. The barrels are big and people like the big barrel with some good flex. So the CFX improves that feeling. The composite technology is 22% stronger so we can distribute the weight better. And the CFX will be the lightest swinging bats in the market.
Max: The CF9 drop 10 and drop 11 and the new CFX are always the lightest swinging bat. What about the CF Insane bat. How much end load is that?
Jennie: It is the only true end loaded bat on the market. Some of the bats, like the XENO, has a drop 8 or drop 9, but the Insane is the only fastpitch bat where the balance point is built towards the end cap. It is for elite power hitters and a real endloaded feel. Used for an elite hitter and serious swing.
Max: So, for college players/
Jennie: It really is a preference. If you can get quick hands with an endload you will see a result that is still very good. A lot of players like a balanced feel. Endloaded is a specific preference but those that swing it love it.
Brian: I get a lot of questions a day on social media. That sound about like this: “Hey JBR, my daughter is 11 years old. What fast-pitch bat should she get?” We all laugh of course. As if the age is the perfect answer. What would be the questions you would like to find out from them first before you go off and start making recommendations?
Jennie: My first thought would be the size of the girl. A lot of variety of sizes and a lot of bats that work. Sizes matters. Then I would want to know, preference they like in terms of feel. Do they need to feel like there is more pop and need confidence then may be we push them into a XENO. If they want more feedback then we have other options. If they are a slapper then we look at the CF Slapper. And some could use the end load even if they are not in college. The feel is the next most important question. All the bats are going to perform well. Those are the questions I would ask—and of course sizes with a couple different lengths and weights. Feel and comfort and confidence with the tool in your hands. Then, of course, you need to demo the bat. If some think they are certain fans of a XENO but then once they hit it they change their mind to the LXT. If you are listening I would say go out and demo. Don't choose on color. Color should be the last thing. Think about what you need in a bat to perform the best. Because that is what matters. We will provide the best tech but you need to hit the balls. We want to a company your success and not be the reason for your success.
Brian: I heard the HOPE bat might be out? As well, tell us about the Slapper bat?
Jennie: Yes. The hope is gone. The balanced CFX will come in a drop 11, 10, 9 and 8. The Slapper is a bat you can use to hit with too. The weight of the barrel in the Slapper is in the hands. And the barrel is an inch longer. For slappers it is designed for a longer bat and more control to put the ball in play. But, the Slapper can be used for more than just slapping. Some power hitters use the Slapper. It uses the same composite. Although it is designed for a slapper it still performs at peak powers. You can swing away with the CFX Slapper.
Max: What bat would you choose?
Jennie: I am fan of all of them and each hit the market in their own ways. Something I would prefer might not be something that someone else prefers. And although the bats are different they just fill different parts in the world. I am a big fan of technology. So, I will buy into the latest and greatest technology. Others like the idea of the feel. I am going to go with the best technology. R&D spends hours of testing and I like that idea and put a lot of value on that. The most innovative technology.
Max: Brian, what would you take?
Brian: I'd take the Slapper, all day. People were slobbery over the Combat MAXUM. For all the same reason people loved that bat the idea of a huge barrel and a light swing the Slapper bat is perfect. Don't hit it at home with baseballs. The slapper can drop bombs. How about you Max?
Max: I'd use the XENO. Boring answer, but it is fantastic. 10 years of the XENO and it is newer and improved with the end cap. Pretty fantastic. I look for the PXT to be the underdog this year although it is the most expensive.
Brian: Jennie, 2005, 2 outs, runner on 3rd. You are up. What do you choose. I am forcing you into a question you don't want to answer.
Jennie: First of all, if we are in that situation we are in big trouble. But, I would lean on technology. I would grab something that gives me the max. All the bats are outstanding. I'd look for something with serious pop and I'd choose an Slugger bat or a Demarini bat.
Brian: I can't imagine what it is like to be the Wilson rep selling fastpitch. Because, they own the entire space. Despite the fact that you guys own the market, what is the Wilson story or the Fastpitch final sales pitch.
Jennie: Every bat is different. Demoing the bat is a big deal. You are going to get better results but to demo the bat. One interesting thing about our company is that we have become a one stop shop. There is not a hitter in the world that will not find the right fit with a Wilson brand of bats (Slugger and DeMarini). Custom things are awesome and we have some very great stuff across the board for apparel and protection too. You simply do not have to go anywhere else. We are confident in our products that they give everyone an option. We are confident in all of our products.
