Former Jackrabbit back in bigs

Former South Dakota State pitcher, Caleb Thielbar, is back in the bigs with the Minnesota Twins.

The 28-year-old lefty signed a new one-year contract in March (at a reported $520,000), but Thielbar started the season with the Twins AAA team in Rochester, NY.

He was brought back up last Friday (April 17) and has made three appearances in the last five days… back in his role facing left-handed hitters in the late innings.

We talked with Thielbar on April 1st… three days before the end of spring training… the day after he was sent down to Rochester.  He felt he was throwing as well as ever, but not getting results.

“Spring training has not gone great for me.  I’m getting a lot of ground balls and they seem to be finding holes everywhere, but that balances out over the course of a season so maybe getting a little bad luck right now.  But from a team perspective, we’re looking pretty good.  Our offense was good last year and haven’t lost anything… gained if anything.  So we just need to pitch the ball better than we have the last few years and I think we will win a few more games this year.”

Thielbar made 3 appearances in Rochester (2.1 IP, 0.00 ERA) and fortunately it was a short stay in his third time around with the Twins AAA squad.

He was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers when he came out of South Dakota State in 2009 but did not catch on right away.  He was let go in 2011 and ended up playing independent baseball that year in his home state of Minnesota with the St. Paul Saints… a team that included former Kansas City Royal, Shane Costa, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Jonathan Van Every and five other pitchers who had played in the major leagues.

“With the Saints I was able to learn a lot from a lot of different guys,” he says.  “We had a lot of guys with major league experience on that team… some hitters I could pick the brain of and they were able to help me a lot.  They were open to helping out too, so that was a lot of fun and it gave me a lot of confidence being able to play against guys like that and play with guys like that.”

Success with the Saints got Thielbar his first shot with the Twins.  He worked his way through their minor league system… including two stops in Rochester… and made his major league debut in 2013.  In the last season and a half he has pitched in 103 major league games. (now 106)

Prior the spring training this year, Thielbar spent a lot of time back in Brookings taking advantage of the new Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex at South Dakota State.

“With the new indoor facility at SDSU I was able to do some long toss to get the arm strength back.  I did some swimming to strengthen the shoulder and as far as mechanics, just trying to get the ball down in the zone better than I’ve done before and feel like I’ve accomplished that.  So looking forward to a good year and we’ll see how it goes.”

Thielbar credits the coaches and the opportunity he had at South Dakota State as big factors in his success… just the focus and the training and the chance to work at it every day and to play against some pretty good Summit League competition.  He says he is a very proud South Dakota State alum.

“Absolutely.  I’m a big Jackrabbit fan… not just baseball, but all the different sports.  I tried to go to as many games as I could this fall and winter just living in Brookings.  I am around the school all the time and around the team a lot in the off season so it is fun to be able to talk with those guys and watch them have success.”