Three heart surgeries can’t keep Austin Matsoff off the mound

Austin Matsoff, a sophomore pitcher at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, has underwent three heart surgeries over the last two years. Yet there he was on the mound on June 13 in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League staring down a hitter from LSU.

Being from a NAIA program, he had no business taking on SEC talent. Which meant he had nothing to lose.

“When I first signed up for the league and I was looking at the rosters from the previous years, my whole mindset was these guys are better hitters than I am pitcher,” Matsoff said. “That’s just proven. They all go to like UCF, Vanderbilt, LSU, all these schools known for baseball and I’m at a small NAIA school in Kansas. So when I came in here, it was really a mindset of what’s the worst that can happen?”

Yet he struck him out.

“That was a big moment for me,” Matsoff said. “It was such a surreal feeling. I never thought of myself being able to be on the same field as these guys like that.”

Clear eyes, full heart, he couldn’t lose. In five appearances so far this summer, Mastoff has allowed only two runs in six innings with three strikeouts and a save. 

“I’ve been pitching well all summer and the idea that I’m out here competing with all these other guys is just huge for me.”

MATSOFF’S HEART CONDITION

Austin Matsoff was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia during his senior year of high school in Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale. VT is a condition in which the heart’s lower chambers beat much faster than normal because of a problem with the heart’s electrical impulses.

“The main issue with mine is that it beats too fast,” Matsoff said. “It’s a genetic issue. The problem is that there are clusters of electrical nerves attached to it which cause it to beat faster.”

According to Matsoff, the best way he’s been able to treat his heart has been by making it beat faster. His resting heart rate ranges from 90-120 BPM but when he’s active, it ranges between 120-180 BPM, which is actually normal.

“The problem isn’t when I work out really,” Matsoff said. “It’s when I’m resting that there is a problem. Like I’ll be resting and sometimes it’ll shoot up to 200 BPM.”

Basically his heart is like the bus from “Speed”. He’s got to keep moving or else that’s when tachycardia occurs. It runs in the family. His mother is a triathlete with the same heart issues when at rest.

“The way my heart condition works is I actually feel better when I work out,” Matsoff said. “When I work out, my sinus heartbeat rhythm takes over the bad heartbeat and it levels off at 180 BPM. It only gets up to 200+ when I am resting, because that is when the electrical nerves are taking over. So I am always working out because my heart goes into a normal rhythm and makes me feel better as opposed to resting.”

BASEBALL BEFORE AND AFTER SURGERY FOR AUSTIN MATSOFF

Matsoff’s first surgery was in December 26, 2018 and the second one came on June 5, 2019, a week after his high school graduation. Theose procedures were ablations and the third surgery was to implant a monitor inside his chest just above the pulmonary valve of his heart.

The surgeries have not preventing his heart from suffering bouts of tachycardia. His most recent episode came on May 29, just before the start of the summer season.

“I didn’t really feel that one,” Austin Matsoff said. “I didn’t find out about it until I went to a doctor and they checked my monitor.”

His worst case of tachycardia came while he was in college a few weeks after the third surgery.

“I was at dinner up in kansas after a practice,” Matsoff said. “I started shaking then felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder and my heart rate got up to 220 BPM.”

A fourth heart surgery is not scheduled down the road nor is it recommend. He said he is praying that there isn’t one coming up and has been on multiple medications that is helping.

Austin Mastoff pitching for the Boca Raton Blazers

He pitched on the JV team as a freshman at MNU, which was played during the fall. His two biggest games came the day before and week after his third heart surgery, which happened on October 10, 2019.

“Pitching before the surgury was probably the most energetic I have ever been on a baseball field,” Austin Matsoff said. “We had a night game against our rival school. It was about 40 degrees, but there were a good amount of people at the game. I knew I was only going out for one inning and it was the best inning I threw all fall. Struck out the last batter of the inning and got super hyped up because I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t be throwing again for a while.

“The game after my surgery was a little scary,” he said. “I had pestered my coach all week to let me throw simply because it was the last game of the fall and I wanted the satisfaction of coming back for our last game to end fall on a high note. During warm ups and running around in the outfield, I was feeling a little uncomfortable because I was not used to having the monitor in my chest. When I got on the mound, I was trying to make adjustments to accommodate my discomfort and it was difficult, but I figured it out and put up a zero for my inning.”

HOW AUSTIN MATSOFF ENDED UP AT MNU

How Austin Mastoff ended up at MidAmerica Nazarene is amazing in itself. He went from only six at-bats in junior varsity as a freshman to hitting .400 while starting every game as a sophomore, finishing with two pinch hit appearances in varsity.

He didn’t begin pitching until at the tail end of the fall semester of his junior season, when his coach decided that he will be a submarine pitcher from here on out. The team had a crowded outfield and his switch to pitcher filled a need on the varsity front.

MNU was the only school to take a chance on Mastoff and even gave him a scholarship.