Max: When our rep comes in we have girls come in and hit too. There is a lot of value in just seeing the bats. And getting real feedback from real hitters. Thanks Jennie.
Brian: At the end of the podcast….
Jennie: Tune in next week to the same bat time on the same bat channel.
Brian: Welcome to the Batcast, Episode #7. Let's get Mad Max On the phone.
Max: Let's get into it.
Brian: 5 years ago we wouldn't necessarily have done one on Rawlings in the bat space, right?
Max: Probably not. 5 years ago Rawlings really wasn't in the bats. People thought of them as a glove company.
Brian: Yes. Baseballs and Glove. They still make both. Reading a statistic yesterday, they own something like 52% of MLB Baseball players gloves. And of course they are using all of MLB baseballs. But up until a few years ago they didn't even make bats. When we get Kyle on the phone in a minute we can talk more about this. But years ago Rawlings bought Adirondack. And were a big player for a long time in the wood bat space. But for years they were never in the aluminum bat. They make the VELO now, which is a very popular bat. This was the first single piece aluminum bat. It is an extended composite end cap. Lights swinging aluminum bats are a must. It is a bat that you hear before you see. It is so loud.
Max: Then they have the 5150. That bat was much like the VELO until a couple years ago. It was like the VELO, but now it is more of a pure aluminum bat.
Brian: And the third bat is they have the Quatro. This bat has 4 pieces. And we can talk more with Kyle about that bat. It's the new bright yellow bat. Do you guys see a lot of people buy it? Its really, well, yellow.
Max: Anyone who has hit with it really like it. But we think it is so loud that a lot of older players think its too much. But younger players like it. When folks hit with it they love it. I think Rawlings nailed it on those three bats. With the new USA bat standard, Rawlings can really add to some success to their bat line as it might benefit them more than anything.
Brian: It will really reset the playing field, at least in youth bats. Will be interesting to see what RAwlings does in terms of their USA bats standard. It is going to be such a wild ride come September of this year. Did you guys ever sell the 2 Legit from Worth last year?
Max: We did. That bat now became the Quatro as this 4-piece bat. So, yeah, we saw it sell alot.
Brian: When we first heard about the Quatro we saw it on eBay. Some college kid trying to get a few bucks out of it after he used it from Rawlings. I ended up writing Rawlings an Email wondering how in the world we can get that bat. They, of course, said that bat is under wraps. I guess my point is that they have been working on the Quatro for a very, very long time. It was a fun to see that so early in the build up. That was my first introduction to the Quatro.
Max: That bat will definitley get your attention.
Brian: Out of those three bats: VELO, 5150, Quatro. What does Mad Max take the plate?
Max: I go with the VELO. It is the standard for the last three years. It is short for Velocity. I just feels very smooth and I think that endcap is part of their success. Looking back no one talked about the end cap. Easton would put on it was never thought of. Now they realize the end cap matters and Rawlings was really the original bat that went there and I've got to give it to the VELO.
Brian: I remember when Demarini came out with a DeMarini and it was shaped like a D. And I read a bullet point that said something like it was aerodynamic. That somehow the shape of the endcap made it fly smoother through the air. You've got to be kidding me that this is really why they put the end cap. It looks cool. But, come on. It has nothing to do aerodynamics. I'll name the folks who copied it: The Boombah Cannon; The 617 SOLO; The Axe Hyperwhip. But all these have taken what the VELO made famous and proved to work and, frankly, copied it. Where the variable wall thickness is found now on a lot of bats. Rawlings was the winner in that space and I think they are being rewarded in that by a lot people buying the VELO.
Max: It came on the scene when South Carolina won the national championship using their bats 7 years ago. It is amazing.
Brian: It has been fun to see them take over the space from basically not being involved in the bat space at all. But, behold, here they are. They are likely, what, the 3rd or 4th in the market.
Max: Yep. The big three are probably Easton, DeMarini and Slugger. But Rawlings is right there. Rawlings makes a great pitch to players. But Rawlings have the most impressive bats on the market this year. They are remarkably similar.
Brian: Let's get the expert on the phone.
Kyle: Weather crazy. St. Louis awesome. Looking forward to baseball to start. Hey Max.
Max: I got my Rawlings sweatshirt on.
Brian: Tell us what you do at Rawlings. How fun it is and what is the best part of your job.
