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MLB Minnesota Twins

Can Caleb Thielbar Sustain Rapid Ascent Through Minnesota Twins’ Bullpen Pecking Order?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn’t know Caleb Thielbar‘s name prior to this season, there’s a good chance that … well, you still don’t really know him now.

After all, the Minnesota Twins reliever hasn’t exactly had what you’d call a traditional path to the bigs. A soft-tosser who signed with the team from independent ball, this was someone who came with essentially no pedigree and given little to no chance of really succeeding in pro ball.

So much for expectations, I suppose.

Not only has Thielbar finally made it to the big leagues after spending a couple of seasons in the Minnesota minor league system, but he’s excelling to a degree that even the most optimistic folks among the organization could not have predicted.

Through his first 17 outings as a major leaguer, the left-hander gave up a grand total of zero runs. In fact, he didn’t even allow a single hit in 13 of those opportunities. Until Tampa Bay Rays All-Star Ben Zobrist finally got some damage off the rookie with a solo home run, Thielbar had been just about perfect.

Talk about making a first impression.

There’s Twins are noticing it too, as they’ve been using the 26-year old in considerably higher leverage situations in July than they had since his call-up on May 20. He’s been responding well thus far with the lone homer being the only blemish in his five outings for the month, but is it something likely to last?

Well, that’s where the sunshine and roses come to an end for the Twins. While Thielbar is undoubtedly doing a bunch of things right (2.50 K/BB, 12.2 percent swinging strike rate), there’s little doubt that even with a 17.4 percent line drive rate allowed, his .111 BABIP is simply far too low for his batting profile, given that he doesn’t generate a whole lot of ground balls (0.81 GB/FB).

Instead, he’s been living by an incredible (yet unsustainable) 38.1 percent pop-up rate, the main contributor in his .091 BAA (!) and .0.67 WHIP. Because he isn’t particularly a strikeout artist (8.57 K/9) nor exhibits pin-point control (3.43), the easiest explanation is that this is someone who is simply pitching will above his skill level, buoyed by the gift of the baseball gods and a perfect strand rate.

Though Thielbar might be on the verge of really making a name for himself in the bigs, reality is unlikely to be too kind to the hurler when it finally hits.