Boca Raton Blazers pitcher Austin Mastoff working out in his home gym.


WORKING OUT LIKE HIS LIFE DEPENDED ON IT

When he’s not playing baseball, Austin Matsoff hits the gym for olympic weightlifting and boxing. He got hooked on fitness the summer before his senior year of high school. He credits weight lifting for playing a major role in his development.

“One thing in particular I really enjoyed was olympic lifting because it involves strength, speed, and mobility,” Matsoff said. “When I got to MNU, our strength coach was an olympic lifter and she saw me wanting to work and helped me out. She gave me programs and would help coach me whenever I had time in between classes.”

Boxing originally started as a fun way for Matsoff to get in shape. He wasn’t trying to get in a ring and fight but he enjoys the workout immensely. He joined a boxing gym in his college town and saw the sparring in action and his competitive nature took over.

“Before I knew it, I was getting in the ring and sparring on a daily basis,” Matsoff said. “It has been one of the greatest stress releases that I’ve ever experienced other than baseball. The problem with baseball, especially as a pitcher, if you throw too much you risk injury. So as much of a release as baseball is to me, I can only do it so much before I risk hurting my arm or something like that. Boxing is something I can do that gets me in better shape for baseball without risking my arm.”

Matsoff has a garage gym complete with a speed bag and a heavy bag. He also has gym access to through SFCBL, which has a good amount of space and allows him to do keep up his weightlifting.

Between working out eight hours a day and playing baseball against Division I competition in his backyard, Austin Mastoff says, “This is the best I have felt in a long time.”

2021 MLB Draft prospect Mason Black pitches in our backyard

Baseball America recently released a list of 25 college players worth keeping an eye on during the summer league season. The only name on the list that plays in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League is Lehigh pitcher Mason Black.

He previously dominated the competition at the Cape Cod League last summer, leading the league with a 1.47 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched over the course of eight appearances and five starts.

The article said that Black’s hot season at the Cape which included starting in the all-star game after a freshman season that was shorted due to injury, “put him on the map as a player to watch in the 2021 draft and he’ll look to add to that resume this summer.”

And here we are. In just five starts in the SFCBL, Black has a 1.00 ERA and 10 more strikeouts than innings pitched.

“It’s given me a great opportunity to come down here and work on some off-speed stuff and figure out how to shorten up my arm action,” Black said. “I have a lot of stuff to work on but I’m happy with the results so far.”

Not only has his stats been impressive to scouts but also the velocity on his fastball. Boca Raton Blazers pitching coach Colin Murray caught Black throwing 102 mph on his Pitchlogic software. What leads to throwing high heat can be a mystery but Black’s method begins in the gym.

“I’m a big believer in max effort pull-downs,” Black said, “getting in the gym and just staying flexible. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I wish there was a secret formula. I’d tell everyone if I could. I’d sell it and do whatever but there really isn’t one unfortunately.”

Lehigh Contingent in the SFCBL

On his Lehigh athletics online player bio, Black listed professional pitcher as his dream job. Murray originally was supposed to be working in the Los Angeles Angels player development department, but the minor league season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He sees a lot of pro potential in the hulking junior.

“Coming down here, I knew he led he Cape in ERA last year but I’ve never really seen him throw,” Murray said, “I never heard of him before that. When you get up close and you see him, he’s got a fastball that he’ll be humble and tell you that he doesn’t throw it 100 but we had him register at 102 MPH. So even if that is a few miles faster, he’s still one of the best that I’ve seen and all of his off-speeds. We really tried to take his analytics and just map out his movement and his efficiency with it and he’s off the charts from what I’ve seen.”

“I’m a big believer that all different opinions are going to help you in the future,” Black said. “I not only try to pick apart out pitching coach Colin’s brain but also the other pitchers on the team. It’s been really helpful with the analytics side of things and being able to apply them in a game situation.”

Black is not the only Lehigh player in the SFCBL. He has fellow pitcher Will Grisick with him in the Blazers. Matt Svanson is leading the West Boca Snappers with an astonishing 0.00 ERA in four starts. And the North Division leading Palm Beach Diamond Ducks has pitcher Luke Rettig and first baseman Charlie Von Werne.

Black said having his teammates around in the SFCBL has provided comfort to him while pitching away from home but with three Lehigh pitchers on the top two teams in the SFCBL, someone is returning to Allentown with bragging rights.

Mason Black, 2021 MLB Prospect

As good as Mason Black has been in the summer leagues, what he does in Lehigh his junior year next year will truly determine his place in the 2021 MLB Draft. His freshman year was cut short due to injury and his sophomore year was abbreviated because of the COVID-19 crisis. Last year he posted a 4.36 ERA in 10 appearances, and 28 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched. He showed some improvement this spring by posting a 3.68 ERA in four starts with 29 strikeouts in 22 innings.