Kyle: I grew up playing baseball. Played at University of Kansas. Have a good natural fit at Rawlings. Spent just about the entire last 7 years working form the R&D to the bats from conception to launching it. It's been a great opportunity. It has been fun to stay close to the game. Now I'm at the director level dealing with bats and batting gloves.
Brian: In 7 years, what have you seen change in the metal and composite bat space for Rawlings. Are we accurate to say that 7 years ago Rawlings didn't even make metal and composite bat space? How has been the transition from a glove and baseball story to now a dead serious player in the metal and composite bat space.
Kyle: 7 Years ago we had some aluminum and composite offering but we might as well not have had one. When I was a kid if you were using a Rawlings bat you were not a serious baseball player—outside of wood. Taking calls from major colleges about our bats started from there and the BBCOR bat standard change really put us on the map. My first ABCA show I showed up to talk bats and I don't think there was a single person that stopped by to talk about bat. Now, at the bat show, everyone wants to talk about bats. It is fun to see people care about bats. We obviously still care about gloves and balls.
Max: I think Rawlings may benefit most from the USA Bat standard. Explain the difference between the 5150 and the VELO? What is the difference between those two bats.
Kyle: The VELO is all about pitch speeds and having the fastest bat speed. The easiest way for us to do that is to make a very light swinging bat. We have seen the highest level of player using the VELO to maximize bat speed by taking out weight in the end cap by removing ounces out of the end of the bat. That makes for a faster swing weight. Our engineers have also honed in on the thickness of the middle of the barrel and optimize the thickness to make the barrel durable, meet performance standards and be long. It is our POP 2.0 technology. We added a laser groove to take even more weight out of the barrel. The 5150 is a bit of a blend but it is going to be more balanced instead of a lighter swing weight like the VELO. But it is the same idea but just a little more balanced.
Max: 7 Years ago, when did SC win the national championship. Then in 2011 they repeated. That had to have helped when they won, is that when it all broke out?
Kyle: It definitely helped. The phone calls we started to field were phenominal and it legitimizes you. We are starting to see that same go in our fastpitch line. To have the University of Oklahoma win for the first time using Rawlings fastpitch for the very first time brings a lot of credibility to your brand that would not happen if they didn't win.
Brian: That POP 2.0 tech. We saw that laser groove on the VELO. It might be hard to imagine. But, imagining cutting a barrel in half. Then holding it an angle to see how thick the walls are. The walls have different thicknesses. That wall changes in thickness and helps you get a lighter swing. The next step of that at one part of that barrel there is even a deeper groove which removes more metal towards the end cap in terms of swing weight and that is the disadvantage an aluminum bat. It is the more material I put in the end cap the harder it gets to swing. The further away we can take more weight out the lighter it gets. So, not only is the thinner wall in addition to a composite end cap but the Laser groove takes even more out to make it an even lighter swinging bat. That is the 2017 bat. How did I do on that Kyle?
Kyle: That is great. You could work for us. With the original 5150 that wall was a 2 1/2 inch thick wall section that tapers down to a much thinner wall. From that original thick wall to what we have now is a dramatic shift. It is surprising to think we can make a bat any better year over year but we really can. And it really is an improvement year over year. Our engineers have been amazing in verifying that it is going to pass the test. It is pretty incredible.
Brian: As a guy who blogs about bat I find a lot of satisfaction in being able to categorize bats in a certain area. So, for example, the VELO has this and I can write a review about it. But, with the VELO, every one of those things are true except for what it isn't. Let me explain. My son, who has every bat ever, my son swings a VELO—now just turned 10 year old son. However, that VELO is not an aluminum bat. It is called the VELO composite. Why the confusion?
Kyle: Yes. With a minus 12 in a composite bat we thought it fell into the VELO, velocity, family better than any others. But, in the end, it does make it confusing. But we didn't have a full line of composites and VELO seemed to be the best fit.
Brian: Fair enough. And I liked the idea of a VELO as a fast swinging bat. That is fair enough.
Max: What happened to the TRIO?
Kyle: Two ways to see it. Composites own the $399 price point. And the TRIO was an aluminum barrel. And up until the Quatro we felt like we just could not get there. We wanted a bat that could perform out of the wrapper at the limit. We still get calls that folks still want it. But we finally got to the time where we could benefit from a composite and that our composite had an advantage over other composites. But we think our price point didn't work for most and I wouldn't be surprised if someday you see a comeback of that bat—although not in the near future.
Max: We found that for $300 folks who wanted aluminum, were more likely to get a VELO if they were going aluminum. And the Quatro has done well. Should we expect an expansion of that?
