On the Marc

 

Gone is lights-out closer Craig Hansen. The 2005 Big East pitcher of the year will be pulling on a Boston Red Sox uniform this spring.

Gone is ace starter Anthony Varvaro. He’ll be getting all the support he needs from the Seattle Mariners organization as he rehabs from Tommy John elbow surgery.

Gone is emotional leader Joe Burke. The catcher is probably still smiling from scoring the winning run in the Staten Island Yankees’ New York-Penn League championship game.

Gone are center fielder Greg Thomson, shortstop P.J. Antoniato, and starters Anthony Sullivan and Jim Wladyka. The first three were drafted, the fourth signed by the New York Mets organization.

“We lost our top four pitchers (Hansen, Varvaro, Wladyka and Sullivan) and [they were] some of the best pitchers in the country,” said senior Eddie Schultz, a preseason All-Big East selection.

But still here is last year’s Big East coach of the year: Ed Blankmeyer. And he knows this isn’t going to be quite like 2005’s record-breaking 41-18 campaign or NCAA Tournament run.

Still, last year’s success and the emergence of Hansen, who was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Red Sox in June and then called up by Boston in September, has only helped the team’s future.

“When you get a kid at that national level, everybody knows,” Blankmeyer said. “Not just the regional people but when you get out and talk to different programs in the [nation], they know Hansen.”

And that is part of the reason why Blankmeyer and his staff have done a great job recruiting of late: exposure.

“We don’t rebuild here at St. John’s,” Blankmeyer said. “We reload.”

Look at freshman left-hander Scott Barnes. The Massachusetts native was selected in June’s draft, as well, by the Washington Nationals in the 43rd round.

The 6-foot-3 starter was selected by Baseball America as the second-best newcomer in the Big East – a pretty impressive pedigree already. He’s St. John’s best recruit and could very well see conference starts this season. But there are two other newcomers who have also impressed: junior transfers Luis Monell and Ryan Mahoney.

Monell is another left-handed starter and a native of Brooklyn, who spent last season dominating JUCO ball at El Paso Community College in Texas. He joined Barnes in Baseball America’s ranking of the Big East’s top newcomers, as No. 4.

Mahoney, No. 3 on the publication’s list of best newcomers in the conference, is a left-handed hitting catcher who played the last two seasons for South Carolina, which made the NCAA Tournament both years. He is a Carmel, N.Y., native who looks to have an edge for the starting backstop job. Freshman Tommy Wasilowski could be the catcher of the future.

Barnes, Monell and Mahoney represent keys to Red Storm’s near future. But there are new faces all over the field for the Johnnies.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent and new faces and they’re here for a reason, because they can play,” junior first baseman Chris Joachim said.

Freshman Gino Matias looks like he has the inside track on the starting shortstop job owned by Antoniato last year. Freshman Steve Vitale, an East Meadow native who was Nassau County’s player of the year in 2005, could end up competing for a starting infield spot.

Freshmen Justin Gutsi, who Blankmeyer says “has the ability to be a frontline Big East starter,” Colin Lynch and Jared Yecker will all probably be mid-week starters this season. They give St. John’s a lot more depth on the mount that it had all of last season. But depth doesn’t necessarily translate to wins and there was a reason the Johnnies were selected to finish fifth in the Big East – one spot out of the conference tournament.

When a team loses All-Americans, all-conference players, and four-year starters, it’s almost impossible for it to come back flawlessly with new faces.

“Last year we were in the regional tournament,” Schultz said, “and-I know we lost some guys. But there’s no reason why we can’t get back there and go at it again.”

Only if all the young talent grows up really quickly.