His performance in the SFCBL indicates that a breakout season is coming next spring. The fact that he’s not the only Lehigh starting pitcher impressing in the summer shows that this will be a team to watch.

 

Miami Hurricanes

Miami Hurricanes add playmaking, hard-hitting safety to 2021 class

Manny Diaz’s recruiting class in 2020 has welcomed a lot of great prospects. Even with a 6-7 season, the Miami Hurricanes have reloaded the roster with talent. In particular, the safety position has three newcomers who should be able to make an impact.

Saturday, they received a commitment from four-star safety Kamren Kinchens The local product out of Miami Northwestern High announced his commitment to The U on Saturday. In doing so, he becomes the fifth Bull in the 2021 recruiting class. He picked Miami over the likes of Auburn and Texas A&M.

He is also the first safety commitment in his class. The 2021 Miami Hurricanes recruiting class is looking strong. They are ranked 12th nationally and third overall in the ACC per the 247Sports Team Rankings.

Currently, the highest-rated commitment in the ’21 class is wide receiver Romello Brinson. It’s worth noting that the 2021 class is aligning very similarly to last year’s class.

Last year, their class ranked second in the ACC. In terms of the 247Sports average rating, they clocked in with a 0.9006 rating last year. This year, they have an 0.8837 rating.

Last year, he had 74 tackles and 10 interceptions for Miami Northwestern. When you watch his film, he is a hard-hitter. He also possesses tremendous vision. He makes a break for the ball as soon as it is thrown, and often settles underneath it nicely for an interception. Opposing quarterbacks would be wise not to throw his way on the field. He is truly a playmaker on that side of football.

It would be unfair to compare him to Miami Hurricanes great Ed Reed. However, he has that same type of playmaking ability. I’m not saying he will be the next Reed, but he will eliminate the middle of the field for Miami defensively.

This is a another notch in the belt for the Miami coaching staff. Diaz has done a great job of rebuilding this program this entire offseason. it will be intriguing to see what move comes next.

Justin Alintoff graduates from Gators‘ reliever to starter in Rollins

Sometimes it’s crazy how quickly things can change within a year. The Florida Gators started the 2020 season 16-0. Justin Alintoff was contributing to a bullpen that posted a 1.76 ERA with 12 strikeouts in five appearances.

They lose their first game of the season to Florida State on March 10 and the next day the entire spring slate has been cancelled.

“It was a real bummer,” Alintoff said.

Now Alintoff is in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League working time go from reliever to starting pitcher with the Delray Beach Lightning. This is all in preparation for his final chapter as a college pitcher, not in Florida, but in Rollins.

“I could have gone back to Florida but I’m getting an MBA at Rollins College,” Alintoff said. “I value my education greatly.”

Justin Alintoff Transition to Starter

So far the transition to starter has gone well. Alintoff is 3-0 with a 1.28 ERA and 12 strikeouts in five games and four starts. His longest start came on Thursday against the Palm Beach Xtreme where he allowed only one run on four hits in four innings.

He leads the Lightning in starts and ERA, which is a big reason why Delray Beach (13-7) is only a game behind the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks (14-6) in the North Division.

While there are instances in which Alintoff finds himself facing off an Arkansas hitter, a Georgia hitter or one of the handful of LSU hitters prowling in the league, the overall summer ball competition doesn’t make up for the erased spring slate.

“The SEC is a beast of its own,” Alintoff said. “I don’t think there really is too much to compare in those regards. They’re two different intensities. Spring ball is way more intense than summer ball.

“In terms of the players, we have a great group of guys (in the SFCBL), really talented guys and same as the SEC. But the SEC is a grind every game.”

Alintoff Leaning on His Experience

Alintoff made a total of 21 appearances out of the bullpen for Florida as a sophomore and junior. He totaled 37 strikeouts in 39 innings. He credits the rigors of the SEC for setting him up for summer success.

“There’s no rest,” Alintoff said. “The teams in the bottom of the standings can come out and whoop butt. So the SEC is an animal and it has prepared me greatly for this league.”

Alintoff was originally a starting pitcher at Indian Hill Community College. He posted a 4.11 ERA in 57.0 innings with 77 strikeouts during his freshman year.

The SFCBL season runs through July 30 followed by the playoffs. Led by Alintoff as the anchor of the staff, a league title would be a great way to complete the transformation.

Marlins 2020 Schedule

5 Takeaways from Marlins 2020 Schedule

The Miami Marlins have their hands full this season. Thanks the to the coronavirus and the bickering over money between billionaire owners and millionaire players, MLB plans on just a 60 game season. The Marlins 2020 schedule has them playing strictly in the East region. They’ll face their NL East rivals, as well as their AL East counterparts.

Here’s a look at 5 Takeaways for the Marlins 2020 Schedule.

