The ultimate goal for every Minor Leaguer is to reach the Major Leagues. Every Friday, MiLB.com's new series, Movin' On Up, will take a look at prospects who have reached that goal and made their big-league debut during the week.
And the rich get richer.
On July 4, while bombs were bursting in air all across America, the team with the best record in the big leagues to that point -- that would be the Tampa Bay Rays, in case you missed it -- were bringing up their own All-American firecracker by purchasing the contract of one of their top prospects, shortstop Reid Brignac.
The Louisiana-born Brignac, the club's second-round pick in 2004, came up from Triple-A Durham when shortstop Jason Bartlett went on the disabled list with a knee injury.
Brignac was accompanied on the flight from North Carolina by fellow infield prospect Ben Zobrist, who has been up and down this year. Though Brignac is the more elite prospect, the two are likely to both see time in the middle of the infield while Bartlett is out.
But it was Brignac who got the start that first night, thrown right into the action in the club's 11-2 win against Kansas City. He batted ninth and went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, and participated in a pair of double plays on defense. In three games, two starts, he was 0-for-8 but the odds are he won't continue on that pace.
In 2006, Brignac earned California League MVP honors hitting .326 with 21 home runs and 83 RBIs at Advanced A Visalia and went on to bat .260 with 17 homers, 81 RBIs and 15 steals at Double-A Montgomery in 2007.
This year at Durham he was hitting .265 with seven homers and 38 RBIs when promoted and was named to the International League All-Star squad the day before his callup. By arriving in Tampa, Brignac rejoins his Minor League roommate and infield mate Evan Longoria in the big leagues.
John Baker, C, Florida Marlins
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque July 8 when C Matt Treanor went on the DL.
DEBUT: July 9 in a 5-2 win against San Diego. The starting catcher, he batted seventh and went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly.
NOTES: After spending the first five years of his career in the Oakland system after being drafted in the fourth round of 2002, Baker was claimed off waivers by the Marlins for the 2007 season and made it up, finally, this week. A fine defensive catcher and stalwart behind the plate, he's also posted a career .270-plus average at the plate and was hitting .316 in this, his fourth season at Triple-A. The Marlins have had their problems when it comes to keeping their catching staff healthy and Baker finally gets his shot. Joining the team after catching all 13 innings of a Monday night game he got Tuesday "off" as a travel day before starting Wednesday's day game. The 27-year-old from northern California had friends and family on hand for the southern Cal contest. Named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star squad that will be playing in next week's Triple-A All-Star Game, it looks like the PCL will be scrambling for another catcher.
Alberto Castillo, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Norfolk July 8 when P Adam Loewen went on the DL.
DEBUT: July 8 in a 7-6 loss to Toronto. The third of five pitchers, he did not record an out, giving up one hit and hitting Scott Rolen with a pitch. Neither of his runners scored and he did not allow his one inherited runner to score either.
NOTES: Castillo makes his big league debut at age 33, 14 years after signing with Tampa bay as a teenage Cuban defector in 1994, after making the conversion from first base to the mound, after coming back from 2004 Tommy John surgery (on his non-pitching elbow), and after several years bouncing around the outposts of the independent leagues. He finally found his niche in relief and was a standout for the Orioles' Tides club this season with a 3-1 record and 2.05 ERA. Ironically, Castillo defected not to the US or Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic like so many Cubans but rather to Canada, so it was fitting he would first step onto a big league mound in Toronto.
Matt Harrison, LHP, Texas Rangers
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma July 8 when P Eric Hurley went on the Dl.
DEBUT: July 8 in a 3-2 win against the Angels. The starting pitcher, he earned the victory with seven innings of five-hit ball, allowing two runs and walking one while striking out one.
NOTES: One of the key players acquired from the Braves in the deal for slugger Mark Teixeira, Harrison was originally drafted by Atlanta in the third round of 2003 and had been one of the club's most promising southpaws, hence his inclusion in the big trade after posting a 3.39 ERA at Double-A Mississippi in 2007. A sore shoulder limited him the second half of that season so the Rangers didn't get their first good look at him in the fold until Arizona Fall League. Known for his ability to hit his spots, he lived up to that billing in his debut. He became the first Texas Rangers hurler to get a victory in his first big league start since Josh Rupe in September 2005.
