COACH’S STORM WARNING: JOHNNIES NOT REBUILDING

The St. John’s baseball team had its best season in team history in 2005. It had six players drafted to MLB clubs, including closer Craig Hansen in the first round. Does that make this year a rebuilding season?

“No, it’s not rebuilding,” said coach Ed Blankmeyer firmly. “We don’t rebuild here at St. John’s. We reload.”

Reloading is what they have done, with big recruits like shortstop Gino Matias and left-handed starter Scott Barnes, both freshmen.

Along with the veterans from last year’s record-breaking 41-18 season, Blankmeyer and his team expect to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s one of our expectations every year now,” captain Chris Joachim said.

Joachim, a first baseman, is being counted on to be the anchor for a changing infield. With the third base and shortstop positions being filled by newcomers, the junior will be taking up a leadership role this year.

“It’s a big deal,” Joachim said regarding his captaincy. “It’s my job along with the coaches to guide them along – show them the winning way.”

Along with Sam DeLuca, a second baseman, he will try to make the infield transition a smooth one.

The preseason favorites to win the jobs are sophomore Gil Zayas, a third baseman, and Matias at short.

Replacing P.J. Antoniato (drafted in the 15th round by the Philadelphia Phillies) will not be an easy task, but Matias is another strong defensive shortstop that could fill the every day hole.

The outfield will also be getting redone as center fielder Greg Thomson was drafted in the 15th round. However, it will have more of a veteran presence.

Seniors Will Vogl and Ken Devenney are expected to play center and right field, respectively.

After transferring from Skyline Junior College last year, Vogl had 22 extra base hits for St. John’s, including six home runs.

Left field will be manned by a combination of Bryan Dirr, Anthony Smith, Justin Pane, Chris Anninos and preseason All-Big East selection, Eddie Schultz.

Schultz, who hit .301 with four home runs last year, will likely split time between designated hitter, left field and first base.

“I’m really honored to be mentioned among some of the great players in this conference,” said Schultz on his selection. “I’m going to try my best to do well this year.”

As for his position, the senior said he doesn’t mind where he plays.

“Wherever coach puts me, I just want to be in the lineup,” he said.

Ryan Mahoney, a transfer from South Carolina, will be taking over catching duties from Joe Burke (drafted in the 18th round) with freshman Tommy Wasilowski waiting in the wings.

Pitching is going to be the biggest question mark for the 2006 team that starts the season Friday at Texas Tech.

A staff that led the Big East last year with a combined earned run average of 3.04 will be sporting many new faces.

Not the least of which will be Scott Barnes, a freshman from Chicopee, Mass. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 43rd round but turned down the opportunity to sign in favor of St. John’s.

“It was definitely tough to pull away on signing,” the left-hander said. It’s what I play baseball for. But I chose to go to school and maybe in three years, I’ll be that much better.”

He was also selected to Baseball America’s top 50 newcomers in the nation.

Leading the staff will be co-captain red-shirt junior Rob Delaney who posted a 5-2 record last season.

The bullpen will be headed by left-hander Matt Tosoni who is returning from ulcerative colitis. He could be in line to take over as closer.

“I’m throwing at 100 percent,” he said.

This season will be about players stepping up and filling the holes.

“[Step up] is our motto,” Blankmeyer said. “We’ve lost the middle of our field. Now we have to replace all those players-Are they gonna step up? Are they gonna be able to perform? Are they good enough? Yes.”

Time will tell.