Marlins 2020 Schedule: A Sprint, not a Marathon

Normally, the MLB season feels like a marathon. The 162-game slate stretches from late March to early October most years and has teams crisscrossing the nation. This year, though, a truncated 60-game sprint to the playoffs faces each squad. And for the Marlins, this has both advantages and drawbacks.

The advantages are clear: it’s a pennant race right from the start. The Marlins are tied for first late in July for the first time perhaps ever. Despite a pair of World Series victories, Miami has never won the NL East. In recent years, by late July the team had been mired in the cellar or struggling for a wild card berth.

The 60-game sprint introduces a level of uncertainty unseen in previous seasons.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly recently said: “In a 162-game schedule, the best teams usually win. Those are the teams with depth and over the long haul things even out. But in a 60-game season, there’s a lot of momentum. You go 8-4 out of the gate, you’ve played 20 percent of your season, and you put pressure on teams.”

“Everybody has a chance in this scenario,” Mattingly said, and players have echoed that sentiment with a “Why Not Us” refrain.

The NL East is No Joke

Part of what makes the Marlins 2020 schedule such a gauntlet is that they’re part of the NL East. The division sports three teams that were above .500 and another at .500 in 2019. Other than the Marlins, who were a dismal 57-105, the other teams in the division averaged 89 wins for the year.

The Atlanta Braves won the division with a 97-65 record, but lost in the Divisional Series 3-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Washington Nationals secured a Wild Card, then proceeded to win the entire tournament.

Miami will face their NL East counterparts 40 times in 2020. Last season, the Marlins posted a 24-52 record against the NL East. Their only winning mark came versus Philadelphia (10-9), who they’ll start with in 2020. The Marlins had losing records against Atlanta (4-15), the Mets (6-13) and Washington (4-15).

The defending champion Nationals may have lost their MVP candidate (Anthony Rendon), but they still sport three aces. The Braves built a strong team with stars. And both the Phillies and the Mets are in win-now mode.

AL East Ain’t Much Easier

With MLB’s regional setup for the schedule, Miami also has to face the AL East. 20 of their 60 games will be against their interleague counterparts.

In 2019, Tampa Bay swept the Marlins (0-4). The Rays won 96 games and sport three aces of their own. Miami will face the Rays six times in 2020, on August 28-30 in Miami then September 4-6 in St. Petersburg. Over the last two seasons, the Marlins are 4-6 versus Tampa Bay, but 56-61 all-time.

For the rest of the AL East, the Marlins’ll see Baltimore and Toronto four times apiece, while facing the Red Sox and Yankees three times each. The Yankees have the deepest roster in the AL. Oh, and after winning 103 games, they added Gerrit Cole, who’s coming off a 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326-strikeout season.

“We know that the National League East is a bear of a division and the American League East is equally as difficult division,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said recently, “and I guess if you look at just from winning percentages from 2019, we’re going to face the toughest schedule. We know it’s going to be a battle.”

Marlins 2020 Schedule: Opening 12 Games

Marlins manager Don Mattingly noted recently that once you’re through the first 12 games of the season, you’ve completed 20 percent of the schedule. That fact alone makes the start of the season integral for any team with postseason aspirations.

For Miami, only four of the first 12 are on the road. They open on July 24th in Philadelphia for a three-game series with the Phillies. In 2019, the Marlins beat Philadelphia 10 times, so they’ll look for similar success this year. From there, they come home for two against the Orioles. Then they travel to Baltimore for two more. In 2018, the Marlins went 2-1 versus Baltimore and hold a whopping 22-8 record against them all-time.

The Marlins return home for a three-game series versus Washington. Miami was a dismal 4-15 versus the Nationals last season. Afterwards, they welcome the Phillies to town for three more games.

Realistically, the Marlins need to target eight wins in their first 12. It’ll be hugely important to bank wins early, so they can ride some of that momentum through mid-August. Eight wins early might mean they have a shot at 20 by the end of August.

“We need to win every game. You got to play like you’re gonna win every game,” Mattingly said of the team’s mindset for 2020. “Every game is important, every play is important, every out is important, and just go after it in that way.”

Marlins 2020 Schedule: Final 12 Games

The true gauntlet for the Marlins 2020 schedule comes in the waning days of the truncated regular season. Miami will close the 2020 campaign with a 7-game road trip through Atlanta and the Bronx. The Marlins’ final 12 games will come against teams that won 84, 93, 97 and 103 games in 2019. Three of those four were playoff teams.

Should the Marlins be in position to make the postseason, their final 12 will force them to earn their spot. There won’t be any backing into the playoffs this season.

Miami has the Braves on their schedule for 10 games in 2020, but their final series will be a four-game set in Atlanta. They were 4-15 versus the Braves with a minus-33 run differential in 2019.

The last series of the year will come in New York versus the Yankees. Historically, Miami has played well versus the Yankees, 13-15 all-time and 4-2 in the 2003 World Series.

