Caleb Thielbar threw 51 pitches for the Twins today. Those were the first 51 pitches he’s thrown in the majors in half a decade, with his last appearance, also with the Twins, occurring on April 30, 2015.
It was a homecoming of sorts for the left-handed reliever. Fabled around Twinkie Town and other parts of the Twins internet community for being “one of us,” Thielbar has spent time in four other major-league farm systems and the indy leagues since we last saw him take the Target Field mound. The Randolph HS (Randolph, MN) and South Dakota State product was originally drafted by the Brewers in 2009. After a rising to A-ball during a couple years in their system, he was out of affiliated baseball—briefly—by 2011.
A stint in American Association with the Saint Paul Saints in 2011 gave Thielbar’s career a boost. He went 3-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 49 innings, and drew some attention from across the river. He finished 2011 back in affiliated baseball, this time in Twins’ affiliate at High-A Fort Myers. 2012 saw him undertake a nearly Dobnak-ian rise through the minor leagues. He started at High-A, and finished at Triple-A Rochester, with a stint at Double-A New Britain as well. He finally broke through to the big leagues in 2013, and in a big way.
A 3.76 ERA in 26 innings at Rochester in 2013 earned the then-26 year old Thielbar a call to his hometown squad, the Minnesota Twins. As a rookie reliever, he was lights out. He threw 46 innings, and held a sparkly 1.76 ERA. Although by today’s standards, some of his peripheral stats like his K-rate look pedestrian, they were pretty good in context, and he is a left-handed specialist. His sophomore campaign in 2014 was also effective, with a 3.40 ERA in 47 innings.
Thielbar’s 2015 MLB season ended abruptly in April, with some pretty rough looking stats. His 5.40 ERA was largely the product of one bad game, when he gave up three runs in 0.2 innings at Kansas City (remember, those guys were good back then.) He was with the big league team from April 17th until 30th, and went back to Rochester, where he played until the end of July, when the Twins waived him. The Padres selected Thielbar from waivers, and assigned him to their Triple-A team in El Paso, TX.
After the 2015 season, the Padres granted Thielbar his release, and he ended up back with the Saints, posting a 2.39 ERA in 64 innings in 2016. That was good enough to earn him a contract with the Miami Marlins (don’t laugh.) He was released in March of 2017, and ended up spending that season with the Saints as well, posting another sub-3.00 ERA. He signed with the Detroit Tigers for the 2018 season, and this time was able to stick around, pitching for the Double-A Erie Seawolves and Triple-A Toledo Mudhens (managed by Doug Mientkiewicz.) He came back to Toledo for 2019, as well, before a midseason trade sent him to the Brave’s organization. As he became a “minor league journeyman,” he continued to put up very good numbers, a combined 2.05 ERA in 57 innings in 2018 and a 3.22 ERA in a whopping 78 2019 innings. Two of those innings came for the Gwinnett Stripers, while the rest were with Toledo.
Finally, that brings us to the current baseball season. The Twins signed him on December 19th, and offered him an invitation to major-league camp. With the changes to the roster rules, Thielbar was added to the Twins taxi squad and assigned to their Saint Paul alternate site—in a place that must feel like home by now, CHS Field. Yesterday, the Twins added him to the active 30-man roster, and today, he made his return to the big-league mound.
Through all of this, Thielbar still has not acquired enough MLB service time to be arbitration-eligible. The thirty-man roster is shrinking to 28 in a few days, and Thielbar might be on the bubble, especially with the three-batter minimum eliminating the LOOGY role. Either way, its great to see him make another appearance in the big leagues.