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 – although he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
Now a closer, Dale Thayer is the only prospect the Padres have had to close out 23 or more games in three straight years. The mark of consistency has made the right-hander from California a legitimate prospect.
This past season, working for the Mobile BayBears, Thayer notched a league-leading 27 saves to capture the Rolaids Relief Award.
After struggling in April to open the year, Thayer buckled down by posting a 1.53 ERA over the rest of the year and a 0.39 ERA from July through the end of the season.
The slow start is commonplace for Thayer as he posted a 0.68 ERA over his final 53.1 innings with Lake Elsinore after allowing seven runs in his first appearance for the Storm.
His repertoire is built around his 89-93 MPH fastball that he can locate at will and slider that has slowly progressed as he has moved up the system. When he debuted in Fort Wayne, the fastball was the only pitch he threw effectively. Thayer is still working on a changeup that he can sprinkle in sporadically through a given night to further throw off a hitter.
"What he's done is pretty incredible. He continually surprises me," Bill Bryk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator, admitted. "He's basically been a one-pitch guy with his fastball. His slider is inconsistent."
"When he can command that breaking ball and locate that breaking ball he is tough to deal with," Tye Waller, the Padres' former director of player personnel, said.
In three years of minor league action, the 25-year old prospect holds a 2.09 ERA. He has also whiffed 192 in 168.1 innings while allowing 135 hits.
His biggest struggles came against the leadoff man. Nearly 40 percent of the time, 39.6, the leadoff hitter reached base. That meant Thayer had to work out of trouble in a majority of his games.
With runners on base, Thayer posted a .219 average against and that number dwindled to .145 with runners in scoring position. They reached base but hardly ever came around to score.
"People keep wanting to say 'he can't do it,' but more times than not, he keeps getting it done," added Bryk.
That may be a trait he can get by with at the minor league level but it will come back to haunt him if it continues down the road. The mentality of closing is in his blood. But he must apply that to each and every hitter – not just when the pressure is nearing the boiling point.
"He reminds me of Dan Miceli watching him," Bryk said.
Thayer is tabbed for Portland in 2006 but may have to battle – again – to be the closer with Jon Adkins also in the mix. It is a role he is accustomed to, handed the closers' role only once over the last three seasons. If he can eliminate the early mistakes and secure some quick 1-2-3 innings he could be in San Diego before long.