Pitchers of the Year for Lake Elsinore

Pitcher of the Year in the California League is surely an oxymoron. The Lake Elsinore Storm produced a number of quality pitchers and one in particular stood out more than any other, Dale Thayer.

Dale Thayer
Relief Pitcher
6-foot-0, 190-pounds
Birth date - 12/17/80

2004 Season: Once again, Dale Thayer put together a solid season in the Padres' Minor League system. Moved into the closer spot in mid-season for the Lake Elsinore Storm, Thayer flourished with 54 strikeouts in 55 innings. Dale appeared in 50 games, with 23 saves, and a 2-1 record with a 1.63 ERA.

Dale started the season in middle relief, but ten straight scoreless outings convinced the Storm to make him their closer. Thayer, as does Brad Baker, relies on a nice combination of a fastball and change, but also has one of the better sliders in the system. The key to his success at the higher levels will be his ability to throw all three for strikes.

Background: Dale was signed as a free agent out of Chico State in late 2002. Last year the Padres started Thayer off at Fort Wayne where he made the Midwest League All-Star team. Thayer went 1-3, with a 2.06 ERA and 23 saves. However, the statistics that jump out at you are 72 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched against only 15 base-on-balls. An injury to his knee late in the season prevented him for racking up even better numbers.

The most interesting aspect in Thayer's background has been the lack of respect he has been given by the baseball establishment despite posting superior numbers. At Santa Ana College, Thayer led the Orange Empire Conference in saves – and struck out 43 batters in 39 innings. At Chico State, Thayer was an All-American, but still the Padres were able to sign him as a free agent. Finally, despite leading the Midwest League in saves, being honored as the best reliever in the Midwest League by Baseball America's Best Tools survey, being second in the Padres' chain in saves and ranking third among league relievers in saves and strikeouts per 9.0 innings (13.5); Thayer still could not crack Baseball America‘s top prospects in 2004. The relief pitchers that ranked ahead of him in the system, Edgar Huerta, Aaron Coonrod and Wilmer Villatoro did not even come close to replicating Thayer's success. An interesting side note, Brad Baker didn't make it either.

2005 Outlook and beyond: Thayer could be better than Brad Baker next year in Mobile, giving the Padres a very nice corps of young relief pitchers coming up in Brad Baker, Rusty Tucker and Dale Thayer. The better that Dale is able to rely upon three pitches for strikes, the higher he will climb. One of the top prospects coming to Mobile in 2005.

Runners Up:

Lake Elsinore had several good starting pitchers during the season, most notably Tim Stauffer and Brian Whitaker, but they spent the majority of their seasons in Mobile or Portland. Jon Huber was traded to Seattle also pitched well in Lake Elsinore. Gabe Ribas, last year‘s star of the Fort Wayne Wizards pitched well at times at Lake Elsinore, but struggled mightily at Mobile. The Padres did have three pitches with potential at Lake Elsinore during 2004, Clark Girardeau, David Pauley and Jared Wells. All three showed flashes of what they could become, but were unable to sustain good performances throughout the season and Pauley has since moved on in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

We should see Wells and Girardeau at Mobile in 2005, the real question is which one will break out. They are still very young with potential and, of course, that needs to be validated by performance.

John Conniff can be reached at Conniff@sandiegosports.net

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