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Storming toward the Major Leagues

The general manager of the Mets wasn't there because he's a fan of college baseball. He, and scouts from about 20 major league clubs, were there to see two of the hottest pro prospects around.St. John's junior pitchers Craig Hansen and Anthony Varvaro are used to this type of attention. Every game they take the mound they do so in front of dozens of scouts who scrutinize and chart their every pitch."I think these two guys legitimately have a chance to pitch in the big leagues if they stay healthy and if they improve because their skill level and velocity and breaking pitches are of that quality," said St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer. "Now it's a matter of being able to refine their craft a little bit."In about a month Hansen and Varvaro will live a lifelong dream and become a heckuva lot richer. Depending on who you talk to, both can be selected in the first round of June's Major League Draft.Both have advisors who will soon become their agents. Hansen, a lanky, powerful 6-foot-6, 205-pound closer from Glen Cove, L.I. who is expected to be a top-15 pick, has Scott Boras in his corner.Boras is shrewd and cunning and is known to get his clients as much money as possible, even if it means playing hardball. Two clients from last year's draft who were picked in the first round, pitcher Jered Weaver from Long Beach State and shortstop Stephen Drew from Florida State, are still unsigned."Hansen is a surefire first round pick, the only thing will be where in the first round," said one National League scout. "My guess is it is based more on (Boras) than on Hansen's ability."Varvaro, the Red Storm's ace out of Staten Island, is aligned with Barry Meister, Randy Johnson's agentEven though they're both a month away from becoming instant millionaires, neither is thinking too far into the future. Hansen cut short an interview with a reporter last Thursday to study for a philosophy final and Varvaro was doing some grounds keeping around the field."I know that every day I'm a step closer, but I try not to think about it because I'm not there yet," Hansen said.Added Varvaro: "I've always been pretty laid back and I try not to worry about things I have no control over whatsoever. (Scouts) come here and I can't really try and do anything spectacular because whatever's going to happen is going to happen."Keith Hansen, the oldest of Robert and Arlene Hansen's three boys, was a pitcher for the Red Storm in 2002 and 2003 and Craig Hansen soon followed. His younger brother, Kyle, already wears a size 14 shoe and is 6-feet tall at age 14. He pitches at Glen Cove High.Hansen steadily improved, but it was in the prestigious Cape Cod league last summer that his stock exploded. After tweaking his delivery and finding a newfound confidence, courtesy of St. John's pitching coach Scott Brown, Hansen dominated on the Cape. He pitched 22.1 innings without giving up an earned run. He struck out 41, walked just two and soon every major league team took an interest."I wasn't afraid to fail when I was up there. I got in there last minute and I wasn't one of those high profile guys so I felt like I had nothing to lose," Hansen said. "(Brown has a) saying that no one can beat me but myself. That's what I carried with me up to the Cape and that's why I had limited walks up there."Hansen has continued to dominate for St. John's. Named the Big East Preseason Pitcher of the Year, Hansen has a 7 saves and a 1.21 earned run average. In 37.1 innings, he has 53 strikeouts, compared to just 8 walks, and opponents are hitting .141 against him.With a fastball that regularly registers 96 on scouts' radar guns, a knee-buckling 89 mph slider and an 83 mph changeup, Hansen can start or close in the big leagues."He has the stuff to be a big league starter, he has three-plus above major league average pitches," Brown said. "He just thrives on the intensity of the game and being in there when the game on the line."Hansen has seen extended time out of the bullpen. Against Boston College March 26, he threw five innings of no-hit relief with nine strikeouts. He allowed one hit and struck out seven against Pittsburgh on April 4 and didn't allow a run in 3.1 innings against West Virginia April 17."He's a real good competitor, he's got major league demeanor," said another National League scout. "He knows how to get outs and he knows what he has to do to get them. He has good makeup but he needs some refinement in his game."While Hansen has the look of a closer, Varvaro has the appearance of a shortstop rather than a pitcher who could be a first round draft pick. He grew up playing baseball and football on Staten Island like his older brother Torrence, who was a defensive end at Southern Connecticut State.He only started seriously pitching when he arrived at Curtis High School and even then he split his time between playing first and third base when he wasn't on the mound. Despite being just 6-foot-1, Varvaro is able to generate tremendous power, not unlike Pedro Martinez or Roy Oswalt.Varvaro, who is 7-2 with a 2.45 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 62.1 innings, consistently throws a 93 mph fastball, as well as a changeup, a curveball and an occasional cutter, which he says he picked up when teaming up with Hansen on the Cape."I think it's just a gift," Varvaro said. "I was just born with a gifted arm I guess."Major league scouts agree."He throws hard, 93-94 mph and he has more movement than Hansen," one National League scout said. "He needs to work on his breaking pitch but he'll go in the first round somewhere."With two guys who can get selected in the first round, it's no wonder Minaya and the Mets scouting director, national cross-checker, chief of international scouting and area scout were at St. John's Sunday. The Mets have the No. 9 overall pick and, having already dealt with Boras when they signed Carlos Beltran, just may be able to snag Hansen.Varvaro is a diehard Yankees fan and, if he can't remain teammates with Hansen, he'd love to be picked by the Yankees, who have the No. 29 selection of the first round.But first thing's first. There's finals to be taken and then the end of the regular season, the Big East tournament and likely a second consecutive NCAA regional bid.And Hansen and Varvaro wouldn't want it any other way.Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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