Being handed a crop of brand new players stuck in a completely foreign environment and having them stay in college dorms, while playing for their futures in a brand new league is a tough task for any manager. But Trenton Thunder manager Jeff Manto has taken this challenge in stride, leading his team to a 3-1 record in the first week of the inaugural season of the MLB Draft League, all while his roster has called the unfamiliar Rider University home.
The Thunder have impressed through their first two series, taking both games against the Frederick Keys at Citizens Bank Park (the home stadium of the Philadelphia Phillies) before splitting a two-game set with the Williamsport Crosscutters.
“I think the kids have been really, really excited,” Manto said of his team's sizzling start. “They’ve played hard. Our pitchers have been pounding the zone, our hitters have been getting good aggressive at-bats. Right now everything seems to be clicking.”
Trenton Bats Got Off to Quick Start
Trenton opened up its season averaging more than six runs per game and has had two outbursts of at least nine runs. Daryl Myers has been an obvious star for the team, with a batting average of .385 in his first 13 plate appearances and a team-leading three RBI.
“It’s an adjustment, there’s some dudes out here,” the 23-year-old shortstop said of the jump from Division III Benedictine College to the MLB Draft League. “There’s definitely some good ball players.”
Manto was more than complimentary of the talent he’s seen on the field and the longtime major leaguer feels the league is as competitive and talent filled as a lower-level minor league.
“I’d compare this league to the New York Penn-League and the Appalachian League, rookie ball leagues,” explained Manto who was a three-time World Series Champion in his playing career. “These kids are the same age, the same skill set, the same eagerness and it reminds me a lot of that.”
Despite the leap in talent, Myers has looked more than comfortable in the field and in the batter's box.
He attributed his hot start to, “keeping it simple and keeping it fun. I definitely didn’t see this [velocity] in my conference for school. So just coming here and making small adjustments and adjusting to the kind of elite pitching that we’re seeing and just staying calm and doing what I can.”
The Thunder won their first three games before dropping an 11-2 blowout against the Crosscutters in its most recent game on May 27. Despite the strong start, Manto feels the whole draft league experience is still in its infancy for his players.
“I really don’t think they’ve settled in right yet,” he explained. “I think they are still trying to feel their way with different ways to set up on defense, offense and pitch selection. They’re just getting used to new roommates, new routines, [it’s] something different. In college you have to go to class, here you have to budget your time, here there is no class.”
With colleges across the country no longer in session, Trenton continues its summer excursion across the MLB Draft League on May 28, when it travels to Pennsylvania for its first road game of the season against the winless State College Spikes.