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Lehigh pitcher Matt Svanson shutting out the SFCBL

There is clearly a big difference between what Lehigh saw out of Matt Svanson and what the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League is seeing.

At Lehigh, Svanson has a 6.51 ERA in 25 total appearances, 10 of which were starts. This spring, he started all four games but recorded a 7.77 ERA.

In five starts with the West Boca Snappers, Svanson has an ERA of 0.00 and his last two starts saw him strike out eight batters. Svanson’s arsenal features a sinker, slider and changeup mix. His sinker is  his first pitch which is aimed for ground ball outs and his slider is his strikeout pitch. 

Much of his performance has been credited to his head coach and former Miami Marlins minor league pitcher, Riley MacEachern.

“Riley’s been awesome,” Svanson said. “Because he’s a former pro player, he is so well with mechanics and be able to communicate with me. We have a pretty good relationship for the most part. Whenever I have an issue on the mound, he’s able to self-correct me.”

MacEachern was drafted in the 33rd round by the Marlins out of Stony Brook in 2015 and spent thre as a reliever going as far as Single-A Greensboro.

According to MacEachern, it didn’t take much to unlock Svanson’s potential.

“He had it the whole time,” MacEachern said, “just needed to get him to gain that confidence.”

Svanson was originally slated to pitch in the Cape Cod League but it got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead he was recruited by MacEachern to pitch for the Snappers and now they are on top of the South Division with a five game lead.

Svanson is not alone in the SFCBL. There are two other Lehigh pitchers and first baseman Charlie Von Werne are also with him in the league. Luke Rettig has a 1.89 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 19 innings over five games with the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks and Mason Black has 25 strikeouts in 18 innings and an ERA of 1.00 in five starts.

“We push each other all the time, Svanson said. “We want to be No. 1 going into next year and it’s a battle every time. Obviously what matters to us is we win three games each weekend but but right here want to go and see each other absolutely dominate.”

The season runs through July 30 followed by the playoffs. As it currently stands, it looks like there could be a matchup between Rettig and Svanson for the title.

Michael Schuler starts in the SFCBL to be a better reliever at FAU

The South Florida Collegiate Baseball League has it’s fair share of pitchers who are going from reliever to starter. Florida Atlantic pitcher Michael Schuler seems to fit that mold while pitching for the Phipps Parks Barracudas.

His last three apperances have seen his innings increase from three to four to most recently five on Tuesday, In that game he allowed three runs on six hits and struck out eight in an 8-5 win against the Boca Raton Blazers.

“I feel like I’m doing a lot better than my last spring,” Schuler said. “It’s just gaining confidence, feeling out the offspeed (pitch). As long as I can get that confidence with the offspeed pitch I can dominate.”

However, despite the long outings, Schuler is not trying to transition to starting pitcher. In fact, he believes that the structure of a starter helps him become a better reliever.

Michael Schuler Becoming a Starter

“I’m not trying to become a starter,” Schuler said. “I love the relieving aspect but as being a starter in this league it keeps me on routine like getting my lifts in on time and recovery on time. I kind of know when I’m throwing so I’ll bump up my innings to get my extra work in.”

As a freshmen at FAU, Schuler went 3-1 with a 4.20 ERA and as arguably the best reliever during the C-USA slate with a 2.18 ERA. His first five outings against conference opponents were scoreless. His best outing that season was also his longest outing, 4 2/3 shutout innings against Charlotte.

He only made six appearances in his shortened sophomore season with his longest outing lasting two innings.

So far this summer, Schuler has a 3.50 ERA in six appearances and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched. Schuler’s mission on the mound is to improve and learn after each outing.

“Every inning I’m working on something and after that I got my routine to do,” Schuler said. “Every day you come out here you want to learn something new. You don’t want to be the same person the next day. You want to consistently get better. Consistently is the key.”

Schuler said he is working on adding the slider to his arsenal this summer.

“It’s always been a downfall for me,” Schuler said. “I figured out as long as I stay in my back hip and lean forward, I get the sharp break that I want.”

