Time marches on, and we've got some new offerings in masks for the upcoming season...
Hockey -Style Masks (HSM)
All-Star is still the iconic HSM producer, but several rivals have made significant improvements to their product lineups.
All-Star: Showing focused refinement, the MVP4000-UMP and MVP2500-UMP models get updated padding and (supposedly) better paint jobs. In fact, the MVP2500 "Molded" is now black through-and-through, meaning that a ding or knick isn't going to discolor the shell. The MVP4000 is now offering a titanium cage, to keep pace with Wilson (see below). The System 7's, showcasing their I-Bar Vision construction, really allow the best sightlines of the HSMs on the market.
Diamond: The brand-new iX5 system is now on the scene, featuring a much more sculpted shell and 3D-formed cage. Unique to Diamond, the iX5 is the only HSM with a "shovel-front chin" on the cage. Looking like a throat-guard on a TM, this adds another deflective geometry to the mask, especially for those that drop the chin. The iX3 name has been dropped, and the previous model (the iX3) received some tweaking and has been released as a value-price-point named the EDGE Core. Of course, because umpires get much less "love" from the manufacturers, the "for-umpires" HSM is an EDGE Core labeled as DCH-EDGE-UMP. While it doesn't have the curves of the iX5, it still has the pronounced chin cage guard.
Easton: Made some needed improvements to the Mako, and are heavily marketing it as their flagship unit. For 2015, they've introduced the M7 (in two finishes "grip" (matte) and "gloss"), which is a less-technical, slightly-lighter-weight unit that is posed to be their workhorse. It has a 3D-formed cage and a sculpted shell, indicating that is concentrating on deflective properties instead of mass and bulk, and appears to be so much more comfortable than the elder Rival. With the M7 now on the scene, Easton looks to be consolidating the Rival and the Stealth into a mask named Black Magic, and is aiming that more on youth (ie. 12U) baseball, and the budget price points.
Mizuno: Nothing new to report in their Samurai G4 line. It has the largest standoff and padding concentration in the crown of an HSM.
Nike: ... (sigh)... uh... Yes, Nike makes a HSM. It's called the De3539, and is made more as a branding piece (see? We're in baseball!) than as an advanced piece of protective gear. Unlike rival UnderArmour, who re-branded All-Star units, Nike... you can't tell who produces the Nike unit.
Rawlings: The Slowest-to-Update-Baseball-Company-In-the-World finally, finally introduced a new HSM after All-Star kicked their keester all down the 1BL. The CH1 (which, undoubtedly, stood for "Catching Helmet One") saw its shell redesigned, outfitted with new CoolFlo pads, and stuck with a curvy, sleek new cage that, strangely, looks like the negative (opposite) of All-Star's System 7 geometry. Hmmm. But it does look impressive! Debuting as the CH950 (so what happened to the 948 other versions?), look for this to be on a Molina near you soon. The entire lineup received CoolFlo pads.
Schutt: As one of the premier football helmet manufacturers, Schutt took their AiR technology and (finally!) applied it to their baseball HSMs. The catcher's HSM gets the AiR treatment first, labeled the AiR Maxx 2966. Unique and intriguing, Schutt extended the cage back along the temples, covering the ears and flanks of the shell. That means that's even more protection on the sides, and the cage carries and dissipates more energy before it reaches the shell. No one else is doing that! If you don't need the customizable comfort-fit of the AiR system, the 2966 is offered as an "umpire" version, but it (appears) to not get quite the cage treatment, still using the fall-2014 cage.
UnderArmour: UA is really trying to make headway in baseball, and they partnered up with one of the best in the business to do so in All-Star. UA's "Pro", though, is a re-branded All-Star MVP2300, which has the same shell, but doesn't have the iconic System 7 cage.
Wilson: Having already seen a significant improvement mid-season in 2014, the Shock FX 2.0 returns to the field, this time showcasing a titanium cage. The most technologically-advanced HSM of the bunch (for now, unless and until Force3 debuts a HSM entry), the SFX 2.0 is the apex protector for umpires; it just gets kinda haughty about it with the ... ahem... particular paint-job Wilson loves to show off. If you can't afford a Shock FX, but still want an HSM with the... Wilson paint job... look for the Prestige.
All-Star: With a trimmer, more defined lineup, All-Star presses forward with the FM25Ti, FM25, FM4000 and FM2000. All four are offered as "umpire versions" with a hat-harness (instead of the Delta-Flex helmet harness), and give All-Star some distinction between itself and Wilson. This is noteworthy with the FM25Ti, which may be physically (titanium alloy and double-wire, more difficult to deform) and financially (titanium alloy, less costly) more appealing to a mid-level umpire than the pure-titanium show ponies Wilson and Nike trot out. Besides that, the FM4000 and FM2000 are instantly recognizable because of their bar layouts.
Diamond: How can you mess with one of the best-selling TMs in the industry, but still make it more appealing? Fix the pads! The iX3's geometry didn't change, but Diamond now offers new, improved pads on a re-labeled mask called DFM-UMP-BL (for "Big League", woo woo). This, and the venerable iX3, are one-in-the-same mask... one's named Ed, the other Fred. Oh, and you can get pads that have no logos on them. For those who really cling to tradition we're talking Charleton Heston's grip the DRM-PRO (used to be iX3) and DFM-43 double-bar masks are still available.
Easton: The Speed Elite returns, still with exceptionally lightweight construction in a robust geometry. It has some of the largest ear-guards in the business, and very reliable pads (think the complete opposite of the miserable pads on the Diamond iX3). It also has one of the smallest chin-throat guards, such that it encourages and makes easy the mounting of a hanging supplemental throat guard.
Force3: The mask everyone is rooting for. Now available in colors (and tan pads!! Sexxxxyyyyy), the Defender is a tangible promise that someone, somewhere is looking out for us who stand behind the plate. While it still is noticeably heavy, that weight has been steadily declining as Force3 continues to pare down the geometry and improve the hardware. The standoff distance is still something to be negotiated, as it feels like you're in cage, but this is the mask that should be your chief candidate if frontal, concussion-inducing impacts are your main concern.
Mizuno: Nothing new to report on out of Japan.
Nike: Unknown if Nike is even going to offer a mask for retail sale this year.
Schutt: Teamed up with Diamond, and offers the DFM-UMP labeled as the Comfort-Lite Mask. (If anyone from Schutt ever reads these forums, please contact me â€“ I've got an intriguing mask design for you.)
UnderArmour: Continuing the relationship with All-Star, UA's UAFM Pro is a rebranded FM25, complete with I-Bar advertising tab on the chin.
Wilson: The big news came during the 2014 season, with the debut of new Memory Foam pads! They are meeting with rave feedback, and are probably the best rival to Team Wendys. Additionally, while the pads were developed independently, they debuted with the new Dynalite Aluminum mask, taking the spot as Wilson's lightest traditional mask in their lineup. This mask may be a Titanium-slayer, because with the lighter weight (marginal, but still), better pads, and lower cost, it addresses the three main issues umpires face (bad pun!) when selecting a mask.
Disclaimer: I did not list Champro nor +POS because Champro's HSMs are rebrandings, and they have nothing new in TMs, while +POS designs some really innovative TMs, but has nothing obviously new for 2015 announced yet.
Bonus Note: For those needing to protect a banged-up forearm, these might do the trick: https://www.underarmour.com/en-us/ua-forearm-pad/pid1220728-001