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  • Keeping the Dream Alive

    2013 was another difficult season for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. However, that does not meant that are not some terrific stories that came out of the season. As we look to the hope these holidays bring, I think there are stories from the Twins that can inspire hope in anyone.

    Poor performances and injuries created opportunities that might not have been available in a typical, or at least a more successful, season. The stories of Andrew Albers, Doug Bernier, Chris Colabello and Caleb Thielbar are great reminders of believing in yourself and following your dreams.

    As we look back at 2013 and build hope for 2014, these stories are worth highlighting.

    Caleb Thielbar had a tremendous rookie campaign with the Twins in 2013. He was my choice (and the Twins Baseball Writers’ choice) for 2013 Twins Rookie of the year.

    Thielbar was an 18th round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009 after four years at South Dakota State. By 2011, he was pitching out of the bullpen for the independent St. Paul Saints. He pitched well and ended the season making three appearances with the Ft. Myers Miracle. In 2012, he began with seven games with the Miracle followed by 16 games with New Britain. He ended the season with 25 games in Rochester.

    That’s where he began the 2013 season. He struck out 34 batters in 26.1 innings over 17 appearances with the Red Wings. On May 20, he made his major league debut in Atlanta. Facing the Braves, he struck out three in two innings. On the final day of May, he made his first Target Field appearance for the Twins and struck out two in a perfect inning against the Seattle Mariners.

    Making the story even better, Thielbar is a Randolph, MN, native, a small town not far from the Twin Cities. He grew up watching the Twins and in 2013 his unconventional baseball journey had him putting on a Twins uniform and playing at home.

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    In 2011, Chris Colabello was named the Independent Leagues Player of the Year by Baseball America after a remarkable season for Worcester of the Canadian-American Association. He had played in the league since the 2005 season after graduating from Division II Assumption.

    Before the 2012 season, the Twins gave Colabello an opportunity and he has made the most of it. He had one previous opportunity, having gone to minor league camp with the Detroit Tigers. However, after that camp, he returned to Worcester. With the Twins, he put up solid numbers in 2012 with New Britain.

    He had a remarkable winter season in Mexico and earned an invitation to big league spring training. He was also a key member of the improbably-successful Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He impressed at camp and was sent to Rochester. In 89 games with the Red Wings, he hit .352/.427/.639 (1.066) and was named the International League’s MVP and Rookie of the Year.

    Late on May 21, Colabello got the call. He hopped a late flight to Atlanta and was in the lineup on the afternoon of the 22nd against the Braves. He made the trip between Rochester and the Twins several times throughout the season. In all, he spent 81 days on the Twins 25 man roster.

    Colabello speaks of trusting a process and knowing that a person can’t control some things. It is a philosophy that has been great for him. He told me in September that he wants to prove that he can stick in the big leagues for a while. Recently, it was reported by Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press that Colabello had an opportunity to earn about $1 million for playing in South Korea in 2014. He has declined that opportunity, choosing instead to continue to bet on himself and his dreams.

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    Andrew Albers is from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. He found his way to the University of Kentucky where he spent four years, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He was a 10th round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2008. He missed all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery and while recovering in spring training of 2010 he was released. He signed with Quebec of the Can-Am Association and recorded 17 saves in 40 appearances.

    His story of trying to get an affiliated team to sign him for spring training in 2011 is the stuff of made-for-TV movies (or bigger). While in Arizona, working to get tryouts, he worked with his college coach and tried to get a tryout with the Twins. While the Twins were deciding if they should fly him to Ft. Myers for a tryout, Albers called the Twins back and said he would drive to Ft. Myers. If the Twins signed him, they could reimburse his travel expense. If they didn’t, he would drive back home to Saskatchewan.

    The Twins liked what they saw enough to invite him to minor league spring training. He earned a spot with the Miracle, though obtaining a work visa meant his season would be delayed a bit. He posted a 1.55 ERA in 22 games with the Miracle and moved up to New Britain where he posted a 2.91 ERA in 13 games. Of his 35 appearances, he made seven starts and was my choice for Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.