FAU Players at SFCBL

A handful of his FAU teammates are in the SFCBL competing for the title and bragging rights. Schuler has Cade Parker and Victor Castillo on his side with the Barracudas but many more occupy the teams in contention for the playoffs. So far the only Owl Schuler has faced was catcher Nick Toney of the South Division leading West Boca Snappers. He won that matchup by getting Toney to ground out to third base.

“Playing against my FAU teammates this summer is a blast,” Schuler said. “It brings a higher level of competitiveness out each other. When facing each other we push each other to be better. Overall facing them is very competitive and beneficial to each other.”

The SFCBL season runs through July 30, followed by the playoffs.

How SFCBL players feel about playing baseball during the COVID-19 pandemic

The baseball fields of the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League, SFCBL, feel like an oasis these days.

With the COVID-19 pandemic consuming the country and more specifically Florida, playing baseball right now can feel like playing under the eye of a hurricane.

Summer leagues across the country like the SFCBL has provided an outlet for players who worked hard to prepare for the spring season only to see it erased due to the coronavirus.

SFCBL Players

“It was a real bummer,” said former Florida pitcher Justin Alintoff, who plays for the Delray Beach Lightning. “At UF, we were 16-0 then next thing we know, the season is over. I would encourage everyone to wear a mask and stay safe, wash your hands. This is a real shame and it’s good that we’re able to get out and continue to play.”

The players say that baseball has allowed them to free their minds from the threat of the coronavirus, but even that can be difficult because of the need to be cognizant of the new rules and regulations put in place to keep them safe.

“The only time I’m not thinking about [COVID-19] is when I’m on the baseball field,” said Florida infielder Cory Acton, who plays for the West Boca Snappers. “We still have to wear the masks and still be protected but other than that, we’re playing like it’s a normal day.”

“You try to not think about it,” said Florida Atlantic infielder Jared DeSantolo, who plays for the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks. “It’s definitely interesting seeing what they’ve been doing, trying umpires behind the mound and having them all wear masks. At the end of the day, it’s still baseball.”

New Rules

“Now I kind of think about it a lot because of the new rules and regulations they kind of put in,” said LSU outfielder Gavin Dugas, who plays for the Boyton Beach Buccaneers. “It’s kind of weird playing though it but it’s not that bad.”

Georgia outfielder Randon Jernigan, who plays for the West Boca Snappers, said the mask is an important part of the process because the nature of the baseball dugout doesn’t allow for social distancing.

“In the dugout we’re all pretty conscious about it now because everybody is making sure we’re putting on our masks.” Jernigan said. “It’s kind of weird being so hot but I’m getting used to it.

“You have 30 guys in a little space and you have to wear masks because you’re not going to get six feet apart,” he said. “I don’t care who tries to enforce it, it’s not going to work. But as long as we have masks we’ll be okay.”

South Florida Collegiate Baseball League

Every player in the league was tested before the beginning of the season. A few players and at least one coach have already tested positive for the coronavirus. Alintoff said one of the players who tested positive was on his team and everyone who was around said players were then tested after that, and that the protocols in place has been able to keep the game going safely.

Two umpires officiate each game and wear masks at all times. Players don’t have to wear masks while on the field since the nature of the sport keeps them distant. However, when in the dugout, the players are instructed to wear masks and some of them who aren’t playing would watch the games from outside the dugout and field.

“Playing in this outbreak is definitely unlike something I’ve seen before,” said former FIU pitcher CJ Dearman, who plays for the Pompano Beach Clippers. “We have way more rules to abide by like wearing masks on the field and trying to keep a safe distance away for me each other.

“Also our full team is never at the same game,” he said. “Our teams usually split in half and the half playing is the ones who show up to the game. I must admit it’s really weird playing like this and acting as if you can’t touch anyone, but in order to play this game it’s worth following all the rules.”

The Fields

Some fields have made an effort to make social distancing somewhat possible. One example it Little Fenway Park, home of the Lightning and Boca Raton Blazers having reserved the bleachers to players not on the field to watch. The fans the come to those games bring their own chairs to the game which naturally creates its own form of social distancing.

Palm Beach Atlantic University, the only college field used by the league, has their bleachers open for fans to watch. Usually the only people that view these games are a few scouts and the family members of the players who live locally. 

