Trenton Thunder

Trenton Thunder Recap: Rain, Sasaki Debut Story vs. Mahoning Valley

The Trenton Thunder returned home to start up what would turn out to be a quick two-game weekend set against the MLB Draft League-leading Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Saturday night in front of a packed house at Trenton Thunder Ballpark as they looked to rebound from a difficult start to the 2024 campaign.

The rain was the story on Friday night for what was supposed to be the opener as well as the debut of highly touted Japanese slugger and Stanford commit Rintaro Sasaki. Sasaki was scheduled to play first base and hit fourth in the lineup for the opener Friday night for the Trenton Thunder, but instead, a torrential downpour pushed Sasaki's debut to Saturday night, where fans and media were on in full force.

Sasaki had come off a 2-for-5 performance in his last outing against Frederick, which included a home run. So, hopes and expectations were high coming into his home debut on Saturday. But like the rest of the Thunder offense, Sasaki just couldn't get anything going against the Mahoning Valley pitching staff. With the series now complete, we now take a look at the highs, lows and three stars of the Trenton Thunder's series against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. We'll also take a look at the road ahead for the Thunder.

The Good

The biggest high for the Trenton Thunder was obviously the much-anticipated home debut of Japanese phenom Rintaro Sasaki. During his high school career in Japan, Sasaki became known for hitting for power and average, as well as his monster home runs. He hit 140 home runs over his high school career at Hanamaki Higashi High School - the same high school attended by Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani and Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, both of whom were coached by Rintaro's father.

But while his power was on full display against Frederick, his shortcomings were on full display Saturday night as a fielding error early on led to a big inning for the Scrappers that the Thunder just couldn't quite recover from. Sasaki does have time, however - he won't be draft-eligible until 2026.

The Bad

A lot went wrong for the Trenton Thunder in the opener on Saturday night. The biggest culprit was the defense as they made a pair of critical errors, leading to five early runs against, putting the Thunder in a deficit they just couldn't battle back from. The bullpen didn't help matters, as the last three pitchers the Thunder sent out allowed four earned runs over four innings pitched.

The four walks issued by starter Blake Hammond also didn't help matters for the Trenton Thunder. For the Thunder to be able to recover in the rest of the first half, the pitching staff needs to be able to shut down opposing batters and they haven't been able to do so thus far.

Three Stars

Johnny Lowe - Mahoning Valley Pitcher

Lowe, a Cisco Junior College product, was called upon to start the opener Saturday night for Mahoning Valley, and he was more than effective on the mound. He went four solid innings, allowing just one run on two hits, punching out seven, and issuing only one free pass. His out pitch is his sinker, which showed dangerous left-to-right action, though he had little control over it or the rest of his secondary pitches. That's an area of his game he'll need to improve on if he wants to make a Major League rotation out of the draft.

MLB player comparison: Ranger Suarez (Philadelphia Phillies)

Will Shannon - Mahoning Valley Infielder

A product of Hillsdale, Mahoning Valley's first baseman Will Shannon was dangerous at the plate on Saturday night against the Trenton Thunder as he went 3 for 5, walking once while driving in a pair. He showed fair plate discipline, good bat speed, and decent defense. In fact, it's his defense where he needs to improve. He has the makings of an everyday Major League first baseman if he plays his cards right.

MLB player comparison: Matt Vierling (Detroit Tigers)

Colton Becker - Trenton Thunder Infielder

Morehead State product Colton Becker normally plays catcher for the Trenton Thunder, but for the opener against Mahoning Valley Saturday night, he was slotted at shortstop where his arm was on full display, but so were his defensive shortcomings as he missed some routine throws and misjudged ground balls that went for base hits and RBIs.

He came into the game batting under .200, but a 1-for-3 outing got him above the Mendoza line as he even tacked on an RBI as well as his sixth stolen base of the season. If he's going to be an everyday shortstop, his defense needs to improve. Right now, he's just a backup catcher, maybe an everyday catcher if he's lucky.

MLB player comparison: Bo Naylor (Cleveland Guardians)

The Road Ahead

After an off-day Monday, the Thunder will welcome the Frederick Keys to Trenton Thunder Ballpark for a quick back-to-back before hitting the road for a four-game Championship Game rematch set against West Virginia. Game time for both games against Frederick is 7 PM.

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