St. Paul, Minn. – All season long left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar proved he was one of the more dominant pitchers in the American Association. He was the safety blanket for St. Paul Saints manager George Tsamis, often throwing multiple innings before turning the ball over to the top closer in the league, Ryan Rodebaugh. The former Major Leaguer may get another shot at reaching The Show as the Miami Marlins have purchased Thielbar’s contract.
The 29-year-old former Minnesota Twin and Randolph, Minn., native had an impressive 2016 season. He was 5-2 with a 2.39 ERA and four saves in 42 relief appearances. In 64.0 innings pitched he walked just 15 and struck out 56 while opponents hit a miniscule .216 against him.
The impressive outings started early when Thielbar tossed 3.2 perfect innings of relief on June 1 at Joplin. He tossed more than 1.0 inning and didn’t give up a run in 19 relief appearances and went 10 straight relief appearances (13.2 IP), from June 8-26, without allowing a run. From May 25-June 19 he struck out at least one in 10 straight relief appearances, fanning 19 in 18.1 innings pitched. On July 27 he tossed his second shutout appearance of at least 3.0 innings when he blanked the Sioux City Explorers over three frames. In all, he didn’t allow an earned run in 32 of 42 appearances.
Thielbar’s career began in 2009 when he was an 18th round selection in the First Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers out of South Dakota State University. He spent two seasons in the Brewers system reaching Single-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League in 2010.
Thielbar’s rise to the Major Leagues began after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers organization and signed with the Saints in 2011. While with the Saints he set the franchise record for most consecutive scoreless innings, 29.2, from June 29-August 9, allowing just 15 hits in that span while striking out 37. Overall that season he went 3-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 43 relief appearances. In 49.2 innings pitched he walked just 15 and struck out 62 while opponents hit a miniscule .224 against him. The Twins took notice and purchased Thielbar’s contract on August 18. After not allowing a run in three games with the Fort Myers Miracle to finish off the 2011 season, Thielbar impressed at every minor league level in 2012.
Between High-A Fort Myers, Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester, in 2012, Thielbar was an impressive 6-2 with a 2.43 ERA and six saves in 48 games (one start). In 77.2 innings pitched he walked 21 and struck out 74 while opponents hit .221 against him.
In 2013 Thielbar received the call-up to the Twins in late May and never looked back, spending the rest of the season in the Majors. He went his first 17 Major League appearances, a span of 19.2 innings, without allowing a run. He had two other strings of at least seven appearances without allowing an earned run and finished the season 3-2 with a 1.76 ERA in 49 games. In 46.0 innings pitched he walked just 14 while striking out 39 and opponents hit a minuscule .154 against him.
That year propelled him to a full season in the Major Leagues in 2014 and he had another incredible season. From April 6-May 13, a span of 12 relief appearances, he didn’t allow a run and allowed just one earned run from May 28-July 6. Thielbar went 2-1 with a 3.40 ERA and one save in 54 relief appearances. In 47.2 innings pitched he walked 16 and struck out 35 while opponents hit .280 against him.
In 2015 Thielbar began the season at Triple-A Rochester before being called up to the Twins just a couple of weeks into the season and pitching in six games with no record and a 5.40 ERA. At the end of April he was re-assigned to Rochester and pitched in 29 games out of the bullpen and was 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 32.0 innings pitched. He walked 18 and struck out 19 while opponents hit .252 against him. On August 8 the San Diego Padres claimed Thielbar off of waivers and he pitched nine games out of relief at Triple-A El Paso where he went 0-0 with a 0.73 ERA.
Thielbar becomes the fourth Saints player from the 2016 team to have his contract purchased joining pitchers Eric Veglahn and John Straka, both who had their contracts purchased by the Blue Jays, and knuckleballer Dan Johnson who had his contract purchased by the Dodgers. Thielbar is the 122nd contract sold, totaling 115 players. He becomes the seventh Saints player to have his contract purchased twice. Of the 122 contracts sold eight were sold to international teams and a total of 21 have made it to the ultimate level of baseball following their time with the Saints.