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Big East in the Big Leagues: Panik Power

There's a new home run king in these parts and his name is Joe Panik. Plus, Amir Garrett keeps progressing nicely and Pat Neshek and Matt Szczur deal with small sample sizes.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Panik (St. John's)

Who knew the left-handed power stroke of one Joe Panik would be on full display in the early days of April. Panik, who smacked a solo dinger in yesterday's 9-7 loss to Arizona, has two home runs this week, which has helped make up for a .231 average in the same time period. Small sample sizes be damned, our boy has discovered his ability to send the ball over the fence. His isolated power is at .250 right now, which would be 100 points higher than any previous season, including stops in the minors. Panik, who hit only eight home runs during last year's shortened season, is nearly halfway to that total. OK, so the small sample argument can't be entirely damned, and Panik isn't about to be the next home run derby participant, but showing strength with the bat is a nice way to illustrate that last year's injury is firmly in the rear view.

Pat Neshek (Butler)

Stats are tough to take seriously this early in the season (as we just saw from Mr. Panik). Neshek felt that pain during the first week of the season when his ERA jumped to 4.50 because of one not-so-great outing. Well, the sidewinder has returned to form during the last four appearances, as he he has not allowed a run in 2 1/3 total innings, striking out four and walking four. However, the Astros are just 1-3 in games he has appeared in during that time. They are 2-4 overall when Neshek pitches. That is more an issue with Houston as a whole, as the 'Stros are just 5-8 despite entering the season as a playoff favorite.

Matt Szczur (Villanova)

He still isn't getting the playing time of a full-time participant, but Szczur is making the most of the time he does get on the field. He has appeared in 11 games and the Cubs are 10-1 in those contest. As much as it'd be great to give him all the credit, the fact that the Cubs (MLB-best 10-3) look like baseball's version of the Golden State Warriors probably has a bit more to do with it. Since last we met, Szczur has just one hit in six at bats, but he has walked three times as well and scored each time he has reached base. Plus zen master Joe Maddon thinks the former Villanova Wildcat is "finally getting comfortable."

Jason Grilli (Seton Hall)

Here's the good news, Atlanta's manager Fredi Gonzalez still seems to believe in Grilli. He has pitched twice in the ninth inning with his team leading in the last week, and earned his first save of the season by striking out the side against Miami on Saturday. However, he blew a save chance on Sunday, allowing a RBI single to the ageless Ichiro Suzuki that allowed the Marlins to even the game at 5-5. Luckily, the Braves squeaked out a run the next inning to win the game. Grilli, like Neshek, can blame small sample size for his less than ideal ERA (5.79), but he allowed a run in three of his five appearances this season and despite a K/9 rate of 13.5, he is walking 9.64 batters per nine innings. Giving free passes and batters getting a little lucky (.417 BABIP) is all mashing up into a buffet of bad relief pitching. Its a buffet Grilli will need to skip if he wants to keep getting chances in the ninth, assuming that's something he would want to do for the 3-9 Braves.

Amir Garrett (St. John's)

I'll be honest, there is no BEITBL cast member I am rooting for more than Garrett. Before you burn me at the stake for a lack of subjectivity, Garrett shows the most promise as a real star in this league. There is still a heck of a long way to go before he even sniffs a MLB start, but his continued progress through the minors is encouraging. His first three starts in Double-A have gone just as well as his 2015 campaign in Single-A. In three starts, he has struck out 16 batters and allowed only 15 hits and three walks across eight innings for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Additionally, his ERA stands at 2.00.

Darin Ruf (Creighton)

Ruf got two chances to start during the last week and in one game shown brightly (1-for-3 with a double) and in the other, disappeared into the Philadelphia air (0-for-4, three kazoos). Ruf, a career .242 hitter who launched 12 home runs last season, is hitting just .125 right now. Luckily, there isn't a ton of competition for a bench spot in Philadelphia just now.

Pat Venditte (Creighton)

A scoreless ninth inning against the Yankees and a loss against the Red Sox (the same team he dazzled in his first MLB appearance a year ago) is what Venditte was up to this past week. It appears he is not in line to be much more than a long reliever or a mop-up specialist, at least based on his (limited) usage in 2016. He has also pitched at Triple-A Buffalo, so he may get quite a workout going back and forth from the farm.

Danny Burawa (St. John's)

Thirsty to drink from the MLB pool once again, Burawa is working for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves. He has a 1.50 ERA and has struck out five batters in six innings across five games. However, his issues with location have not gone away, as his seven walks don't breed tons of confidence.

Ty Blach (Creighton)

Blach, who has a 3.67 career ERA in the minors, has struggled out of the gate. He is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts for The Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He went 11-12 with a 4.46 ERA for the River Cats last season, so there appears to be a lot more work to be done before the 25-year-old gets a shot at entering a MLB rotation.