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Armed and Dangerous

With two pitchers who will likely be picked in the top five rounds of June's Major League draft joining five returning starters, expectations are sky high for the Johnnies.St. John's (8-7) was picked No. 30 by Baseball America in its preseason poll and are selected to finish second - one vote behind Notre Dame - in the Big East's preseason coaches poll."We're excited to begin the (Big East) season," said St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer, whose team hosts doubleheaders against Connecticut and Boston College Thursday and Saturday. "All the hard work, all the time we've put into it, now we start to play and find out how good our guys are."Hard-throwing right-hander Craig Hansen, who was one of the top players in Cape Cod last summer, is projected to be a top-15 pick. According to sources, Hansen, the Big East Preseason Pitcher of the Year, is likely to sign with super agent Scott Boras when the season is over. "He has that closer mentality, he just wants the ball," Blankmeyer said. "You'd have to say he's the premier closer in the country. If he's in the right organization, he can close (in the major leagues) this year."Anthony Varvaro is back as the Red Storm's ace and joins returnees Jim Wladyka and Anthony Sullivan as Big East starters. Rob Delaney will attempt to fill the void left by Matt Tosoni, who is sidelined for the season with intestinal problems."Anthony's gotten better, he's resilient," Blankmeyer said of Varvaro, who was named Big East Pitcher of the Week Monday. "Every year he's pitched, he's gotten better and his early season performance is an indication of that."George Washington transfer Anthony Smith struggled on the hill in early season games and will start at first base. Manhattan College transfer Sam DeLuca will play second, P.J. Antoniato moves from second to short to fill the void left by Mike Rozema and Jim Martin returns at third base.Blake Hershelman and Greg Thomson return as starting outfielders and junior college transfer Will Vogl will play right. Defensively the Storm is solid, but how they fare at the plate remains to be seen."Defensively over the past five games we've played very well. I'm pretty happy about that," Blankmeyer said. "The big question is offensively. That's going to determine how good we're going to be."Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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