Louisville Slugger’s New Coating Creates Hardest MLB Prime Wood Bat Yet
The new coating for Louisville Slugger’s MLB Prime wood bat offers the “secret sauce” of the updated 2019 version, says Mike Butler, Slugger’s product line manager for wood bats. The fresh line of MLB Prime, launching April 17, has plenty more newness, though, from knob to cup.
“It is a coating we have been working on for quite a while,” Butler said. “When talking about wood bats, everyone talks about the hardness factor. The new EXOPRO finish is two to three times harder than EXOARMOR.”
Slugger, now owned by Wilson, tested the new coating last year with a select group of pro players and says the coating is ready for both the MLB diamond and retail. Along with the hardness increase — done through a propriety mixture of materials and chemistry — Butler said the coating offers a nice finish in a player’s hand and gives a more crystal clarity to the bat. “The colors pop off that bat and it lets the decal shine,” he said. “It looks really nice.”
While the new coating was a multi-year project, Butler said he spent more time on a fresh knob in the last year than anything else on the new MLB Prime design. A new knob medallion offers an updated way to put the prime grade of wood, along with wood specie and bat length on a brushed metal aesthetic with black lettering. Slugger imbedded the medallion in the knob by removing a small piece of wood to give it a flush feeling in case a player wants to hang their finger over the knob. “That was super important to us, not just the design but the playability of it,” he said.
The new aesthetic of the knob does two things for Louisville Slugger: creates a singular look on a bat wall in a store and allows designers more room to laser the name of the bat into the wood. When a consumer looks at a sea of bats on the wall, often looking up at them, the new knob design should stand out from others, Butler said. Also, the condescend specs allows Slugger to play up the name of each bat by lasering the name into the wood.
“We have given creative names to give bats a unique identity and allow players to connect with them,” he said. “Instead of saying ‘I’m swinging the black C271,’ they can say ‘I’m swinging the Hitman or High Roller’ and build identity. Putting the name on the knob allows us to tell that story a little better.”
At the other end of the bat, Slugger updated the cup. “That was my mentality,” Butler said, “to touch all parts of the product from the knob to the cup. No area was untouched.”
Based on customer feedback, Butler knew they needed to upgrade durability on the cup. He said the previous models had a cup wall that was too thin and wasn’t durable enough during a mishit off the end. A new craftsman-style cup has a smaller diameter but the same weight and feel while allowing for a thicker edge wall for more durability and a higher-end design. Louisville Slugger believes in both the EXOPRO coat and new cup enough to now offer a 30-day warranty on its MLB Prime line.
All the new changes, except for the knob medallion, were implemented in both the retail line and in what the professional players swing. “If high school, college or younger kids are seeing a bat on the field, we want them to feel comfortable knowing that if they buy the MLB Prime bat they are getting the same quality these guys are getting,” Butler said. “We are putting everything into the retail that we are for the pro bats.”
One area that the retail line extends beyond the pro line, though, comes with the range of colors the MLB doesn’t allow on the field. From a vintage stain, blue denim, matte gold or electric blue, Butler said players “can get as wild as they want or if they are no-nonsense still have natural and black.”
From wild colors to classic, the $150 2019 MLB Prime wood bat line was touched from knob to cup. But the new coat remains the “jewel of this year’s line.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.