Kyle: The Quatro will stay a lot like it was but we can make some enahancements that allow us to improve the overall balance of the quatro. You'll see that. The focus for us really has been on USA baseball. You will see an Quatro USA Bat in the assortment. It will be pretty straight forward and you will see the line expanding and we will put more behind it. To come, more to come, but certainly we see the success of it and we want to put our eggs in that basket.
Brian: You mentioned that inner barrel. If you saw the Quatro, if you were to cut it in half, it doesn't have any variable wall thickness because it is composite. But if you look inside there, it looks like there is another bat inside the bat. It is crazy if you have never seen it. Talk us through why that is there and what's the point of that inner barrel.
Kyle: Our idea is that wanted to do something very unique that our engineers can work through. If you were to cut that bat in half, just like any other bat on the market, you would see a hollow inner barrel. The difference with our bat is that our outer barrel is very flexible. With that there is more trampoline you'll be able to maximize performance but we still need to pass the test. So, we have put an inner barrel that acts almost as a governor so if the outer barrel flexes far enough then the inner barrel will keep the bat from flexing too much. The key benefit is that off middle barrel speeds you'll see good pop as well as if you see a bat that works at slow pitch speed.
Brian: Here is my big take away. I hope the people at home have this aha moment. The sentiment I seem to always get is that it is the Indian not the arrow. It is there justification from most dads about ready to pull the trigger. Because people are always looking for a way to spend less money. But I hope people see a certain pitch speed make a difference. But, if a guy is throwing 92 and I'm swinging 87. Then, maybe, it is all the same. But what happens when I swing a bat 67 and see a pitch at 72 because I am a Jr. in highschool. The grand key is that bats work at different pitch speeds. And if parents could get that then I think they'd see why it might make sense to spend more money. Not saying it is always the case.
Kyle: Nail on the head. It also includes a sentiment of the feel of bats. We field those types of questions all the time. But, in terms of USA baseball, with the performance going backwards why would I pay more money for a bat that is moving backwards in the standard. But, still, the idea is that a much better performing bat simply costs more money because those are things that you pay for.
Brian: JBR does not imply to spend all the money you need. It just depends. You are playing 12 games in a rec league then who cares what bat you have. Bats do matter and the better the player gets, the more a bat matters. Not to get all preachy. If I am at home thinking my 13 year old son who doesn't swing very fast might value from a bat that works on slower pitch speeds and off center barrel hits. With all that said, and no great transition, tell us about USA bats.
Kyle: The first date you can get one is September 1st, 2017. We are several months out. There are some others that are coming through with USA bats and they all looked at consolidating the rules and each association was doing there own thing so trying to bring together there own rules. Although USSSA will be on the other side. Performance going back wards is up for debate. Some see it as a good thing others see it as a risk to participation. In the end it is what is happening. We are mapping out what our designs are going to look like. USA came to us 5 to 7 years ago. Everyone pushed off. But now, September 1st, 2017 is when things come out. Janauray 1st is when those old bats are no longer valid. We look at it as a great opportunity for us and taking BBCOR as a mapping we are looking forward to seeing how this will change the entire playing field.
Max: I think Rawlings has the most to gain here. September 1st will be here soon.
Kyle: We should be ramping up with all the major accounts by that time and it should be ready for the holidays.
Max: What is the background with that famous Rawlings PING? I hear that bat in my sleep. How important is the color.
Kyle: Watching the series on Omaha was all about the PING. It was famous from that and we wanted to bring that back. We thought that was a feature that resonates with the game. And people associate a louder sound at contact with performance. No doubt you hear a VELO from three fields away. If you want to stand out on the field we thought the color on the Quatro would be a good choice. It makes a lot of sense.
Brian: What else is coming down the pipe from Rawlings?
Kyle: We have a lot of momentum and we've done well in BBCOR. But we we have seen with the standard change and working on the category of Youth bats is a huge niche of ours that we are focused on. We have a ton of bat trials and demo's going on. That should be a big deal for us. From the youth category to fastpitch is very important to us. You'll see those lines expand. We want to a place with that particular player. And, we should mention our wood bats. We continue to see our wood bats grow year over year in the MLB space. So, we decided to focus on our core products. We have to win and wood bats is what won the most from that decision. Machado is using our bat, Bryce Harper is using our bats. We have a lot of top level players now using our bats and many rising minor league players using our bats.
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