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Slugger Rintaro Sasaki Homers in His MLB Draft League Debut

Record-breaking Japanese baseball phenom Rintaro Sasaki went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs in his first game in a Trenton Thunder uniform.

Rintaro Sasaki had an impressive debut game for the Trenton Thunder in the MLB Draft League on Tuesday, June 11.

As the cleanup hitter, the future Stanford University player smacked a two-run home run off Frederick Keys starter Grant Richars with two outs in the third inning. The powerful blast, on a 0-2 fastball, traveled 352 feet (about 107.3 meters), sailing over the right-field fence. It gave the Thunder a 3-1 lead. 

The Thunder recorded an 11-1 victory over the Keys at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Maryland.

Sasaki went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs in the rout. He also walked once.

In the sixth inning, he lined a two-out single to right, driving in another run and extending the lead to 5-1.

"The whole night was exciting. He brought a new energy to our ballclub," Thunder manager Adonis Smith said of Sasaki, according to the Frederick New Post. "[Sasaki's] very strong, very talented, understands what he's doing at the plate. The kid can play."

Smith elaborated on the exciting experience of watching Sasaki hit his first MLB Draft League home run.

"I knew something special was going to happen, so I actually turned around and told the guys, 'I want to admire this.' Then next thing you know, he drops the head [of the bat] and he clears [the fence]," Smith was quoted as saying by MLB.com. "It was magical."

An announced crowd of 2,488 was on hand to see Sasaki's MLB Draft League debut. 

Rintaro Sasaki
Rintaro Sasaki rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer over the right-field fence in the third inning. (AP/via KYODO)

Rintaro Sasaki Opts for US College Ball Over NPB

Sasaki, 19, enrolled at Stanford University in April 2024 after crushing a Japan record-breaking 140 homers in his Hanamaki Higashi High School career. He followed in the footsteps of current MLB players Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi in playing for the prominent baseball school in Iwate Prefecture.

He'll be eligible to play for Stanford starting in the fall of 2024.

Instead of pursuing playing for an NPB team to launch his pro career and then aim to move to an MLB team in the future, which is the customary path for Japanese players, Sasaki is getting ready to compete for the powerhouse Stanford squad.

The MLB Draft League, which was established in 2021, is a six-team circuit with a split-season format. Teams are based in New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.


As noted on MLB.com, the first half of the season (June 4-July 13) features "amateur/draft-eligible players from the Divisions I-III, NAIA, junior college and high school (graduating seniors) levels." Each team plays 35 games in the first half of the season. Then, during the second half of the 2024 campaign (July 18-September 4), competition is open to "professional players who have exhausted their amateur eligibility."

Rintaro Sasaki
Rintaro Sasaki appears in his first Trenton Thunder game on June 11. (©SANKEI)

Developmental Opportunity for Sasaki

In an interview with MLB.com, Sean Campbell, the executive director of the MLB Draft League, summarized his perspective on how playing in the league can be a positive experience for Sasaki.

"If we could give him that opportunity and environment to come to us, continue to get work defensively, continue to get at-bats, face high-level pitching, swing a wood bat, it would all be beneficial to the kid," Campbell told MLB.com. "I think that was the more immediate approach, it was just, what's in the best interest of Rintaro's development."

The bulky 114-kg Sasaki will be eligible to be drafted by an MLB squad in 2026.

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A Look Ahead

On Friday, June 14, the Trenton Thunder return home to New Jersey's capital city for a weekend series opener against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, managed by former MLB outfielder Quinton McCracken. 

Expect the home fans at Trenton Thunder Ballpark to be eager to witness the same buzz that Sasaki generated in his MLB Draft League debut in Maryland.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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