COVID Concerns

According to anonymous player, one of the league coaches contracted the virus and two players are currently quarantining. One of those players who tested positive feels that it could possibly be a false positive test. He feels no symptoms and his family all tested negative.

The players originally would stay with host families during the summer season if they are coming from out of state. This time around, players are staying in hotels and Air BnB’s. One of the best aspects of summer baseball for players is the opportunity to meet and bond off the field.

That hasn’t been as easy this time around.

“It’s a huge adjustment. Obviously you want to get to know the players and everybody and get close and have conversations. But obviously we need to be more spread out,” said Villanova infielder Jeff Manto, who is plays catcher for the Lightning. “I’m just glad that we’re down here playing and I’ll do whatever we can to keep playing. Whatever it is I’ll make an adjustment.”

Some of these rules are sometimes not followed and usually difficult to enforce. However if the league can make it through the season, which runs through July 30 followed by the playoffs, with minimal cases. Then the SFCBL and other summer baseball leagues would serve as an example for how sports can be played safely.

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

Austin Matsoff, a sophomore pitcher at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, has been through 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?”

The worst thing never happened. Instead, he struck him out with his submarine delivery.

“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 at 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 its 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, ironically, is by making it beat faster. His resting heart rate ranges from 90-120 BPM but when he’s exercising, it ranges between 120-180 BPM, which is actually a normal range when active.

“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.

“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. The second one came on June 5, 2019, a week after his high school graduation. Both procedures were cardiac ablations whereas the third surgery resulted in a monitor implanted in his chest just above the pulmonary valve of his heart.

The surgeries have not prevented his heart from experiencing 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 occurred 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 has not been scheduled nor has it been recommend.

Austin Mastoff pitching for the Boca Raton Blazers

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

“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 an amazing story in itself. In high school, 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 varsity pinch-hit appearances.

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 give 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.

 

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.

SFCBL title means bragging rights among Florida Atlantic players

In the SFCBL, South Florida Collegiate Baseball League, Owls of a feather compete together.

That’s the summer vibe for a handful of Florida Atlantic players who are competing with each other for the SFCBL title the ultimate prize that comes with it.

“I would like to hold bragging rights over my other teammates,” said FAU infielder Jared DeSantolo, who plays for the North Division leading Palm Beach Diamond Ducks.

Most of the 2020 FAU roster has been spread out throughout the league.

FAU Owls at SFCBL

DeSantolo has company within the Diamond Ducks in pitchers Jackson Vescelus and Adrien Reese, who pitched four shutout innings against the Boyton Beach Buccaneers on Tuesday while striking out seven. The Phipps Park Barracudas (pitcher Michael Schumer, infielder Cade Parker and outfielder Victor Castillo) is tied with the Diamond Ducks with having the most Owls players.

The South Division leading West Boca Snappers have two Owls in catcher Nick Toney and shortstop Wilfredo Alvarez. The Fort Lauderdale Knights (outfielder Mitch Hartiga), the Delray Beach Lightning (outfielder Jackson Wenstorm), the Florida Pokers (pitcher Dante Visconti) and the Pompano Beach Clippers (infielder BJ Murray) each have one Owl.

The Buccaneers have three incoming FAU freshmen on their team. Chief among the trio is infielder Nolan Schanuel, who went 2-for-3 against the Diamond Ducks to raise his batting average to .300.

“It’s exciting to watch the kids we got coming in and what they can do,” DeSantolo said. “It’s good to get to know them before we get to school.”

The stories that come from playing against each other have been bountiful. A game between the Pokers and Barracudas pitted roommates Visconti, Parker and Castillo against each other.

“[Visconti] struck me out the first time and teased me for a whole week and then I told him the next time I faced him I was going to get a hit and the next week he through against me and I got a hit. We laughed about it for a while,” Castillo said. “We give him a hard time because he plays like he’s the best guy out there but we love it. He competed and makes us compete.”

“We have fun when we meet each other outside of the game,” Parker said. “We talk about our competition and it’s fun to get a couple hits off your buddy.”

“I actually faced my roommate Jared DeSantolo the other day and drilled him on my last pitch,” Hartigan said. “It’s interesting that we get to compete against each other.”

FAU Baseball in 2020

DeSantolo finds it a little weird to go from competing with FAU teammates to against them in the same year but it’s not something he’s no used to.