The Marlins longest homestead of the season will come in September, overlapping these final 12 games. It’s a 10-game, 11-day stretch that could prove to be the make-or-break homestead of the year.

5 Post-Practice Comments from Miami Heat in Orlando

After the Miami Heat arrived to Orlando on Wednesday, they needed to quarantine before returning to practice. Today, they returned to practicing for the first time since early March.

Here’s some takeaways from interviews with the team…

Miami Heat in Orlando Post-Practice Comment 1:

Miami Heat practice in Orlando, and basketball is back. And it seems as if the players are just as excited as the fans are. Erik Spoelstra mentions that he’s “never seen a team move as fast as this team” on their way to get to the gym this afternoon. He also talks about the teams excitement on the court, discussing such things as each others hairstyles. Coach Spoelstra says “You can feel an incredible genuine sense of enthusiasm.” Like many people have mentioned about this Heat team, they enjoy being around each other, which means this bubble situation helps this Heat team.

Post-Practice Comment 2:

This team is full of many vocal leaders on and off the court. But there’s no one better than Miami’s own Udonis Haslem. He says he was very vocal today in their first day back, and told the guys today “it’s time to work.” And the thing is about this team, we know they all were ready to work. He also uses the words “locked in,” which he means in a couple different ways. He says during the interview that he is only going to keep to his team during his time in the bubble, even with the history of him and LeBron James. This team is indeed locked in and ready.

Post-Practice Comment 3:

While there has been a lot of speculation about this unique postseason, Spoelstra says he will use these scrimmage and regular season games to figure out his lineup. He once again says, “Our depth is going to be a factor,” which has been one of the many advantages for the Miami Heat heading into the playoffs. Even Udonis Haslem says he’s ready to go out their and play if Coach Spoelstra looks his way. Spoelstra also mentions that they will not prepare any differently for this postseason than they would for a traditional playoffs. He says “We will prepare the way a typical Miami Heat team would.”

Post-Practice Comment 4:

Goran Dragic says he felt good today during the first team practice in about four months. But he says it’ll be interesting to see how he feels once they do full contact drills starting tomorrow. It was also told that Meyers Leonard was a “full go” and “he’s moving great.” The team’s health is looking pretty promising according to the coaches and players, which will end up being a major factor once teams work their way back in to 100%.

Post-Practice Comment 5:

And of course the money quote. Udonis Haslem discusses Jamal Crawford getting signed and replacing him as oldest in the league. He replies with “I’m still the sexiest guy in the league.” Seems like Udonis Haslem is in good spirits upon the NBA’s return and is ready to prepare his guys for a postseason run.

We’re Headed for Heat-76ers, Aren’t We?

With Victor Oladipo recently announcing his decision to forego playing the rest of the 2019-2020 NBA season, it seems likely the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat will finish in the 4- and 5-seeds in the East. Currently, Miami is two games ahead of both Indiana and Philadelphia.

Yes, Miami does have a chance to catch the Boston Celtics at the 3-seed. But Miami faces a difficult schedule in Orlando. They’re already 2.5 games back and play Boston on a second night of a  back-to-back. And again, considering their strength of schedule, it’s a must-win if they have any  hope of grabbing the 3-seed.

The 76ers face an easier schedule. Unless all the 76er players forgot how to play basketball during the break (doubtful), they should easily move past the Pacers in the standings.

They only face one team in the top-4 of the standings from both conferences: the Toronto Raptors. It’s hard to predict if Philly can bump the Heat to the 5-seed, considering all the uncertainty of the resumed basketball season.

Either way, the Heat and 76ers will be the 4/5 matchup.

 

Heat-76ers Matchup

Both teams are confronted with lineup and rotation questions. Brett Brown experimented playing Al Horford off the bench, however it was only for three games because point guard Ben Simmons got injured. The sample size is too small to make definitive conclusions, but the spacing on the floor is clearly worse when Joel Embiid and Horford are on the court together.

It’s important the Heat use their seeding games to get lineups and sets aligned, regain team chemistry, and continue to build on the brotherhood.

The Miami Heat have yet to play at full strength after acquiring Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodola and Solomon Hill. With Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro, and Kelly Olynyk expected to come back fully healthy, Spoelstra is going to be challenged with lineup decisions and rotation options.

After it was announced the Miami Heat were closing its facilities after three players tested positive for the Coronavirus. It is even more important now to use these eight games to adapt to each other’s play style and establish roles.

The Heat are 3-1 against the 76ers this year and hold the tiebreaker against them. After their first matchup getting blown out in Philly, Miami has controlled the matchup. They’ve beat them three straight times including an overtime thriller in Miami.

The Heat use their infamous 2-3 zone against Philly during portions of the game. They pack the paint and force an erratic shooting team to make outside shots. Philadelphia uses their size to exploit Miami’s defense and to get easy points with Simmons leading fast breaks.

