By Aaron Barrows (Aaron was a 4-year starting outfielder at Eastern Kentucky with a .313 lifetime BA, and a former product developer for Louisville Slugger. Aaron knows bats. These are his *opinions*. Aaron’s job is not to sell bats. His job is to help you buy the right bat. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @thebatscout)
Bat Tested: Louisville Slugger Prime 917 33” BBCOR / $399.95
The Louisville Slugger Prime series has gained a lot of ground the past couple of years in the multi-piece composite space. It provides great performance while maintaining a balanced swing weight and a good choice for a wide variety of hitters. With improvements made to the transition along with a new material structure, the Prime 917 improves on what was already a good bat.
Graphics / Cosmetics
Sticking with the same color scheme as the Prime 916 (black, red, volt), the 917 uses a combination of gloss and matte finishes to define the look. The black handle / connection / taper transitions into the red in the barrel using a gradient effect, then back into a black / volt / silver graphic to meet the end cap. You can tell that there was a lot of time and effort put into the graphics across the entire line, and it looks sharp. With the different finishes, there was also additional cost involved vs making it all matte or all semi-gloss across the entire bat.
In the last couple of years, Louisville has been moving away from the traditional oval brand mark and putting a bigger emphasis on their newer “LS” logo. The TRU-3 rubber transition piece was also redesigned for 2017. The new cone is more detailed, crisper and overall looks better than its predecessor. Along with the “LS” logo, it says “Explosive Power Transfer”, which is used to describe the benefits of TRU-3.
Knob / Handle Taper / Grip
The Prime uses the same knob that was used on the 916. When comparing it to other companies, it falls on the thicker end of the spectrum. Moving up the handle you’ll notice that they use a decent-sized handle taper that feels really good in your bottom hand when you hold it. The biggest feature on this end of the bat is the custom LizardSkins grip, which is used across Louisville Slugger’s performance line. For those of you who are big LizardSkins fans, this benefit will save you the extra $10-$15 you were planning on spending. Even though it’s a small addition, we expect the custom look and added tack on a premium bat.
The Prime 917 provides a wide range of sounds when making impact. Everything from the traditional composite to the better sounding ping end of the spectrum. There’s nothing here that’s too out of the ordinary for a composite bat.
The Prime 917 provides an interesting swing weight because of how it’s constructed. The key takeaway is that the 917 is a balanced bat with a fairly low MOI (moment of inertia). Because of that fact, a wide variety of hitters will likely gravitate towards the Prime.
Now for a little deeper dive: when bat manufacturers have to add weight to a bat, they use what is called casting. Casting is a poured polyurethane that starts liquid, cures and hardens. This casting is usually put in the end cap or in the knob / bottom of the handle. These two scenarios are what result in a bat being end loaded (end cap) or balanced (knob). Louisville Slugger’s TRU-3 connection is pretty hefty, meaning there is a lot going on internally and actually a decent amount of material. Since there is more material in the connection, that means there is also more weight right in the middle of the bat, which gives the Prime somewhat of a mid-load. A mid-load would provide some of the benefits of an end load by providing more mass near impact while remaining balanced.
Louisville Slugger has prided itself on their TRU-3 connection for a few years now. While it has had a few issues with twisting and turning, they have tried to build a connection from the handle to the barrel that eliminates bad vibration while still allowing good barrel feedback to reach the player’s hands. For the most part, I would say that they have succeeded in this goal. There was never a time when I took one above the hands or towards the end cap that I felt any negative vibration. Even though you won’t get the same barrel location feedback as a one piece bat, I was still getting a pretty good idea of where I made contact on each impact. The other thing about the TRU-3 is how it acts as a socket that allows the barrel to pivot on impact (you can find a great explanation of how it works from Louisville Slugger’s Jim Earley). You are most likely going to feel movement at that socket connection on impact when it pivots. If the thought of any movement is a huge deterrent, it’s a must that you find a demo and take some hacks with it. With that being said, Louisville Slugger did increase the length of the internal elastomer cone to stiffen it up.
The swing weight and feel of the Prime 917 will be suitable for many hitters. Performance though, is always king. What sets good bats apart from bad ones is performance as you move away from the sweet spot towards the end cap and knob. This year, Slugger started using what they call Microform composite, which consists of small strips vs. continuous layers that construct the actual barrel. Using smaller strips allows Louisville Slugger to fine tune (change the angle) of each strip to create a larger sweet spot across the length of the barrel. Combine that with their Fused Carbon Structure (FCS), which is the curing method—when composite bats are first created with separate layers, they have to cure or “cook” the bats to mesh the material and resin, Slugger eliminates air voids within the layers (air voids=weak spots) and creates better durability. In our field testing the Prime 917 performed very well on sweet spot impacts, and it also performed well on impacts made towards the end cap and TRU-3 connection. I can see why it has been a very popular choice for players so far.
It’s pretty easy to see why the Prime 917 has moved into position as one of the top full composite, multi-piece bat choices on the market. It gets positive marks in many of the key areas and will be a great choice for a large number of players. If you are ready to pick one up, consider checking out our friends over at Closeoutbats.com. Tell Mad Max that Bat Scout sent you!