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 debuts during the week.
The following players made their Major League debuts between April 4 and April 10:
Greg Smith, LHP, and Fernando Hernandez Jr., RHP, Oakland A's
Fans looking for some intriguing Major League debuts got two for the price of one in Oakland's 6-3 victory over host Toronto on April 9 as southpaw Greg Smith got the start and Fernando Hernandez Jr. came on for the win in relief. While both are newcomers to the organization, the scenarios surrounding their debuts could not have been more different.
Smith, a prototypical "finesse" lefty with solid command and a good feel for pitching, was one of six prospects acquired from Arizona in the offseason trade for ace Dan Haren. His feel is so good, in fact, that after being drafted in the sixth round of 2005 out of LSU, he earned Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year honors, striking out 100 batters in 82 innings.
He then won the Diamondbacks' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2006 after going 14-4 between Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Tennessee, including an almost unheard-of 9-0 record with a 1.63 ERA in 13 starts for the JetHawks at perhaps the best hitters' park in the Minors.
Over three pro seasons, Smith posted a 31-14 record and 3.27 ERA before the deal. After starting the '08 campaign at Triple-A Sacramento, he was called up due to injuries to starters Justin Duchscherer and Rich Harden and thrown right into the fire by taking the mound that night.
After a shaky first inning in which he gave up three runs (two earned), he settled down for five scoreless frames en route to a respectable final line score of six innings, two hits, five walks and five strikeouts.
But it was Hernandez, the third of four Oakland pitchers on the night, who got the win with a scoreless eighth, walking two and striking out one. He became the pitcher of record when the A's rallied for four runs in the ninth for the win.
While Smith barely had time to take in the surroundings before taking the mound, Hernandez probably needed to borrow that oil can from the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" to rinse off the rust before trotting in from the bullpen to start the eighth inning.
Acquired in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft from the Chicago White Sox, Hernandez made the squad out of Spring Training and was with the team when they went to Japan for their season-opening series with the Red Sox. But it took more than two weeks before he finally got into a game.
A 49th-rounder from 2002 as a draft-and-follow out of junior college, he throws a variety of breaking balls with good command, the best of which is a curve. He also tossed 11 innings for the Arizona Fall League champion Phoenix Desert Dogs without giving up an earned run.
Burke Badenhop, RHP, Florida Marlins
CALLED UP: Had contract purchased from Double-A Carolina on April 7 when RHP Rick VandenHurk was sent down.
DEBUT: April 9 in a 10-4 win against the Washington Nationals. The last of three pitchers, he struck out one in one perfect inning.
NOTES: Acquired from Detroit in the Cabrera/Willis deal, Badenhop may not have been one of the marquee names, but he was one of the Tigers' top Minor League pitchers in 2007 and battled for a rotation spot down to the wire with Florida this spring. Despite the debut in relief, he is expected to join the Marlins rotation this weekend.
Brian Bixler, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on April 6 when SS Jack Wilson went on the DL.
DEBUT: April 6 in a 9-2 win against Florida. Struck out pinch-hitting for pitcher John Grabow in the ninth.
NOTES: Bixler spent '07 with Indianapolis, where he stole 28 bases (good for second in the organization), made the All-Star Futures Game and topped that off with a slot on Team USA at the fall World Cup tournament.
Jesse Carlson, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Syracuse on April 10 when RHP Randy Wells was designated for assignment.
DEBUT: April 10 in a 3-2 loss to Oakland in 12 innings. The last of five pitchers, he entered with the bases loaded and struck out the only batter he faced to end the 12th.
NOTES: All 287 of Carlson's Minor League appearances dating back to his signing with Detroit in 2002 have come in relief, with the Tigers, Astros, Rangers and, now, his second go-round with the Blue Jays (he pitched for them in 2005 and re-signed with them in '07). He's posted a 3.43 ERA as a pro.
Steve Holm, C, San Francisco Giants
CALLED UP: Holm made the club out of Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
DEBUT: April 4 in a 13-4 loss to Milwaukee. Came on late in the game at catcher and went 0-for-1.
NOTES: In one of the most unexpected late moves this spring, Holm beat out incumbent backup catcher Eliezer Alfonzo for the Giants' second-string role. Holm is in his eighth season with the system and was an Eastern League All-Star last summer, hitting .272 for Connecticut.
Elliot Johnson, 2B, Tampa Bay Rays
CALLED UP: Johnson made the club out of Spring Training.
DEBUT: April 5 in a 6-3 win against the Yankees. The starting DH, he batted ninth and went 1-for-4, striking out once and getting picked off while trying to steal a base.
NOTES: Johnson made one heck of an impression this spring, literally and figuratively, as the runner who barreled into Francisco Cervelli of the Yankees and broke the catching prospect's wrist. A second baseman by trade, he's turning himself into more of a utility player to increase his chances of sticking when Ben Zobrist comes off the DL.
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
CALLED UP: Kuroda made the club out of Spring Training.
DEBUT: April 4 in a 7-1 win against San Diego. The starting pitcher, he tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, allowing one run and striking out four without walking a batter. He gave up a homer to Brian Giles in the sixth.
NOTES: A huge star in his native Japan, Kuroda signed with the Dodgers in a $35.3 million deal and brings his devastating splitter with him to the LA rotation. The club felt he was the best right-handed starter available on the open market in the off-season. Though he may not be the preseason marquee name of his countryman, Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, his impact should be impressive.
Denard Span, OF, Minnesota Twins
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Rochester April 4 after Twins right-fielder Michael Cuddyer was injured during that night's game.
DEBUT: April 6 in a 3-1 loss to Kansas City. Batting ninth as the starting right fielder, he went 0-for-2 with a walk.
NOTES: Span battled to the wire with newly acquired Carlos Gomez for the starting center-field job before being one of the last cuts of Spring Training. So when Cuddyer went down, they didn't hesitate to bring Span back from Rochester and insert him as the starting right fielder for his first two games. He'll probably share time there with veteran Jason Kubel until Cuddyer's return.
Clay Timpner, OF, San Francisco Giants
CALLED UP: Recalled from Triple-A Fresno on April 8 when OF David Roberts went on the DL.
DEBUT: April 8 in a 3-2 win against San Diego. A late-inning replacement in left field, he struck out in his lone at-bat.
NOTES: Originally a fourth-round pick in 2004, Timpner is a .283 career hitter who batted .301 with Fresno in 2007 to open some eyes. Though he showed some spark on the bases after swiping 34 bags at Class A Advanced San Jose in 2005, he hasn't come close to matching that total since.
Randy Wells, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
CALLED UP: A Rule 5 pick from the Chicago Cubs, Wells made the club out of Spring Training.
DEBUT: April 5 in a 10-2 win against Boston. The last of five pitchers, he walked one in an otherwise unblemished inning of work.
NOTES: A converted catcher out of junior college in Illinois, he was taken in the 38th round of the 2002 draft and turned himself into a durable pitcher with a fastball in the low 90s, a slider and a changeup, all with good control. Despite making the club out of Spring Training, he was waived on April 10.
Yasuhiko Yabuta, RHP, Kansas City Royals
CALLED UP: Yabuta made the club out of Spring Training.
DEBUT: April 5 in a 6-4 loss to Minnesota. The last of three pitchers, he allowed one hit in a scoreless inning.
NOTES: Royals rookie manager Trey Hillman was familiar with Yabuta from five years of managerial experience in Japan, so he was pleased with the signing of the 12-year veteran. Yabuta posted a 2.80 ERA in his last four years as a set-up man for Chiba Lotte. The closer he was setting up, Masa Kobayashi, is also making his big-league debut with Cleveland this season.