What a Show it Would Be

Fans from both cities want and need a Jimmy Butler vs 76ers first round matchup. After Philly refused to sign Butler to a max contract, Butler made it clear he wanted out. He landed in Miami where 76er fans claimed the Heat wouldn’t even make the playoffs.

We should expect a high intensity, competitive matchup between two teams and fan bases that sometimes hate and disrespect each other. Philly has high standards to meet after many expected them to be favorites out of the East before the season started. Miami has exceeded expectations this season and looks to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Ultimately, this matchup won’t be anything less than a brawl.

One View of Where Miami Heat Players Rank

Bleacher Report has been ranking the top 15 players at each position throughout this week. And it’s pretty promising for Heat fans. The Miami Heat players placed three times on these top 15 lists.

Having two starters be placed as small forwards might not make much sense, but this is their list not ours.

Either way, here’s where the Heat players were placed…

#14 Small Forward: Duncan Robinson

Duncan Robinson has been one of the most surprising players in the NBA this season. Coming into the season, nobody even thought he’d be getting playing time, let alone start. As mentioned by Bleacher Report, Stephen Curry and Steve Novak are the only players in league history to match his volume and efficiency from three.

His importance to this team as a Heat player by his outstanding shooting ability is what catapulted him to 14 on this list. As seen throughout the season, even if he’s not helping the offense with his shooting, he helps by opening up the floor for others once he begins to get double teamed out on the perimeter. It should also make Heat fans happy that he was ranked one spot higher than a familiar opponent, TJ Warren.

#3 Small Forward: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler has been one of the most consistent stars on these lists throughout the last few years. He ranked three on this list, only behind LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. This makes Jimmy the number one small forward in the East this season. It’s great that they acknowledge how great he’s been this season without just viewing stats.

Though he’s had a pretty great stat line this season other than his shooting, his defense and leadership is what puts him in this elite category. The playoffs is what will truly separates him from others since the player ranked one spot behind him, Khris Middleton, seems to shrink in playoff games. And Jimmy being 12 spots higher than TJ Warren truly proves “he’s not in his league.”

#5 Center Bam Adebayo

Bam Adebayo edging his way into the top 5 centers in only his third season is truly remarkable, especially because he doesn’t really start at center when Meyers Leonard is healthy. The players who ranked above him were Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert. When they did this same exact list at the start of the season, these were the top four centers.

But Bam wasn’t ranked in the top 5. He wasn’t even ranked in the top 15. The jump he made in a matter of months is something you don’t see very often. What makes Bam so intriguing is that he has the ability of being an offensive guy like Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. And he also has the defensive capabilities of Rudy Gobert. His ceiling is a mixture of the four players listed above him. This has the team, fans, and the league all excited about his future.

 

Jonathan Villar, right, works with Isan Diaz on the first day of spring training. Villar, an infielder, could end up in center field. (Craig Davis for Five Reasons Sports)

5 Marlins Roster Tidbits as Summer Camp Continues

The Miami Marlins have split their 60-man player pool workouts between Marlins Park and their facility in Jupiter, FL. While there’s been some movement back-and-forth by a few players, for the most part, players expected to be on the 30-man Opening Day roster are practicing at Marlins Park. There’s nothing set in stone yet, but there’s certainly growing clarity for the Marlins roster.

Here’s a look at five tidbits from recent media availabilities that are clues to the Marlins roster on Opening Day.

Jonathan Villar’s Versatility

The Marlins roster received a significant upgrade when the team landed Jonathan Villar this offseason.

In 2019, Villar slashed .273/.339/.453 and posted a 4.0 WAR over 162 games for Baltimore. He started 158 of them at either second base or at shortstop. Villar brings durability, defensive acumen and consistent offensive production.

“When you trade for Jonathan, that’s one of those moves as a manager that you’re like ‘Yes’ right away,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He gives you a guy up top. He’s a switch-hitter, power and average, steals bags. A guy that’s exciting up top.”

Defensively, though, it’s unclear what position Villar will man day-to-day.

According to Mattingly, Villar could bounce “back and forth between centerfield, second base, shortstop and DH.” He also has experience playing third base.

Villar said he’s “here for the team” and the possibility of playing multiple positions is one he’s ready for.

“You have to prepare mentally and physically every day. I’m prepared for whatever comes.”

Villar admitted some discomfort working in centerfield and said judging line drives has been particularly difficult early on. However, his spot in the lineup is all but assured.

“I still like him up top in the order,” Mattingly said, citing Villar’s combination of power and speed. The addition of the DH to the National League simplifies things for the Marlins, as Villar is an option there.

Marlins Roster: Fifth Starter Competition

Prior to Spring Training’s COVID-19 shut down, the frontend of Miami’s pitching rotation seemed set. While he hasn’t announced the Opening Day starter, Mattingly admitted they’ve settled on one.

