With the Major League baseball season underway, it is time for people to start getting geared up for St. Paul Saints baseball. Spring Training begins for the American Association team on May 5, and much of the team’s roster is filled out. It is the pitching staff and catching that are areas the Manager George Tsamis has to make some moves on, and last week he began the process by adding two big left-handers to his bullpen: Cody Wheeler and Caleb Thielbar.
Thielbar is no stranger to Saints fans. The left-hander pitched with St. Paul in 2011 and his picture is prominently displayed on the Wall of Fame in the team’s locker room at CHS Field. That season the 6-0, 205 pounder pitched in 43 games, posting a 3-3 record with an impressive 2.54 ERA. Even more impressive was his 62 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched.
The outstanding season brought a call from the Minnesota Twins, who purchased his contract for the end of the 2011 season. Caleb moved onto Fort Meyers (Adv-A) where he was 1-1 with a microscopic 0.73 ERA in seven appearances.
From there the ascent was quick. He started 2012 in Fort Meyers but reached AAA-
Rochester by the end of the year. In three stops he was 6-2 with 6 saves and a 2.90 ERA overall, fanning a total of 74 in 77.2 innings pitched.
The following season he stared at Rochester but, after making 17 appearances there, the Twins called him to the big club, and he spend the rest of 2013 and all of 2014 there. His 2013 season in Minneapolis was awesome, posing a 1.76 ERA in 49 appearances, while giving up just 24 hits in 46 innings pitched.
His 2014 season was not as stellar, but was still solid. The Twins left-hander made 54 appearances, going 2-1 with a 3.40 ERA. He pitched in 47.2 innings, but saw the hits allowed rise to 51.
Last season he split time between the Twins Major League and AAA clubs, as well as the AAA club for the San Diego Padres (El Paso). His struggled a bit in the Majors, but was outstanding in his two AAA stops. Combined he pitched in 38 innings in the minors, going 5-3 with a 2.23 ERA.
Surprisingly he was released during Spring Training, and was happy to return to the place that gave him his big opportunity. His manager is thrilled to have him back. “He has such good stuff, that he really is going to be a big addition,” Tsamis explains. “It is just a matter of if he stays with us or not, because he is so good, I wouldn’t be surprised if his contract is purchased.”
The Saints Manager has the same feeling about the other lefty that was added that same day. Cody Wheeler does not have the physical size that Thielbar does, but his stuff is electric, and he has proven that he can help in the closer’s role as well.
He spent his first four seasons of professional baseball in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, where he split time starting and working out of the bullpen. Cody spent his first three seasons in A-ball, but moved to AA-Mobile in 2014. There he looked quite sharp in 20 appearances, posting a miniscule 0.40 ERA and a 2-0 record. He allowed just 6 hits in 22.1 innings pitched, but showed a little need to master his control, walking 20 batters.
The next season he was with the Baltimore Orioles organization, starting at Adv-A Frederick, where he proved to be an outstanding closer. Cody saved 17 games in 42 appearances and struck out 57 in 52.1 innings pitched with a 2.79 ERA. He also made one appearance with AAA-Norfolk.
The Saints Manager is happy to know he has the left-hander down in his bullpen. “Cody had a real good year last season. We expect him to be a big part of our bullpen”
Should no Major League club purchase either of the two lefties’ contracts this should be an exceptionally deep bullpen, which includes 2015 American Association saves leader Ryan Rodebaugh and hard-throwing right-hander Chris Peacock. That is if neither of them are signed.
Saints Notes: Angelo Songco was surprisingly released by the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, opening the door for a return to St. Paul. The first baseman had an MVP-caliber season of his own last year, and it would not be a surprise to see another club or a team from the Mexican League come calling…Three of the Saints’ key pieces from last year did stick with the club’s that purchased their contracts. League MVP Vinny DiFazio was assigned to the Dodgers’ AA-Tulsa team, SS Anthony Phillips went to the Los Angeles Angels’ AAA-Salt Lake team, and RHP Mike Zouzalik was sent to Adv-A Fredrick.
By Robert Pannier