Name: Joe Thatcher
DOB: October 4, 1981
"I liked him as a situational lefty that can get right-handers out too," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said.
After posting a 1.04 ERA over 8.2 innings with Triple-A Portland, Thatcher completed a four-year minor league run that produced a 1.73 ERA over 152 games and 192.2 innings.
"I saw fearlessness with him," former Portland pitching coach Gary Lance said. "I liked the way that he went about it – ‘I don't even care what the score is. Just let me throw a strike here. I do not even know what inning it is. I don't care. I am just going to throw a strike.' That is the way he was."
The only time he posted an ERA over 3.00 was during a six-game stint in the Pioneer League in 2005.
Thatcher has pitched in 152 career minor league games, spanning 192.2 innings. Over that time, the left-hander has allowed just 152 hits and 47 walks while fanning 250 batters.
His ERA over that same span has been a slim 1.73, and Thatcher has held the opposition to a .213 average against. This is a guy that knows how to pitch and get outs.
"Joe was my first roommate in '05 in Helena, Montana," pitching prospect Will Inman, who was acquired in the same trade, said. "A real laid back guy. He just gets guys out. It is a joke what he does. He doesn't give up runs. He gets guys out. It is unbelievable."
Thatcher was called up to San Diego three times during the 2007 season, making 22 appearances and posting an impressive 1.29 ERA. By the end of the season, everyone had forgotten about Linebrink.
A strike-thrower that works ahead in the count, the southpaw allowed just 13 hits over his 21 innings of work in San Diego, holding right-handers to a .151 average over 53 at-bats.
Thatcher uses a cut fastball that dives in on right-handers and has the ability to break bats. Its solid movement – tailing down in the zone – provides him with a pitch that generates a lot of ground ball outs.
He also uses the pitch against southpaw batters, forcing them to chase away. With its sinking action and his ability to nip the corners, Thatcher is more than a situational lefty.
"His history has been as such that – even though he doesn't have overpowering stuff - he is left-handed and has a history of missing bats," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said.
Thatcher also features a curveball that resembles a slider. The slurve has a little bit of loop to it and also dives away from left-handers. He will throw the pitch on the inside corner to a lefty batter, putting those hitters on their toes and often getting them bailing on the pitch.
Not afraid to pitch inside, Thatcher has command of his arsenal and knows when to keep it in the strike zone and when to get hitters chasing.
"The only thing I taught him was a ball that would go from right to left because everything he had would go from left to right," said Lance. "We started working on a sinker that he said he has never been able to throw. He was throwing one on flat ground and in the bullpen, but he had not yet taken it into a game. Then he got called back up.
"All he needs is a ball that goes from right to left and he is going to be hard to deal with."
While he has a deceptive delivery and the ball appears to come out of his shirt because of his arm slot and how his mechanics hide the ball, the feeling is a third pitch that offers a different plane of view to the hitters would add to his effectiveness.
With pitches that are always moving one way, hitters can sit back and wait for the movement to be decided before offering at the ball.
If he can add that sinker and get it tailing back over the plate, left-handed hitters that believe it is headed for the third base dugout will be quite surprised when it tails back over the outside corner.
"He is a good strike thrower," Fuson said. "He has a very deceptive delivery – a very deceptive slot. His ball moves and has some sink. He has a cutter that has been very effective. He has that slurve/breaking ball and so far it has worked out.
"He did it in Portland the whole time he was there and he certainly did it in the big leagues."
ETA: Thatcher is already there. He proved last year that he could get outs in any situation and is primed to step into the seventh inning role in the San Diego bullpen alongside Cla Meredith. Given his history, it won't surprise to see the success continue.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards