Why Twins signee Brandon Poulson’s 100-mph fastball was so hard to find
Not even Hollywood could write a script like this.
Every day, five days a week, Brandon Poulson would make the trek south from Santa Rosa, Calif., to the field in east Oakland where the Academy of Art University baseball team trained. Sure, he could have moved closer to his school and his team, but Poulson wanted to stay home and help his family.
So he woke up early every weekday morning, drove the nearly 70 miles to the field and took a quick nap in his car — not easy to do at 6-foot-7 — until his teammates arrived. Following practice, it was back to the Academy of Art campus in San Francisco for classes.
When everything was done for the day, the 24-year-old Poulson hopped back in his car and headed north on US-101 back home to Santa Rosa. Then he’d do it all over again the next morning.
"That’s discipline right there," Academy of Art baseball coach Dan McDermott told FOXSportsNorth.com. "He always did above and beyond what everybody would do. Just a hard worker. Finally, something really good happened to him."
That something good came in the form of a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins as a relief pitcher. Despite a fastball that reaches 100 mph and routinely sits around 98 to 99 mph, Poulson has been undrafted by all 30 major-league teams. The Twins were tipped off to Poulson, and scouting director Deron Johnson sent a scout to get a glimpse of the towering right-hander with the electric fastball.
"He was basically like a kid waiting for Christmas," Johnson said. "He was undrafted. He got himself a lot better and made himself eligible to get into somewhat of a bidding war. We were fortunate that we won out."
Somehow, some way, Poulson flew under the radar despite the rare ability to touch triple digits on the radar gun. He didn’t pitch much in high school and gave up on the game for a few years to work for his father John’s excavation company. Poulson eventually picked up a baseball again, as well as a football while playing tight end for Santa Rosa Junior College. When he transferred to the Academy of Art, Poulson ditched the gridiron to hone his focus on baseball.
Poulson’s numbers during his sophomore year this season were underwhelming. An 8.38 ERA certainly didn’t entice any big-league teams to take a chance on him in the draft, nor did his 24 walks in 19 1/3 innings.
But Poulson turned a few heads at the Academy of Art’s scout day, when he ran the 60-yard dash in an unorthodox fashion — posting impressive numbers while running in stocking feet.
"He did that, but I don’t think the dots got connected to draft him," McDermott said of Poulson’s pro-day showing.
Twins area scout Elliott Strankman let the team know about Poulson, and Minnesota kept an eye on the big, intriguing right-hander. Sure enough, that eventually led to Poulson signing with the Twins for $250,000, well above what a typical undrafted free agent gets.
"It’s really a tribute to Minnesota and their scouting director, Deron Johnson," McDermott said. "I wouldn’t say he slipped through the cracks because he never did anything performance-wise to elicit this kind of response. … I’m sure that there’s a million scouts getting chewed out right now by their directors, saying, ‘How could an athlete like this not have been on your radar?’
"He’s cut. I don’t want to say a Bo Jackson type, but the same kind of area. He’s very cut. He’s very fit. And he can run, and he’s big. He should be somebody’s tight end."
Poulson had been spending this summer pitching for the Healdsburg Prune Packers — a team with a name as unique as Poulson’s story — of the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League. His numbers with the Prune Packers were much better than what he put up in college this season: a 1.45 ERA with 31 strikeouts in just 12 1/3 innings.
When McDermott, in his first year at the Academy of Art, called the team’s returning players to get tabs on who would be back this year, he had hoped for the opportunity to coach Poulson.
"He said, ‘I’m going to come back unless I sign with the Mets,’ " McDermott recalled. "I was like, ‘The Mets?’ I thought it was an old man’s team or something, or an amateur league."
Of course, the Mets lost out on Poulson, who felt comfortable with the Twins organization from the get-go. McDermott said things started to take off for Poulson in early July up until this week, when he signed with Minnesota. He reported to the Twins’ rookie team in Elizabethton of the Appalachian League on Wednesday.
"It’s just amazing," McDermott said. "It is like one of those movies."
The Twins are hoping this film has a happy ending.
"He’s been through a lot in his life," Johnson said. "If he gets to the big leagues at 27, so be it. If he gets there at 26, great. If he gets there at 28, just so long as he’s able to help us at the big-league level, I don’t care when he gets there."
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