The opening series featured the Sand Gnats, who are in a title or bust season after adding Drake Capps, and the Naturals who pulled a team together just weeks before the season was set to begin. The Naturals' bats showed the sort of inexperience we all expected, but an incredible talent was uncovered on the mound. Michael Plourde showed off his stuff, striking out 13 in two starts and allowing just 7 total runs. Josh Hart had a great day at the plate, batting over .400 with 7 RBIs for the Gnats. The Sand Gnats were able to take 2 of 3, but they were left disappointed after Jacob Harris launched a 2-run walk-off homerun in game 3. The Naturals' hope seems to ride on Plourde's arm for the remainder of the season, and the Sand Gnats will be one of the top teams as long as their bats can find consistency.
Otters vs Skeeters
In a rematch of last year, the Otters and Skeeters battled out 3 tough games, with the Otters coming out on top in games 1 and 3. Sawyer Mitchell showed he could be wildly effective with his velocity, but his inconsistent ability to hit the strike zone raises cause for concern. Austin Church had 5 hits in the series - all of which were home runs. Rookie Blake Voris played incredibly well in his first series with the Skeeters, but Church and Douthitt struggled to find their stroke behind him. However, Douthitt was sharp on the mound in his game 2 win. With the walk rule changing from 6 to 4 balls, Mitchell could struggle to get batters out, so that will be interesting to pay attention to. Don't press the panic button on the Skeeters. They field a ton of talent and will be one of the top teams come season's end.
Seawolves vs Manatees
This series was the biggest mismatch of the day. The Manatees lone source of experience is former Skeeter, Eli Pulley, who isn't able to provide the offensive fire power to carry this team. Rookie Mason Nickell showed he can play at the plate and in the field. Nickell just missed hitting a walk off home run in game 2 of the series. He could be the only bright spot on the Manatees this year if things don't improve quickly. The Seawolves added experienced wiffler Cody House to their roster after the Lake Monsters fell apart, and they look primed to make a championship run. From 1-5 every player showed the ability to spray the ball all over the field. Led by Dakota Rogers at the plate and Cody House on the mound, this team will be very tough to deal with.
Cy Young: Cody House (Seawolves). House was last year's Cy Young winner after going 5-0 on the mound, and he's continued his success into this year. He doesn't do anything spectacular, but he throws strikes and gets hard movement to avoid solid contact. The first series of the year was a cake walk, so it remains to be seen if he can succeed against tougher opponents.
Silver Slugger: Drake Capps (Sand Gnats). As the entire Sand Gnats offense struggled against Michael Plourde, Capps seemed to have no problem. Capps batted .500 on the day with 4 HRs in a day that he'll tell you he could have done much better. It'll be exciting to see what he does the remainder of the season.
Rookie of the Year: Michael Plourde (Naturals). Plourde was unbelievable on the mound Thursday. He struck out 13 while walking just 2 and allowing 7 runs in two games against the Sand Gnats. The lack of offensive support may negatively affect Plourde's W/L record, but you'll have to look past that in order to see the beast that's truly there. He's devoted a ton of time to practice, and this kid is only going to get better. Beware.
MVP: Sawyer Mitchell (Otters). He carried his team on opening day, winning 2 games on the mound and hitting 4 HRs at the plate. Last year's MVP was Austin Church, who was dominant as a pitcher and hitter, so if Mitchell can continue the success on both sides, he'll be a heavy favorite to take home this year's MVP award.