mlb 05/29/07 9:16 AM ET Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com.]]> In the bigs

We're not even out of the month of May, and already the 2007 season has seen the Major League debuts of super-prospects such as Phil Hughes, Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum. Now, add Brewers' third baseman Ryan Braun to the list. The 23-year-old third baseman became the latest home-grown addition to Milwaukee's formidable infield when he received a call-up to the bigs on Thursday (Don't confuse him with the Royals' Ryan Braun, a 26-year-old middle reliever who was called up to Kansas City just two days later). It says something about Braun's talent that he was specifically called up to revive the Brewers' slumping offense, as that's a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of a rookie. But if anybody can handle such lofty expectations, it's Braun. The five-tool 2005 first-round draft pick posted a 1.119 OPS over 117 at-bats with Triple-A Nashville prior to the call-up, so there was nothing left for him to prove in the Minors. Braun has gotten off to a nice start with the Brewers, collecting four hits (including a home run) over his first 11 at-bats.

Braun's call-up was an example of a highly touted prospect taking the fast track to the Majors. On the other end of the spectrum lies 27-year-old outfielder Nathan Haynes, an 11-year Minor League veteran who earned a promotion to the Angels on Monday. All Haynes did to earn this honor was hit .391 with Triple-A Salt Lake, the best mark in the Minor Leagues. A 1997 first-round draft of the Oakland A's, the speedy Haynes has suffered through an injury-riddled career, but is finally showing what he is capable of when healthy. He'll start out as fifth outfielder for the Angels, so his fantasy value will be negligible. Nonetheless, he's worth keeping an eye on as he attempts to solidify himself as a legitimate big leaguer, and a nice feel-good story to boot. Isn't feeling good what it's really all about, anyway?

Phone call away

And speaking of feel-good stories, Rick Ankiel's well-documented quest to return to the Major Leagues as an outfielder is nearing its climax. The 27-year-old, currently with Triple-A Memphis, hit two home runs and drove in five on Memorial Day, and now ranks in the Pacific Coast League top five in both home runs (11) and RBIs (39). With the struggling Cardinals currently featuring the uninspiring likes of Ryan Ludwick, So Taguchi and Juan Encarnacion in their outfield, it's conceivable that Ankiel could complete his improbable journey back to St. Louis by the All-Star break.

Although his story may not be as captivating as Ankiel's, Craig Brazell is another one-time prospect attempting to work his way back to the Majors. The slugger has toiled in relative obscurity since a stint with the Mets in 2004, but that may soon change. Brazell, who began the season with Double-A Wichita, has been unconscious since earning a promotion to the Omaha Royals. The Alabama native is hitting .364 and has bashed 13 home runs over just 77 at-bats (including four multi-homer games between Monday and Friday of last week). Should Brazell earn a promotion to Kansas City, he could be a good pick-up.

We mentioned right-handed control specialist Kevin Slowey in this column last week, as the 22-year-old's promotion to the Twins has seemed imminent for quite some time. Well, it's now even imminent-er, as it appears almost certain that Slowey will be called upon to replace the beleaguered Ramon Ortiz in Minnesota's starting rotation. Slowey's 1.54 ERA leads the Triple-A International League, and he has walked a mere five batters over 64 1/3 innings pitched. Grab him if you can.

A year away

As the Yankees' chances at righting their sinking ship become slimmer and slimmer, the team's fans should at least find some solace in just how many high-performing pitchers the club has in their Minor League system. Take Brett Smith, for example. The 23-year-old right-hander has completely dominated the Double-A Eastern League over nine starts, as he's compiled a 1.41 ERA over 57 1/3 innings pitched while holding opponents to a .158 average against him. With the Yankees' rotation currently resembling a rusty, decaying revolving door, it wouldn't be surprising to see Smith considered for a call-up sometime in the near-future.

Gio Gonzalez spent 2006 with the Double-A Reading Phillies, where he occasionally showed flashes of brilliance but was largely inconsistent. This year has been a different story, as the 21-year-old right-hander (who returned to the White Sox organization as part of the Freddy Garcia trade) has been dominating as a member of Double-A Birmingham. The former first-rounder has struck out a Southern League-leading 74 batters (including 12 or more in a game three times), and opponents are batting .231 against him. The former first-round draft pick could compete for a spot in the White Sox rotation in 2008.

Down the road

Mitch Hilligoss, the Yankees' sixth-round draft selection in 2006, is currently in the midst of a 34-game hitting streak, the longest in all of professional baseball. The 22-year-old third baseman, a member of the Class A Charleston RiverDogs, is now batting .324 on the season (when the streak started, he was at .208). Hilligoss, a Purdue graduate, hit .292 and stole 12 bases over 67 games with the Class A Short-Season Staten Island Yankees in 2006.

Another South Atlantic League standout has been right-hander Heath Rollins of the Columbus Catfish. The Devil Rays' 11th-round draft pick in 2006, Rollins has allowed just one earned run over his past 50 innings pitched, and is 6-0 with a 1.04 ERA on the season. The 22-year-old has struck out 66 batters against 14 walks, and has yielded just 37 hits over 60 1/3 innings pitched this season. Rollins is one of the best pure athletes in the Minor Leagues, and there was some question heading into last year's draft whether he would be selected as a hitter of a pitcher. It appears that Tampa Bay made the right choice. Now there's a sentence you don't read very often.

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