The Twins organization is filled with players from all over the globe. They scout the entire country, Canada and Puerto Rico for the draft. They’ve done a nice job signing international players in recent years. The Twins do a great job in Australia. They have players from Europe and talent from Taiwan. They have players from Central and South America, but also from South Africa.
The last couple of seasons, the Twins have gone in a direction that is likely most rare. In the last two seasons, the Twins have signed four players out of the independent leagues. To this point, none of them have made it to the big leagues, and often, these players are not signed to get to the big leagues. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]They are signed to fill a role with one of the team’s affiliates. When the Baltimore Orioles signed OF Lew Ford out of the independent ranks, they basically came out and said he would likely not play in the big leagues. But once in a while, there is a success story. Ford played so well in AAA that the O’s called him up which was a great story.
Here is a little bit about each of the four players the Twins signed from the independent leagues:
Andrew Albers – LHP – 26
Albers pitched for four years at the University of Kentucky before being drafted in the 10th round of the 2008 draft by the Padres. He pitched in the rookie leagues for them that summer, but injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2009 season, and when he went to spring training with the team in 2010, he was still not 100% He was released, and in 2010 he pitched for Quebec in the CanAm League. He went 3-0 with 17 saves and a 1.40 ERA. In 57.2 innings, he gave up 41 hits, walked 16 and struck out 59.
The next spring, he was trying to work out tryouts with big league clubs, looking for an opportunity for another shot with an affiliation. A couple of those opportunities didn’t pan out. To make a short story long, he called the Twins and said that he would drive from Arizona to Ft. Myers for a tryout. IF they liked him, they could reimburse his travel. If not, he would drive back home, to Saskatchewan, and call it a career. The Twins liked what they saw and signed him. He was my choice for Twins minor league relief pitcher of the year in 2011 when he went 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA in Ft. Myers and then 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA in New Britain.
He has been a starter this season for the New Britain Rock Cats. He is 4-3 with a 3.61 ERA in 17 games (15 starts). He is an aggressive, strike-thrower, walking just 11 in 87.1 innings. He has been on the disabled list twice.
Caleb Thielbar – LHP – 25
Thielbar is from the town of Randolph, Minnesota. He pitched at South Dakota State. In 2009, he went 5-8 with a 5.44 ERA for the Jackrabbits yet was drafted in the 18th round that year by the Milwaukee Brewers. He made it up to Low A Wisconsin of the Midwest League where he pitched in 30 games in 2010. In 2011, he pitched in 43 games for the St. Paul Saints and went 3-3 with a 2.54 ERA. In 49.2 innings, he gave up 41 hits, walked 15 and struckout 62. The Twins signed him in August, and he pitched in three games for the Ft. Myers Miracle. He did well, but the assumption by many was that he was just helping fill out the roster and may not make it to the 2012 season.
Instead, he went to minor league spring training with the Twins and has been one of the fast-risers in the system. The left-hander started the season with the Miracle. He pitched in seven games and 12.1 innings. He gave up four hits, walked two and struckout 16. He was quickly promoted to New Britain where he pitched in 16 games. In 25 innings, he gave up 18 hits, walked just three and struck out 26. He earned a mid-June promotion to AAA Rochester. He has leveled off some, but in 23 games and 34 innings, he has given up 37 hits, walked 13 and struck out 26. Overall, he is 6-2 with a 2.14 ERA.
Chris Colabello – 1B – 28
Colabello had a solid, four-year career at Assumption College, a small Division II school in Worcester, Massechusetts. However, he was not drafted. Since that time, 2005, he has played independent baseball, primarily for Worcester, which is also in the CanAm League. He has hit over .300 in six of those seven seasons. He was a league All-Star in 2008 and again in 2011 when he had a terrific season. The first baseman hit .348/.410/.600 (1.010) with 32 doubles, 20 homers and 79 RBI). He was named the CanAm League player of the year, and also Baseball America named him the Independent League player of the year.
The Twins felt they had a need for a bat and a first baseman at AA New Britain, so they gave Colabello his first opportunity with an affiliated team at the age of 28. To say that he has proven he belongs would be an understatement. He has hit in the middle of the Rock Cats lineup and hit .285/.354/.488 (.842) with 35 doubles, 18 homers and 91 RBI. For a guy who came into the season likely wondering if he would fit in and how he would do. At this point, the assumption is that he should be back and playing in Rochester in 2013. Can he be a right-handed bench bat for the Twins? We will find out.
Dan Sattler – RHP – 28
Sattler pitched in the Big 10, for Purdue, from 2004 through 2007. In that time, he went 12-18 with a 4.39 ERA. He was drafted by the Rangers in the 33th round in 2006 but went back for his senior season. He went undrafted but signed with the Rangers. He pitched in the Texas organization in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he pitched for independent league Kansas City, but late in the season, he signed with the A’s and pitched in their system through the 2010 season. In 2011, he was with the Angels organization. He signed with the St. Paul Saints early this year, but the Twins signed him after he pitched in just five games. He was 1-0 with three saves.
Blessed with a fastball in the upper 90s, Sattler signed and reported to Ft. Myers. He pitched in three games for the Miracle. On June 19, he was promoted to New Britain where he pitched in five games. On July 6, he was promoted to Rochester where he pitched in seven games. All told, he was 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA. In 29.2 innings, he gave up 18 hits, walked ten and struck out 20. Opponents hit just .173 against him. Unfortunately, he went on the disabled list with elbow problems and needed Tommy John surgery.
Generally, when teams sign players from independent leagues, it is to fill a minor league roster. However, there are always exceptions. I was fortunate to play ball in college with Chris Coste who spent several years with the independent Fargo/Moorhead Redhawks before getting an opportunity in affiliated ball. It took a few years, but you may recall that he became The 33-Year-Old Rookie and won a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies. The beauty is that you just never know. Of these four players, it is possible none of them will see time with the Twins. It’s also possible that any of them could fill a role of some sort with the big league club. We shall see.