“We’re used to it because we do it in intersquads almost every day in the fall,” DeSantolo said, “so it kind of gets back to that feel of fall ball.

The Owls finished the 2019 season 41-21 in the Athens Regional. The Owls were 10-6 before the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. DeSantolo and other players are appreciative about getting to play during this time of crisis. The summer season doesn’t make up for the lost spring.

“Nothing makes up for losing basically a whole year of college ball,” DeSantolo said. “But they gave us back our eligibility back, which is cool. I’m excited for next year. I think we’re going to have a really good team, even better than last year.”

Summer Ball bridges the gap to CJ Dearman’s next opportunity

CJ Dearman was supposed to have his senior day at Florida International University.

He was supposed to take the mound one last time at FIU Baseball Stadium in May, strike someone out, and ride off into the sunset, possibly on a bus somewhere in the minor leagues.

Instead, the pitcher’s senior season was cut off shortly due to the COVID-19 viral outbreak. Now, Dearman’s senior day will have to come next year at St. Thomas University in Miami.

“Originally I was planning on just graduating from FIU with my bachelors,” Dearman said. “However with the epidemic going on and me being gifted another year to play, I definitely wanted to take advantage. Also. St Thomas was willing to give me an opportunity to attend grad school and play on a very good team. Two of my best friends from FIU are also going with me so it just seemed like an ideal choice.”

CJ Dearman at FIU

Dearman was primarily a relief pitcher at FIU, posting a 3.41 ERA in 24 career appearances with one save and 15 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched. At the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League, he is a starting pitcher for the Pompano Beach Clippers. He’s posted a 1.68 ERA in three starts with 12 strikeouts in 10.2 innings.

One interesting component of the summer league is taking on former teammates. A handful of Dearman’s FIU teammates are in the SFCBL but none of them play for the Clippers. Dearman’s introduction to the 2020 SFCBL season was versus a former teammate. He took on West Boca Snappers’ second baseman Derek Cartaya, who has a .305 career bating average in four years at FIU.

“To play against my former teammates is an absolute blast,” Dearman said. “It makes you bring the best out of yourself because no one wants to lose to their friend. We look forward to those games because no matter what. It’s always a lot more fun, especially when you’re striking your friends out.”

As great it is to be one of the few playing baseball at a time where the enigmatic epidemic hangs over the nation like a tropical storm hovers over Florida, Dearman says it doesn’t make up for the lost spring.

“It’s just because it’s not the same,” Dearman said. “Like for summer, I didn’t grind and do those tough 6 a.m. workouts with those guys. So I don’t know what I’m getting into. Also, I don’t get to go to the cool cities around the U.S. when I play summer ball as opposed to when I was at FIU.

“So it doesn’t really make up for it but it does give me that same fun feeling of playing the game I love.”

North Carolina’s Caleb Roberts catching on with Lightning

The Delray Beach Lightning is currently the hottest team in the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League. They nailed their ninth victory in the last 10 games. For the 18-6 rout over the South Division-leading West Boca Snappers on Monday, they leaned on catcher Caleb Roberts.

One of the catalysts of that victory, Roberts, went 3-for-4 with four RBIs. He raised his batting average to .341 for the summer. Roberts has spent the summer working to return to his original position after spending his collegiate career at right field for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

“Getting the reps here in the [SFCBL] has helped a lot,” Roberts said, “and catching every day has given me a chance to show scouts, and myself really, that I can catch at this level.”

Prospect Watch: C Caleb Roberts

Caleb Roberts arrived to North Carolina as a catcher. A knee injury, though, forced him to adjust to the outfield during his freshman year. He played in 54 games, started 40 of them for the 46-19 Tar Heels. He batted .227 with 23 runs, 17 RBI and a .374 on-base percentage. But perhaps his most memorable moment from that season came in the ACC Tournament opener against Virginia.

Roberts entered the game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the tenth inning with the bases loaded. He was hit by a pitch, making it a painful, yet rewarding walk-off winner. In order for the Tar Heels to continue on towards their conference championship run, Roberts had to literally take one for the team.

