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January 8, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 25 St. John's

Head coach: Ed Blankmeyer
Last season: 41-19, 20-7 in Big East
Postseason: After winning the Big East regular season crown, the Red Storm earned a three-seed in the Myrtle Beach Regional. The Johnnies were unable to advance to the Super Regional round, but made another bold statement with another postseason berth.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

The stage is set for St. John's.

After teaming up with area foe Rutgers for the Big East regular season crown last season, the Johnnies hope to add their own chapter to the history books this season.

Though the Red Storm must replace a few key offensive contributors, they welcome back a strong nucleus of veteran position players.

The offense should be productive, but the pitching staff will ultimately decide their fate.

ST. JOHN'S RED STORM
Veteran Gil Zayas needs to have a big year if the Johnnies want to go the distance.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Joe Witkowski/Daniel Benedetti
1B Paul Karmas/Kevin Watkins
2B Gino Matias
SS Jeff Grantham
3B Gil Zayas
OF Chris Anninos
OF Brian Kemp
OF Carlos Del Rosario
DH Tim Morris
SP Scott Barnes
SP George Brown
SP Jared Yecker

Scott Barnes, George Brown and Jared Yecker spearhead one of the nation's best weekend rotations, while Colin Lynch leads the charge out of the bullpen.

The Johnnies made a splash by appearing in the Myrtle Beach Regional last season. But with a talented pitching staff and veterans at key positions in the field, this team has a chance to get to Omaha.

Offense

After losing five position starters from last year's team, you could say offensive production might be a concern for the Red Storm. However, coach Ed Blankmeyer and his team are still confident.

Despite the key departures, the Johnnies welcome back four position starters outfielders Chris Anninos and Brian Kemp, and shortstop Jeff Grantham and third baseman Gil Zayas.

Zayas is the offensive leader. The senior batted .353 with four homers and 53 RBIs last season. He also slugged .494 and had a .383 on-base percentage.

Kemp hit .348 and Grantham hit .342 last season, while Anninos batted .325 with eight homers and 38 RBIs.

Looking at the rest of the lineup, the Johnnies aren't set on a catcher or first baseman, but are comfortable with Gino Matias at second and Tim Morris as the designated hitter.

Matias batted .378 in 74 at bats last season, while Morris hopes to make a splash in his first season with the team.

Starting pitching

When a team returns their entire weekend rotation, the bar has been raised. As St. John's prepares for the upcoming season, they do it with an impressive crop of front-line pitchers.

Junior left-hander Scott Barnes is the most highly touted pitcher on staff and is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign. In 2007, Barnes went 7-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 95 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 99 and walked 34, while opponents hit him at a .250 clip.

Senior left-hander George Brown and junior right-hander Jared Yecker round out the weekend rotation.

Brown went 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA in 78 2/3 innings of work last season, while Yecker went 7-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 77 innings of work. Both pitchers finished the year with over 40 strikeouts.

With a potential berth in the College World Series on the line this spring, the Johnnies have what they need in the way of pitching.

Bullpen

The Red Storm has one of the nation's best weekend rotations, but the bullpen also deserves some credit.

Not only does St. John's welcome back top reliever Colin Lynch, they also return Nick Cenatiempo, Miguel Valcarcel and Ryan Cole, among others.

Lynch finished last season with a 2.86 ERA and 11 saves in 26 appearances, while Cenatiempo had a 3.77 ERA in 16 appearances. Additionally, Valcarcel had a 3.60 ERA in 13 appearances and six starts, while Cole had a 3.82 ERA in 20 appearances.

With a plethora of talented arms back this spring, the Johnnies won't hesitate to make a call to the bullpen during crunch time.

Outlook with postseason forecast
After winning the Big East crown last season, St. John's is hoping to accomplish that and more in 2008. Though the Red Storm must replace a few key offensive players, they welcome back an experienced nucleus with Chris Anninos, Brian Kemp and Gil Zayas leading the charge. The pitching staff could carry this team the distance. The Red Storm welcome back all three weekend starters in addition to senior left-hander Matt Tosoni. When it comes to making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, you must have a strong pitching staff. St. John's has that and more. Anything short of a Super Regional berth will be considered a disappointment. The Johnnies expect nothing less.

Shoes to Fill

If the Red Storm has any cause for concern, it could stem from the departures of power hitters Anthony Smith and Ryan Mahoney. Smith and Mahoney were important power producers last season, combining for 24 homers and 106 RBIs. Additionally, the dynamic duo had a .552 slugging percentage between them. Replacing Smith and Mahoney could prove to be tougher than expected.

Must Step Up

With the numbers he has compiled the past two seasons, it's tough to say staff ace Scott Barnes needs to step up. However, if the Johnnies expect to make it to Omaha, he must continue to show consistency. That could be easier said than done. Though Barnes is a known commodity to national media members, he could become a household name with another strong campaign. Barnes and the Red Storm have a chance to make history in 2008.

Impact Newcomer

With several players back from last year's team, the Red Storm is experienced and ready for action. Freshmen Carlos Del Rosario and Paul Karmas are worth watching. Del Rosario is slated to start in the outfield, while Karmas is in the mix at first base. As the spring proceeds, expect more newcomers to make their mark.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 24.