Benjamin Hill is a contributor to]]> Of course, that's not all we'll be focusing on. There's just too much going on to be that narrow-minded. Let's dive right in to the wild world of prospect news, notes and analysis.

In the bigs

Attention, everyone: One of the best pitchers in Triple-A this season is set to make his Major League debut. No, not Homer Bailey (who -- horrors! -- allowed a season-high four runs in his most recent outing). I'm talking about Andy Sonnanstine, who is set to take the mound for the Devil Rays when they face off against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, who was named the D-Rays' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006, currently ranks in the International League's top five in wins (six) and strikeouts (66), while his 2.66 ERA is the circuit's eighth best. The most impressive facet of Sonnanstine's game, however, is his pinpoint control. He has walked just 13 batters in 71 innings this season, and 75 over 495 career innings. Tampa Bay has demoted Casey Fossum to the bullpen and released Jae Seo, so Sonnanstine should have a little wriggle room should he struggle initially.

Ryan Feirabend started for the Mariners on Sunday and earned his first Major League win, allowing four runs over 7 1/3 innings as Seattle defeated Texas, 11-6. But with Jeff Weaver (0-6, 14.32 ERA) about to come off the disabled list, Feirabend could be sent back to Triple-A Tacoma by the end of the week. Regardless, with confidence in the mystifying Weaver at an all-time low, Feirabend could end up back in Seattle soon. Widely praised for possessing a maturity and intelligence beyond his 21 years, the poised southpaw is indubitably a part of the Mariners' long-term plans.

The Braves' Yunel Escobar made his much anticipated debut on Sunday and did not disappoint. The Cuban third baseman went 2-for-4 with a double as Atlanta defeated the Cubs, 5-3. Escobar is adept at playing second base, shortstop and third base, and is definitely seen as part of the Braves' future. With Chipper Jones on the disabled list, Escobar should receive a hefty amount of playing time over the next couple of weeks. The 24-year-old hit .333 in 46 games with Triple-A Richmond to prompt the callup.

A phone call away

Sonnanstine's recent promotion to the D-Rays was well deserved, but it's not like the club didn't have any other Minor League options. Far from it. Down in Triple-A Durham, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann have been pitching well, and both should merit strong consideration for a callup as the season progresses. Hammel's 3-5 record is deceiving, as the 6-foot-6 right-hander has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his 12 starts. He leads the International League in innings pitched (71 1/3), while his 71 strikeouts rank second. The former 10th-round pick struggled in a stint with Tampa Bay last season (0-6, 7.77 ERA over nine starts), but he'll get another opportunity sooner or later. Niemann, who stands at a Randy Johnson-esque 6-foot-9, was a first-round selection in 2004. Health issues have caused Tampa Bay to use him cautiously, however, and he has not pitched beyond the sixth inning in any of his 11 starts. While we're on the topic of Durham's starting rotation, let's not forget former second-round selection Mitch Talbot. The 23-year-old has struggled this season (4-5, 5.83) but is nonetheless another candidate to spend some time in Tropicana Field before the season is over. Talbot compiled a 1.90 ERA over 10 starts with Double-A Montgomery last season, after coming to the D-Rays as part of the trade that sent Aubrey Huff to the Astros.

Speaking of candidates for the starting rotation of historically struggling baseball teams, oft-injured 2002 first-round draft pick Bryan Bullington should spend time in Pittsburgh at some point this season. The Indianapolis native has been pitching very well in his hometown, compiling an 8-2 record and 2.60 ERA in 11 starts for the Triple-A Indians. A shoulder injury caused Bullington to miss the entire 2006 season.

A year away

Max Scherzer, the Arizona Diamondbacks first-round draft pick in 2006, signed a Major League deal with the club on Wednesday (with nary a second to spare before they would have lost bargaining rights). The former University of Missouri ace is already on the D-Backs' 40-man roster, and now it's time for him to begin what will hopefully be a quick climb up the Minor League ladder. Scherzer will start this journey with the Class A Advanced Visalia Oaks, where hitters in the generally batter-friendly circuit will get a taste of his 98 mph fastball.

While we still have 2006 first-round draft picks in our sights, let's check in with last season's top three:

Luke Hochevar, Royals -- Hochevar has gotten hit fairly hard throughout his 12 appearances with Double-A Wichita. He is 3-5 with a 4.71 ERA and opponents are batting .276 against him. Still, the University of Tennessee product's 67 strikeouts lead the Texas League.

Greg Reynolds, Rockies -- Although he is currently on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, Reynolds has pitched phenomenally with Double-A Tulsa. The former Stanford Cardinal is 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA over seven starts spanning 45 2/3 innings.

Evan Longoria, Devil Rays -- The first position player selected, Longoria has been a force to be reckoned with in the Double-A Southern League. The California native's 12 home runs are tied for the most in the circuit, while his 43 RBIs rank second.

A year away

All of the aforementioned 2006 first-rounders were chosen out of college. Here's a look at how some of the younger selections have fared. Everyone in this group is currently competing in the Class A Midwest League:

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers -- Considered the best high school pitcher of last year's draft, Kershaw has excelled with the Great Lake Loons. The 19-year-old is 6-2 with a 2.13 ERA after 11 starts, and has struck out 74 batters in just 55 innings. On May 29, Kershaw allowed just one hit over eight shutout innings against Dayton.

Kasey Kiker, Rangers -- After starting the season in extended spring training, Kiker has made three starts with the Clinton LumberKings and gone 1-0 with 22 strikeouts and a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. This is a far better start to his season than he managed last year, when he crashed and burned at 0-7 in the Class A Short-Season Northwest League.

Travis Snider, Blue Jays -- After winning the MVP in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2006, Snider has picked up where he left off with the Lansing Lugnuts. The Washington native has cooled off somewhat after hitting .405 in April, but still sports a more-than-respectable .329 with 36 RBIs in 44 ballgames.