Nick Hundley, C, San Diego Padres
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Portland July 3 when C Michael Barrett went on the DL.
DEBUT: July 4 in a 5-1 win against Arizona. The starting catcher, he batted eighth and went 1-for-3 with a walk.
NOTES: Yes, Hundley is from a noted athletic family but not the one you may be thinking of. His dad was not a baseball player but rather the head coach of the Washington Huskies football team. Hundley played his college ball further down the West Coast, however, at Arizona and was a second-round pick in 2005. A solid defensive catcher, he started flashing power in 2007 when he hit 20 homers with 72 RBIs at Double-A San Antonio. He was hitting .232 with 12 home runs when called up from Portland.
Jason Perry, OF, Atlanta Braves
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Richmond July 4 when OF Jeff Francoeur was sent down.
DEBUT: July 4 in a 6-2 win against Houston. The starting right fielder, he batted eighth and was 1-for-4 with a two-out RBI triple in his first big-league at-bat in the second inning.
NOTES: Perry's promotion came in the shocking wake of former star Francoeur's reassignment to Mississippi to get his hitting stroke back. But it was a great story for the Atlanta native, who grew up a short drive from Turner Field and was Mark Teixeira's teammate at Georgia Tech. With friends and family on hand for his big moment, the 27-year-old became the first Atlanta Brave to ever triple in his first big league at-bat. Perry was originally drafted in 2002 by Toronto and was a Minor League journeyman, moving to Oakland and then Detroit before being released at spring training and picked up by the Braves. He moved up from Mississippi to Richmond and was hitting .302 there before his promotion. Between his two stops he also hit 18 home runs and drove in 55 in 69 games so the run production potential is certainly there, as he showed in that first plate appearance.
RJ Swindle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley July 7 when P Tom Gordon went on the DL.
DEBUT: July 7 in a 10-9 loss to the Mets. The third of four pitchers, Swindle allowed two runs on four hits in three innings, walking one and striking out three. He gave up a homer to David Wright, the first batter he faced. Both runs and all four hits came off Swindle in his first inning of work.
NOTES: It made for one hell of a birthday present. Celebrating his 25th birthday and making his big league debut was a very lucky 7/7 for the soft-tossing southpaw whose out pitch is a 55-mph curveball. Originally brought up on July 1 but sent back down the next day without getting into a game, Swindle was re-recalled and this time he saw action. The Canadian-born hurler, originally drafted in the 14th round of 2004 by Boston out of Charleston Southern, throws a variety of five off-speed pitches from various arm slots. He came through several independent league clubs as well as a stint with the Yankees before the Phillies signed him last summer. His numbers have been overwhelmingly good everywhere he's pitched but his lack of "stuff" had him very-slow-tracked. This year he had an 0.54 ERA in the first month at Double-A Reading before moving up to the IronPigs bullpen where he had a 1.93 ERA and fanned 48 batters in 40 innings while walking six.
Chris Volstad, RHP, Florida Marlins
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Double-A Carolina July 6 when P Taylor Tankersley was sent down.
DEBUT: July 6 in a 10-5 win against Colorado. The second of five pitchers, he tossed two scoreless innings of relief, giving up two hits while walking two and earning the victory in relief as the club came from behind for the win.
NOTES: The top pitching prospect in an organization loaded with them, Volstad capped his quick rise through the Marlins system in style with his debut relief appearance. Don't look for heroics out of the bullpen too often from the 6-foot-7 21-year-old. Expect, instead, impressive outings as a starter since that will be his role and in fact he's slated to start for the Marlins on Friday night. The 16th overall pick in 2005, a draft better known for its high school outfield crop, will show that there was more variety in that class than we might have thought. A sinkerball guy with great command, Volstad had a 3.36 ERA in 15 starts at Carolina with 56 strikeouts over 91 innings.