The assumption at this point is that 2019 All-Star Sandy Alcantara will get the Opening Day nod in Philadelphia. From there, it’s likely that Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and José Ureña will follow in some order.

Mattingly mentioned the team leans toward a regular five-man rotation. They’ve kicked around the idea of piggybacking but have ruled out a six-man set.

“I think we will probably try to settle on five [pitchers] and feel good about that, knowing that we have depth moving forward with the other guys,” Mattingly said of the staff.

The fifth spot candidates are: Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez, Robert Dugger and Nick Neidert.

While most seemed to view it as a two-man race, Mattingly was quick to add the 23-year-old righty into the mix. He said Neidert’s in a “position to stay.”

In five minor league seasons, Neidert sports a 3.20 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and an 8.1 K/9 rate over 460.2 innings pitched. He features a 90-93 mph sinking fastball that pounds the bottom of the zone. His deceptive delivery can fool hitters.

In six innings pitched this spring, Neidert gave up only one earned run. Yamamoto surrendered three earned runs over eight innings pitched. Hernandez gave up six earned runs in his 11 innings. Dugger was the best of the bunch this Spring, not giving up any runs over 9.2 innings of work.

Isan Diaz

Don Mattingly came out on Wednesday in support of Isan Díaz as not only the Marlins current second baseman, but also the second baseman of the future.

“He’s the guy,” Matting said. That’s reassuring for the 24-year-old Puerto Rico native, especially considering his struggles in 2019.

After a rousing debut that saw Diaz connect on a home run against Jacob DeGrom, much to the delight of his father in the stands, hitting didn’t come as easily for him as it did in Triple-A. Diaz finished his 2019 stint with the Marlins with a .173 batting average and .259 on-base percentage in 201 plate appearances.

The struggles continued this spring, as he managed to slash just .103/.235/.103 over 34 plate appearances.

“We look at Isan as our second baseman,” said Mattingly. “Not only now, but we think he’s going to be the second baseman of the future.”

This vote of confidence comes after the Marlins brought in a productive offensive force in Villar that could play Diaz’s position.

“His track record shows that he’s gonna hit” Mattingly said. The manager acknowledged that it wasn’t great for Diaz last year, but that he “had spurts, had moments.”

Mattingly likened Diaz to Brian Anderson as some who “sees the ball well, gets himself good pitches to hit. Sometimes maybe a little too passive, but knows the strike zone, is capable of using the whole field, has got a clean swing.”

Learning from these experiences will be key for Diaz. He’s viewed as the second baseman right now, but an extended struggle may force Mattingly’s hand in a truncated season.

Marlins Roster: Bullpen Shakeup

Last season, the Marlins featured one of the worst bullpens in MLB. Miami relievers posted the fifth-worst ERA (4.97), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.11) and save percentage (55.1). Their WHIP (1.45) was seventh worst. Relievers blew 22 save opportunities and surrendered a .235 batting-average-against and .343 on-base percentage.

“You look at our overall bullpen performance, and it was not good,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill in December.

The biggest addition for the bullpen in 2020 was 35-year-old Brandon Kintzler. The 11-year MLB veteran signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Marlins.

Kintzler has taken a mentor role with this young group. He’s stressed value of routines and expressed that “this generation throws way too much” and that they’ll have to “figure out how to be a bullpen guy the big leagues.”

The bullpen turnover has also seen the addition of 31-year-old Brad Boxberger. Boxberger has 77 career saves, 3.59 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over MLB eight seasons, including a league-leading 41 with Tampa Bay in 2015. In 2018 with Arizona, he registered 32 saves.

Among the other additions stands Yimi Garcia. The 29-year-old five-year MLB vet posted a 3.61 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 62.1 innings pitched with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A power arm, Garcia throws strikes and avoids walks, two things that will help this bullpen.

These veterans will help the development of younger arms like newcomers Stephen TarpleySterling Sharp, Alex Vesia and Nick Vincent. They’ll join incumbent relievers Jeff BrighamAdam ConleyRyne Stanek and Drew Steckenrider.

Kintzler is the presumptive closer come Opening Day. Mattingly also heralded Boxberger as one of the experienced arms in the ‘pen. Garcia impressed this spring, and Sharp is a Rule 5 pick who will need to be on the Marlins roster to be kept.

Mattingly also seems high on Vesia, the left prospect who sported a 41 scoreless inning streak recently.

“There’s plenty to like. Everywhere he went he had success.” Mattingly said Vesia “pitched with confidence” & “has some moxie about him,” noting “He’s on the attack. He’s not afraid. He’s a strike thrower.”

Monte Harrison

Heading into Spring Training, Monte Harrison stood among the options for centerfield. He competed with Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra, among others, for the spot.

Over 27 plate appearances before the COVID-19 shut down, Harrison swung the bat well. He slashed .364/.481/.500, had six RBI, three doubles and a team-leading six stolen bases.

