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2020 Twins Breakout Candidate: Sean Poppen

The Twins have a fairly veteran, proven roster as they head into the 2020 season. However, most seasons someone comes up during the season and unexpectedly contributes important at-bats or innings to the Twins. There’s no doubt that player was Luis Arraez in 2019. So who will be the choice in 2020?
Image courtesy of Sam Navarro, USA Today
About a week ago, I posted a tweet asking people to tweet me their choice for Twins breakout player in 2020. I defined that as someone who has not yet established himself as a big leaguer. It’s a loose definition intentionally, but the general idea is someone who hasn’t played in the big leagues or has very limited time who becomes a key contributor for the Twins in 2020.

I received about 50 responses to that tweet, and over 20 players were mentioned. Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Ryan Jeffers were mentioned most frequently. Jake Cave was also mentioned a lot, though he’s got two half seasons of solid contribution to the Twins big league club under his belt.

The funny thing is, at least in my opinion, that the player that I would pick was not mentioned by anyone. Not even once. That tells me that my choice certainly fits the category of being an unexpected contributor to the 2020 Twins. However, I expect that once he gets a shot, he has the ability to be really good.

My choice is right-handed pitcher Sean Poppen.

The Background

Poppen, a Virginia native, was the Twins 19th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Harvard where he was a starter for four years. His majors? Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Studies. In other words, he’s smart.

The Stats

2016: Elizabethton/Cedar Rapids: 12 G, 11 GS, 53.1 IP, 3-4, 2.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
2017: Cedar Rapids/Ft. Myers: 25 GS, 139.0 IP, 9-4, 3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
2018: Ft. Myers/Chattanooga: 26 G, 20 GS, 127.2 IP, 6-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
2019: Pensacola/Rochester: 20 G, 16 GS, 89.2 IP, 7-4, 4.01 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 10.7 K/9
2019 Twins: 4 G, 0 GS, 8.1 IP, 0-0, 7.56 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 5.4 BB/9, 9.7 K/9

The Stuff

While the MLB stats don’t look that great, he provided the Twins with some innings when they needed them. He became part of that Rochester-to-Minnesota pipeline. In my opinion, Poppen passes the eye test in terms of stuff.

First, his fastball is electric. When he was drafted, he was touching 91 mph at times. When I saw him in Cedar Rapids in 2017, I saw him hit 92 and 93 at times. With the Twins in 2019, he was 93 to 97 mph. And more important than just the velocity, he gets a ton of movement, arm-side run that darts in on a right-hander.

In addition, he has a very sharp, mid-80s slider that he threw about 40% of the time. As much as his fastball darts in on a righty, his slider is sharp and darts away from a right-hander. If he is able to tunnel his pitches at all, the combination of those two pitches could be a nightmare for opposing hitters.

Poppen also throws a changeup. If he is to progress as a starter, that will be a key pitch for him. It is low-to-mid 80s but it has been inconsistent at times.

One thing that immediately impressed me the first time I saw him pitch was how quickly he was able to adjust within a game.

The Role?

That is the question, to be sure. Because of all of the Twins starting pitching depth, I think it would be difficult for Poppen to get an opportunity as a starter.

(Berrios. Odorizzi. Maeda. Bailey. Chacin. Thorpe. Dobnak. Smeltzer. Pineda. Hill.)

Right now Poppen likely finds himself behind all of those guys. As a four-year college player who has slowly developed and moved one level per season, he will turn 26 years old in mid-March.

While I am generally one to advocate using pitchers as starters as long as possible, now might just be the time for Poppen to become a reliever. While he is a quality starting pitching prospect, he is a max effort pitcher who might just be better suited for shorter stints. While I think his dynamic stuff could make him a great one-inning guy, his ability to go three or four innings might be exactly what the 2020 Twins need.


Poppen has never really worked out of the bullpen in pro ball. I think this is pretty minor in terms of concerns.

Another concern could certainly be his command. With as much movement as he gets, being able to control, much less command, his pitches has to be a challenge. Big leaguers will make him throw strikes.

Poppen was placed on the Rochester Injured List on August 13th because of a right elbow contusion. On September 1st, he was promoted to the Twins and placed on the 60-day injured list. The move allowed the Twins to add another player to their 40-man roster.

However, Poppen appears to be 100% now. In fact, on Saturday, he struck out two batters over two perfect innings.


I don’t expect Sean Poppen to make the Twins Opening Day roster. However, I think he will get a shot at some point during the season to come up and work out of the bullpen. I think he’s got the kind of stuff that could make him a force out of the Twins bullpen.

And just for fun... here is his bio in the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. You can get your copies here. It's a great tool for Twins fans, especially during spring training when prospects play in big-league games. Prices have been dropped for both the paperback version and the electronic version (immediate download).

What do you think of Sean Poppen as a 2020 Twins Breakout candidate?

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Poppen is a very intriguing player.With the movement he has he seems like a good candidate to start but the one issue he has and it really is a big one when it comes to making it to MLB is his WHIP.It is just too high to be successful at the next level.He has to find a way to throw strikes when he needs them.  


I am still a believer and I think as noted given his age and control issues to this point the bullpen does sound like a good spot for him.I wouldn't be surprised if they gave him one last year to start and see what he can do at AAA but the stuff he has is good enough if he can harness it.

Sean Poppen is someone I brought up alot since he was in A ball here on Twinsdaily. This off-season I moved away from that and started pushing Tyler Wells cause he seems forgotten even though I think he was a Twinsdaily minor league pitcher of the year before he got hurt..... The reality is we are now overloaded with pitching prospects....good problem to have....and now I think Poppen will be part of a trade to upgrade at some point....
Feb 22 2020 08:35 PM
Has he made some kind of adjustment to his delivery? Is he doing something new? If not his lack of control is a big problem.

He is a cool story and can call himself a major leauger for the rest of his life.

But if he is not doing something new, he is a likely candidate to be DFA'ed to make room for someone else.

Of all the minor leaguers who got their shot in the bigs last year his stuff really popped out at me. Or should I say Poppened out at me :) If he can corral his control issues his stuff could be electric out of the pen ..

    • Dman likes this

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