If college transcripts mattered as much as scouting reports, righthander Sean Poppen would have been drafted much higher than the 19th round last year.
But the Twins are happy to reap the extra rewards that come with an elite education.
Poppen graduated with honors from Harvard last spring, earning degrees in engineering science and chemistry/physics before the Twins interrupted any plans for graduate school.
“You don’t have to worry about makeup or intelligence when you draft a guy with a résumé like that,” vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said. “You just let him put that brainpower to work.”
In Poppen’s case, that meant outsmarting hitters with a three-pitch mix that features a tailing two-seam fastball that sits around 92 mph, plus a slider and changeup. Poppen is 6-foot-4 and can tower over hitters, but he doesn’t come over the top with his delivery, preferring a three-quarters slot that speeds up his motion helps his fastball play up.
Last season, it also had the effect of skewing his control, so while he struck out 57 batters in 53 innings at Rookie-level Elizabethton and low Class A Cedar Rapids, he also walked 24.
Here’s where the 23-year-old Poppen’s IQ comes in. “You don’t have to explain things to him twice,” Radcliff said. “He took that as a challenge, and looked for a solution.”
Looks like he found one. Poppen opened 2017 back at Cedar Rapids and reeled off 10 promising starts. He struck out 60 in his first 63.2 innings, but also walked just 12. He didn’t allow more than three earned runs in any start, gave up just two homers and held hitters to a .223 average.
“All the heady parts of the game—holding runners, knowing when to challenge hitters—he’s got,” Radcliff said. “He’s got an arm to go with the brain, too.”