    In 2012 he fought injury, but in 17 starts (and two relief appearances), he was 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA. In 2013, in the WBC, Albers pitched well for Canada. He began the 2013 season as the fifth starter for the Rochester Red Wings. He was clearly the team’s most consistent starting pitcher. He made 22 starts and went 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA. In 132.1 innings, he struck out 116, which led the International League when he was promoted. Albers was the Twins choice for minor league pitcher of the year.

    Despite pitching well, Albers has never fit the “prospect” criteria. He doesn’t have the “stuff” to look like a big league starter. However, as options became limited, the Twins finally gave Albers an opportunity. On August 6th, Albers made his major league debut in Kansas City. Against the Royals, Albers went into the ninth inning without allowing a run. He got one out in the ninth, but was removed. Casey Fien completed the shutout and Albers had his first big league win. Six days later, Albers took the mound in Cleveland and this time, he didn’t need any help. He threw a complete game, two hit, no walk shutout. Overall, he was 2-5 with a 4.05 ERA in ten starts with the Twins.

    Albers has overcome his origin from a remote location, injury and lack of stuff to make it to the big leagues. He is as tough as it gets mentally and believes in himself. He combines that with pinpoint control, which he acknowledges is necessary for his success. He earned the opportunity and he took advantage of it.

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    The first three that we talked about today are all Independent League survivors and success stories. Doug Bernier never spent any time in independent baseball, but he has spent a lot of time in the minor leagues.

    He was signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2002 as a non-drafted free agent out of Oral Roberts University. He slowly worked his way up the Rockies system, and in June of 2008, at the age of 27, he made his big league debut with the Rockies. He went 0-4 in two games before being sent back to the minors.

    He spent all 2007 and 2008 in Colorado Springs, the AAA Affiliate of the Rockies. In 2009, he played for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the AAA team of the Yankees. In 2010, he spent the season in Indianapolis, the Pirates AAA affiliate. He spent 2011 and 2012 back with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Twins signed him before 2013 and gave him a spring training invite. The plan, most likely, was to have him play the entire season in Rochester. However, Eduardo Escobar’s first-half struggles, coupled with a solid .295/.370/.407 (.778) line by Bernier, led the Twins to call him up at the All-Star break and he spent the rest of the season with the Twins.

    He was able to record his first big league hit and showed a great glove. He hit just .226, but he got on base at a .339 clip.

    Think about it. Bernier became a big leaguer in 2008. At any point from 2009 through 2012, when he was sent back to AAA and often struggled with the bat, he could have hung up the spikes able to tell his grandchildren he had played in the big leagues. Teams kept offering him contracts because of his great defense. Clearly Bernier has great belief in himself and a “tear the uniform off me” mentality.

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    Following the season, Bernier was removed from the 40-man roster, but he quickly signed a minor league contract to return to the organization. Thielbar appears to be a lock for the Twins opening day bullpen and the organization hopes he can fill the role for years to come. Colabello and Albers remain on the team’s 40 man roster, but with every transaction their names are mentioned as possible DFA candidates. Both could fill a role at the big league level if given another opportunity.

    Whatever happens going forward, the 2013 seasons of Andrew Albers, Caleb Thielbar, Chris Colabello and Doug Bernier serve as reminders that people should not give up on their dreams and should continue to work to make them happen, because every once in a while those dreams really can come true.
    Comments 26 Comments
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      I enjoyed watching all of these players and their stories. I wish that Colabello could've had more success. Will be interesting to see if he can adjust to MLB pitching standing so far off the plate. Bernier could certainly get another shot as there doesnt seem to be many utility players in the upper minors. Albers with a successful start could be on the verge of a callup if Gibson, Meyer, or May struggle. I'm sure Thielbar is already locked into the '14 bullpen lefty role.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      All of these guys have shown they at least deserve a shot to make the team out of spring training.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      All of them are great stories, but here is the question:

      Do they ever make it in the bigs (other than as September call ups) in a team that is competing for the World Series? Doubtful. The fact that they did, speaks more about the horrible shape the Twins have been. Likely not a single one of them will make the 2014 Twins' team (and that would not be a bad thing)
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      Sorry if I have a hard time going all the way on these three players. To me this is indicative of a team that doesn't really have anything to dream on. Give me an Aaron Hicks or a Sano or a Buxton. That's something to dream on. These guys made it to the majors because a team had nothing on its roster to keep them in the Minor Leagues. I'm getting a little tired of trying to get juiced about a journeyman player who gets a cup of coffee after a decade. If we're the Yankees, that's potentially a great story. Because we are the Twins, it's just pathetic. I mean, what other team would give these guys a chance?
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      Sorry if I have a hard time going all the way on these three players. To me this is indicative of a team that doesn't really have anything to dream on. Give me an Aaron Hicks or a Sano or a Buxton. That's something to dream on. These guys made it to the majors because a team had nothing on its roster to keep them in the Minor Leagues. I'm getting a little tired of trying to get juiced about a journeyman player who gets a cup of coffee after a decade. If we're the Yankees, that's potentially a great story. Because we are the Twins, it's just pathetic. I mean, what other team would give these guys a chance?
      You don't think the Yankees would have given the International League MVP a chance?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great stories. Happy that each of them lived their dreams. Not all of us get to do that. Good for them.
    1. PopRiveter's Avatar
      PopRiveter -
      Thrylos & OldTwinsCap, Seth opens the article by first acknowledging what we all know-the season was difficult for MN and their fans.

      You both obviously love baseball deeply. We all want our favorite team to win it all every year. That won't happen. One of the things I love most about baseball is how a long, bad season can produce a fantastic game on a given day. And just one or two steps back from that, I see a parallel-a poor team can produce compelling storylines. Sure, these storylines probably wouldn't happen if the Twins were at the top of the division in 2013, but they weren't. That doesn't mean we don't get to enjoy them.

      If you really love baseball, you gotta understand that right? It's what makes guys like us something more than just football fans. InsertSmileyFaceEmoticonHere
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      Quote Originally Posted by PopRiveter View Post
      Thrylos & OldTwinsCap, Seth opens the article by first acknowledging what we all know-the season was difficult for MN and their fans.



      If you really love baseball, you gotta understand that right? It's what makes guys like us something more than just football fans. InsertSmileyFaceEmoticonHere
      You know, once every couple of years, if there are stories like this, that's great. But, when it becomes the only story, and it has these last three years, it really starts to wear on a fan. Not to beat a dead horse, but, the Twins have kind of become a one-trick pony in regard to their roster: guys who can't make it on any other team. It's tiring. I'm afraid I'm going to die without ever seeing another competitive baseball squad in Minnesota. I want more than a heart-warming story about a mediocre ball-player who once made it to the majors on a 90-loss team.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      All of them are great stories, but here is the question:

      Do they ever make it in the bigs (other than as September call ups) in a team that is competing for the World Series? Doubtful. The fact that they did, speaks more about the horrible shape the Twins have been. Likely not a single one of them will make the 2014 Twins' team (and that would not be a bad thing)
      Albers and Theilbar might have got called up on any team if the injury situation presented itself.
    1. oldguy10's Avatar
      oldguy10 -
      Old Twins Cap nails it perfectly as far as I am concerned as does Thrylos, these feel good stories are getting awfully old and tiresome. Let me see some real prospects coming up not "never will be's", we know the difference, let's not try to sugar coat it all.
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      Quote Originally Posted by oldguy10 View Post
      Old Twins Cap nails it perfectly as far as I am concerned as does Thrylos, these feel good stories are getting awfully old and tiresome. Let me see some real prospects coming up not "never will be's", we know the difference, let's not try to sugar coat it all.
      Arcia's Debut and a breakout year at second base combined with two of the top three and seven of the top 100 prospects has made the Twins more interesting than the Vikings for me to talk about DURING FOOTBALL SEASON! I also think AAA international league player of the year numbers can bring a cup of coffee to anyone. Cola and Thielbar earned it!!
      The Bleh in the line up was PJ Wilson, Clete Thomas, Wilkin Ramirez, Cole DeVries, Liam Hendricks, Etc. That have already been cut.
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      PS, great story Seth, Thank You
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Great article Seth. Yes, good that these guys got to live out their dreams. I agree with Thrylos that on a contending team, it is likely that only one (or none) would have made it. However, these guys do add something good to a very forgettable season. I hope all these guys go to spring training (whether DFAd or not) and give it their best shot.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      If these types interest you, great.

