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.
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.
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.
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.
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.