He played only in the season opening series of the 2020 spring that was cut off after 19 games due to the COVID-19 outbreak. After the Cape Cod League cancelled their season, summer baseball in the wake of the pandemic was not a sure thing. For Roberts, getting to play in the SFCBL makes up for losing his sophomore season.

South Florida Roots

“Having the chance to play down here in one of the only leagues going on in the entire country is a great experience,” Roberts said.

Like many of the players in the SFCBL, Roberts is a South Florida native. He won the FHSAA 8A State Championship in 2018 with St Thomas Aquinas in a senior year worthy of the title “Mr. Baseball.” That year he was ranked the No. 6 catching prospect in Florida by Perfect Game after batting .494 with a .988 slugging percentage, 53 RBI and six home runs.

Beating his old rivals again and winning the league title for the Lightning would certainly mean a lot to Roberts.

“I played with a bunch of these kids in high school and played against them in travel ball,” Roberts said. “To win would be pretty cool.”

Villanova’s Jeff Manto reinvents himself at South Florida summer league

For players like Villanova’s Jeff Manto, the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League serves as a proving ground for reinvention.

Manto has largely been a backup infielder with the Wildcats, batting .102 in 52 career games and 32 starts. Despite batting .150 in six games in his shortened junior season, he slugged his first two career home runs, showing potential for power.

This summer, Manto is batting .324 in 16 games for the Delray Beach Lightning, exclusively as a catcher. He batted .202 the previous summer with the Lightning, trying to incorporate the new position while mainly patrolling the hot corner and second base. 

“I worked on it a little last summer but this summer is the first time I’m strictly catching,” Manto said.

Jeff Manto, the Catcher

The position change in search for a rare opportunity to crack the starting lineup may have led to Manto’s breakout. His junior season was cut short before the potential was realized. He started all six of the games he played and each of his three hits led to an RBI. His two home runs came during the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte. The first homer came against Eastern Michigan and the other against Western Michigan. 

The Wildcats were 5-1 during Manto’s starts (9-5 overall) and the Lightning are second in the league in wins with 12, tied with the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks for the top spot in the North Division Standings. To Manto, summer ball doesn’t make up for his lost spring season but the rare opportunity to play at a time where everyone else is reeling from the pandemic is still something he doesn’t take for granted.

“Obviously the spring season is more competitive,” Manto said. “There’s a chance to win a Big East championship, go to the regionals and stuff like that but this is awesome. I’m really grateful to be a part of this. A lot of kids aren’t playing right now and I am. There’s a waiting list for this league so whatever it takes.”

It helps for Manto to have players in the SFCBL coming from the same area he’s from. There are a handful of players from Eastern Pennsylvania schools in the league. He has a teammate with the Lightning from Lafayette College. One of the catchers with the Florida Pokers, another playoff contending team, plays at the University of Pennsylvania. Lehigh University sent four players to the SFCBL. It’s lead to moments of bonding, whether it’s in the weight room or hotel.

“It’s always cool to have someone that’s going through the same thing as you are,” Manto said, “especially coming down here in Florida. It’s a whole different culture playing baseball.”

Like Father, Like Son

Manto originally entered Villanova as a third baseman just like his father. Manto’s dad played in the big leagues for nine years with eight different teams, three of which went to the Wold Series. The senior Manto played college ball at Temple before being drafted by the California Angels in 1985. Safe to say the father-son dynamic provides a parallel path. 

“Being around baseball my entire life, I loved it right away. So he definitely influenced me in the beginning,” Manto said. “I do want to follow in his footsteps and obviously play play professional baseball later on in life.”

It’s one thing to play in front of your father with a strong sense of desire and pressure to impress. It’s another when your father was a pro in the sport he’s watching you play. Unlike the Florida Collegiate Summer League in central Florida, the SFCBL allows fans to come to the games, so long as they bring their own seat. Which means Jeff Manto can continue playing in front of his father this year despite it potentially not being possible due to the viral outbreak erasing college sports in the spring.

“Sometimes it gets a little nerve racking because you want to do well in front of him, try to live up to expectations and being like him,” Manto said. “When I got used to it and just do my own thing, it’s pretty awesome to have him by.”

The SFCBL season runs through this month with the playoffs following the final regular season game on July 30.