      They don't interest me in the least. I want to see the Twins bring upi players who can lead them back to the WS. I don't watch the news for human interest stories, nor do I watch MLB for them.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      You know, once every couple of years, if there are stories like this, that's great. But, when it becomes the only story, and it has these last three years, it really starts to wear on a fan. Not to beat a dead horse, but, the Twins have kind of become a one-trick pony in regard to their roster: guys who can't make it on any other team. It's tiring. I'm afraid I'm going to die without ever seeing another competitive baseball squad in Minnesota. I want more than a heart-warming story about a mediocre ball-player who once made it to the majors on a 90-loss team.
      Any way you can hold on 'til 2015?
    1. Steve_h's Avatar
      Steve_h -
      I love these kinds of stories. It keeps me coming back. There is always a role for role players on successful teams. Colabello, Thielbar, Albers could all be part of a successful team — maybe not fulltime everyday players. The comments are right -- they won't be stars, but look at the '87 team. Joe Klink relieved for 12 games. Billy Beane (yes, that's right) played 12 games. Roy Smith started one game and relieved in six others. Even a WS team cannot have 25 Buxtons. You need all kinds of players, even role players who will never get more than a cup of tea.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I'm wondering who will succeed Thielbar. Pinto, Tonkin, Meyer, Sano, and Buxton all seem like the best candidates.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Alright... Merry Christmas!!
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      I guess I don't get all the angst for these players. Yes they all struggled at the major league level but they were at or near the top of their peers in AAA. How many prospects have had a season at AAA like CC? Just because he didn't adjust to MLB pitching right away he sucks? Like any one with those numbers he has a legitimate chance to be a star. He is 30. So are several free agents and teams went 6 or 7 years with some of them. Why go negative?

      Albers pitched better than Gibson in AAA and the majors. Why does only Albers suck? His slow fastball and pinpoint accuracy somehow worked better than the prospect touted to be a number 3 starter. Albers will never be an ace but neither will 90% of the pitchers currently in baseball, does that mean he isn't needed in a rotation? We just signed Coreia and Pelfrey to be essentially the same kind of pitcher he is. We need guys with upside and he could fill a roll on any team in MLB.

      Thielbar held his own in the pen and was a better option than many in MLB. Is he a closer no, but lots of teams had worse options than the Thielbar last year. We got him for free he has been a good place holder until someone better knocks him off the roster or we get value back by trading him. He is still a good story and positive for the Twins.

      I kind of despise it when people use stats to pump up why there prospect is good and then ignore them when it suits their needs. These guys had great years at AAA. It didn't translate immediately to MLB. That doesn't mean they are not or will not be better than lot's of current MLB players.

      Personally I like the Twins approach. Find talent anywhere you can. Who cares where it comes from. who cares how old someone is if they can hit 25 home runs for you. Be patient and see if their skills will translate to MLB. Who knows you might find a star outside the draft but you'll never know unless you try.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Great work, Seth. The offseason is a perfect time for feel good stories, when all parties have time to reflect, take inventory, count blessings. In the middle of the season introducing a new call up as a "great story" is not the right time, and I very much agree with others in that respect.

      Question: in the original Q&A was discussion about Collabello learning third base, any new developments on that? If he is actually looking to stick in the big leagues for a full season like he says, then the opportunity is right under his nose, it seems. Also wasn't Collabello the guy who took his home run ball away from a little girl? Lol
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