“Monte looks good,” Mattingly said. “He’s swung the bat good here. Plays with energy, plays fast. He’s aggressive.”

Mattingly called Harrison a “mega-talented kid.” The 24-year-old came to Miami as part of the Christian Yelichdeal and has a lofty ceiling. His combination of speed and strength reinforce his all-around tools. He has an 84 percent success rate with stolen bases over his minor league career and could be a 30-30 guy at the Major League level.

“Monte’s worked really hard to continue to improve,” Mattingly said.  “And he’s going to continue to improve and get better. We’re happy with the strides he’s been making. Obviously, the new summer camp puts him back in the equation.”

Inter Miami

Orlando City 2-1 Inter Miami: Grading Inter Miami

Inter Miami had its official induction as a Miami team delivering its fans the first “What the hell just happened?” loss of its brief and winless existence as Nani completed Orlando City’s comeback victory with a 97th minute goal that sealed the fate of Diego Alonso’s squad in the inaugural match of the MLS Is Back tournament.

The match was a rollercoaster of emotions with goals, crazy injuries and a moving Black Lives Matter demonstration by both teams. However, Inter Miami itself was a mixed bag. They will have to make important tweaks ahead of a must-win matchup against the Chicago Fire next Tuesday.

Let’s take a look at how each Inter Miami player fared by grading them individually from 1 to 10.

Important note: Only those who played at least 30 minutes will be graded. Those who didn’t will receive an Incomplete unless they did something otherworldly or were vital to the final outcome of the match.

Grading Inter Miami

Luis Robles (5): Inter Miami’s goalkeeper started out great with an amazing diving save in the 22nd minute with the match still 0-0, but he could and should have done more in Orlando City’s first goal as the ball crossed the box and he remained paralyzed under the crossbar. Nothing for him to do in Nani’s goal.

 

Andrés Reyes (7): Reyes was having a great night as the leader of the five-man defense until Dom Dwyer’s vicious elbow sent him to the hospital in the 58th minute. The Colombian back showed great poise, and his absence destabilized the Inter Miami defense. The tying Orlando City goal came just a couple of minutes after his exit.

Ben Sweat (3): The complete opposite of Reyes. Insecure and full of doubts. He tried to score off a free kick with his hand, but he is no Maradona. He looked lost, and to make things worse Nani´s goal came off a silly deflection off his shin as he clumsily stumbled into a teammate trying to clear a cross in the heart of the box.

Mikey Ambrose (5): The left back was a non-factor against his former team. Didn´t have trouble on defense, but didn´t contribute on offense either.

Jorge Figal (3): The Argentinian veteran is supposed to be a steadying presence, but instead he seemed to be skittish and unnerved by Mueller and especially Dwyer, Orlando City´s only “true” forward.  He wasn’t paying attention and the ball deflected off him after the cross before it found Nani.

Dylan Nealls (3,5): Nealls lost to Nani way more than he won in their personal duel. The difference in speed and talent between him and a world-class player like Nani was evident as the world-class Portuguese midfielder left him in the dust before the assist for Orlando’s first goal.

Will Trapp (6): The central midfielder had the hockey assist in Agudelo´s goal and was crisp and tried to partner up with Matías Pellegrini before being replaced by Jay Chapman in the 79th minute. All in all, correct performance.

Víctor Ulloa (8): Very versatile next to Trapp and did a great job appearing in the box by surprise to serve Agudelo the scoring chance in a silver platter. Inter Miami´s Man of the Match.

Matías Pellegrini (7,5): Talking about scoring chances in silver platters, the 20-year-old Argentinian midfielder was the team´s main and best offensive threat all match long. He should have had an assist in the 8th minute with a great play, but Agudelo missed the point blank shot in the most unexplainable way.

 

Lewis Morgan (6): Another good option on offense down the right side, but he needs to stand out more if he wants to have steady minutes in the long run.

Juan Agudelo (6): Started out like a 2 missing the aforementioned chance created by Pellegrini´s cross, and then tried to score from midfield in the first half. Credit to him, though, for being where a striker should be to score. Got lost in the shuffle during the last 40 minutes as Orlando City dominated.

SUBS

Rodolfo Pizarro (6): The Mexican star came in for Reyes in the 58th minute and tried to provide a spark with his talent and creativity.

Julian Carranza (Inc.): Replaced Agudelo in the 73rd  minute. He is the superior striker and got yellow carded 10 minutes later.

Luis Argudo (Inc.): Came into the match in the 78th minute in place of Morgan as part of a triple substitution by coach Diego Alonso.

Lee Nguyen (Inc.): Nguyen is trying to regain his 2014 form and was dynamic during his 20 minutes of action in place of Pellegrini in the 78th minute. Don´t be surprised if he is more of a factor in the next two matches.

Jay Chapman (Inc.): Came in for Trapp. Almost made it 2-1 Inter Miami in the 88th minute with a header that just missed.