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A St. Paul South-Paw

Caleb Thielbar's road to the big leagues has not been an easy one, but a detour to the St. Paul Saints in 2011 has put the lefty in good hands

Patrick McDermott

When pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Meyers in February for spring training, at first, the bullpen of the Minnesota Twins was not something that was not going to be tinkered with too much. They knew they had their closer (Perkins) and eighth inning man (Burton) locked in. The days of Brian Duensing as a starter are long gone, as his ERA of nearly seven in twelve starts last year, compared to an ERA around three and a half out of the pen, was good enough to earn him spot for this year. Alex Burnett had a tremendous season in 2012 as did Casey Fien. Josh Roenicke was claimed off waivers from the Rockies after a pretty strong 2012 just like the others. This put Caleb Thielbar in a tight spot. Although added to the forty man roster in November, this wasn’t going to be an easy battle. His best chance of yielding a spot was beating out hard throwing lefty, Tyler Robertson, whose numbers last year were pedestrian at best.

Clearly the Twins front office liked what they saw in the minors during the 2012 season from Thielbar, as he climbed the ladder all the way from high A ball in Fort Meyers, to ending the season strongly in AAA Rochester. But Robertson had priority; the 6ft 5in left hander was the one who ended up with the final lefty spot as anticipated despite a not so strong spring training. In an interesting twist, it was outfielder Wilkin Ramirez getting the last roster spot. In doing so Alex Burnett was sent down and would have to clear waivers and was later claimed by Toronto and then placed on waivers again. It was then the right-hander Ryan Presley, the Twins 2012 rule five draft pick sneaking out the last spot in the bullpen. With Thielbar demoted to Rochester, he knew he was not too far away from getting the anticipated call up to the big leagues.

Thielbar has been a notorious slow starter through out his career at nearly all levels. In April of this month at Rochester his ERA was over five and batters were hitting nearly .500 against him with balls in play. Even when with the Arizona Brewers in 2009, (the rookie ball affiliate of the Brewers as he was originally drafted by the Brew-Crew in 2009) he allowed at least one run in six of his first seven appearances. But he also went through a very intriguing stretch in Arizona when he won six straight decisions from July to August. Unfortunately despite a successful first season in Arizona, he did not turn the corner in 2010 when he was promoted to the single A affiliate of the Brewers, the Wisconsin Timber-rattlers (I know best team name ever). During his tenure, he pitched fifty-three innings, did not win a single game, and had an era north of five. This prompted the Brewers to part ways with Thielbar after the 2010 season.

With Thielbar out of work, he elected to return home to Minnesota. The Randolph, Minnesota native, decided to sign with the St. Paul Saints in early 2011 to stay fresh. It must have been the home cookin’ because Thielbar put together one of the most impressive pitching seasons in Saints history. Thielbar went 3-3, with an ERA of 2.54, pitching just south of fifty innings before being picked up by the Minnesota Twins in August of 2011. Believe it or not, over 100 players have been picked up by MLB teams since the Saints came back to St. Paul in 1993. However, Thielbar was the first ever to be picked up by the Minnesota Twins. Just 10 miles east of Minneapolis, 100 signed to contracts by MLB teams, and nineteen of those players have reached the ultimate goal of the big leagues. The Twins have never been a part of a single one of those signing. It almost seems like it was meant to be. During his time with the Saints, Thielbar still hold the franchise record of consecutive scoreless inning streak of 29.2 innings. A record that still stands, with the next closest individual in that category at just 21.0 innings. He would then finish the year with the Fort Meyers Miracle. In Fort Meyers, he also did not allow a single run in 2011, finishing the year with twelve innings pitched, and zero earned runs charged to his name.

Cleary, Thielbar has shown that he is here to play. Thielbar has also carried the same tune here to the Twins. Since being promoted from Rochester last month, Thielbar has yet to allow an earned run in his ten innings of work, striking out nine batters and allowing just five hits through June 10th. With Alex Burnett and Tyler Robertson victims of the waiver wire, Thielbar has solidified himself as one of the three lefties out of the pen and a valuable southpaw in the later innings. He has paid his dues, been through nearly every system of baseball over the last calendar year, and is showing everyone he is here to play. Keep it up Caleb, you have a whole state rooting right behind you.