Harvard educated Kernels pitcher Sean Poppen in no hurry to use his degree

He's one of 6 Kernels selected for Tuesday night's Midwest League All-Star Game

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CEDAR RAPIDS — More than anyone on the Cedar Rapids Kernels roster, he’s got a backup plan. Though Sean Poppen is in no hurry to use it.

And, truthfully, there’s not really a specific plan in place. It’s more like the pitcher has something at his disposal in case professional baseball doesn’t quite work out.

That something is a degree in Chemistry and Physics, Engineering Sciences from prestigious Harvard University. If he wanted to be in the “real world” right now, Poppen would be making a ton more money than the $1,100 to $1,200 per month (pre taxes) he is making in low-Class A.

But he has no desire to be in the real world, and he doesn’t want to use his degree as a crutch for not making it to the big leagues.

“It’s really like a motivator,” said Poppen, one of six Kernels selected for Tuesday night’s Midwest League All-Star Game at Midland, Mich., home of the Great Lakes Loons. “I don’t want to stay the same, I want to keep improving. I want to move to the next step. Otherwise it’s not worth it. This is fun. Baseball is fun.”

Poppen was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 19th round of last year’s MLB Draft and signed immediately. It has been full bore baseball since then.

“I didn’t really have an alternative plan,” he said. “I’d probably have some sort of engineering job. I mean, that’s kind of what I was tailored to do with my (academic) program. I did an internship one summer with an engineering firm in Norfolk (Va.).”

The Chesapeake, Va., native excelled enough in Rookie ball last season to get a promotion to the Kernels. He has been one of the club’s top pitchers this season.

The right-hander finished the first half of the season with a 5-1 record and 2.80 earned run average in 12 starts. He has allowed just 63 hits in 74 innings.

“He keeps the ball down, works in and out,” said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. “Almost every outing, he has had a quality start. That speaks for itself.”

The number of quality starts is actually nine, which is very good. A quality start is defined as going six innings or more in a game and allowing no more than three earned runs.

Poppen’s fastball sits in the low-90s, and he has a changeup and slider, the latter of which he said has been drastically improved from last season.

“(It has been) the basics, really,” Poppen said of his success. “It comes down to command, throwing strikes, not walking people. When you have that, you are going to pitch well. When you don’t, you’re not going to pitch well. It’s simple.”

Well, everything is simple for guys from Harvard. Watkins laughed when asked if he was intimidated by Poppen’s obvious intellect.

“No,” he said. “I’m not very smart, but I think we’re both baseball smart.”

“You don’t have to worry about makeup or intelligence when you draft a guy with a resume like that,” Twins Vice President for Player Personnel Mike Radcliff recently told Baseball America. “You just let him put that brainpower to work.”

Joining Poppen at the all-star game is pitcher Clark Beeker and voted starters Mitchell Kranson (designated hitter), Travis Blankenhorn (third base), Jermaine Palacios (shortstop) and Lewin Diaz (first base).

“Now it’s like with baseball and everything, I feel like I’d be uniquely qualified for stuff like Driveline (data-driven training) and all those things. Scientific baseball stuff,” Poppen said. “I think that’d be great, that’d be cool to do eventually. I love baseball, and I want to stay with it as long as I can.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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