Pitcher of the Year: Double-A

At the start of the BayBears' season, the interesting pitching story line was supposed to be hotshot righty Travis Chick. But as Chick struggled, Sean Thompson joined the squad from Lake Elsinore and became the presumptive feature pitcher. Although the 22 year-old lefty had some success, the spotlight shifted once again in August when 2005 draftee Cesar Carrillo arrived and starred in a brief stint with the club.

But through it all, Dale Thayer was the most consistent and reliable pitcher on the team - even if most observers didn't notice.

Such success – and anonymity – is nothing new for the right-handed reliever. He went undrafted in 2002 – even though he was an All-American for Chico State that year. He started the 2004 season in middle relief for Lake Elsinore – even though he was the Midwest League Fireman of the Year in 2003. He's consistently heard he doesn't have enough pitches to get guys out, but has simply put them away at every stop so far.

As the system's best starters paraded through the rotation in front of him, Thayer posted a team-best 2.34 ERA in 57.2 innings and led the Southern League with 27 saves. Rather than wilting as humid summer wore on, he allowed only three runs after the first of June.

Thayer relies heavily on a fastball in the low-90's that he short-arms a bit, but has not yet mastered a second pitch to compliment it.

"What he's done is pretty incredible," said Padres' minor league coordinator Bill Bryk. "People want to say ‘he can't do it,' but he keeps getting it done."

Thayer continued as a strikeout machine for Mobile, recording 59 on the year, but he also allowed as many walks in 2005 (26) as he had in the previous two seasons combined. While it might be easy to dismiss his success so far, after three years of impressive results while others doubted him, I'm beginning to believe that any bet against Thayer is a poor wager.

Although Thayer is my pick for pitcher of the year on the team, there were many strong performers at various times this year.

Cesar Carrillo worked only 30.2 innings for the BayBears, but they bode well for what is to come in the future. In five starts, Carrillo posted a 3.23. ERA and struck out 35 while walking only seven in 30.2 innings. By virtue of short appearances in two different leagues after he signed, he didn't win my nod for pitcher of the year at any level. Rest assured, he's the odds-on favorite to get one this year, and a likely member of the big-league club by the time September rolls around.

Mike Thompson (no relation to Sean) was very effective before his promotion to Portland, posting a 3.22 ERA in 114 innings. Craig Breslow impressed enough while allowing only a .212 average in relief that he made the jump directly to the big leagues when the Padres needed a lefty specialist in the bullpen.

Although Jared Wells tired in the final few weeks of the season, he had a 3.12 ERA through his first 26 Double-A innings after coming up from Lake Elsinore and should be a strong number two starter for the BayBears to begin the 2006 season. Likewise, Sean Thompson struggled after early success in the California League, posting a 4.67 ERA in 20 starts, but his 94 strikeouts and nasty curveball bear watching as he progresses in his career.

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