Although PJ Poulin was drafted out of University of Connecticut in the 11th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft by the Colorado Rockies, 2019 was his first spring training. With the draft taking place toward the end of college baseball’s regular season, the Marion native started his professional career with short-season Boise (Idaho).
After a strong first season of professional ball (1.96 earned-run average, 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.09 walks plus hits per inning pitched aka WHIP), Poulin came back in 2019 and found plenty of success while moving up to Low A Asheville (North Carolina). He started the season as a middle reliever but later moved to the back end of the bullpen, logging 13 saves, a 2.90 ERA and a 10.2 K/9.
At age 23, he enters Rockies minor league spring training, which only just began, unlike big league camp, having an understanding of the preseason and what is ahead for the regular season.
“It’s definitely nice to know what to expect in terms of the day-to-day operations stuff,” Poulin said. “There was a little bit of a learning curve with that the first year. In that regard, yeah, it’s a little easier to get back into the routine.”
Getting a firm grasp on the daily spring training routine was still only part of the right-hander’s adjustments in 2019. Asheville’s regular-season schedule is 140 games long. Even though Poulin played summer ball in New Bedford after his freshman year at UConn, then in Bourne after his sophomore season, followed by his experience in Boise after what was his final season at UConn, Asheville’s slate of games forced Poulin to monitor his health more strictly than ever.
“The biggest thing is staying healthy,” he said. “Knowing what your body needs to get ready to go every day. Because if you’re not out on the field, you can’t perform, you can’t make jumps. That’s so huge, I found that out last year for sure. Just how to listen to my body and have a really good routine that gets me ready to go every day.”
Now Poulin’s arm felt great. He took a couple of months off from throwing altogether to recharge for 2020 as he hopes to move up the ranks again.
But that’s not all the Tabor Academy graduate did in the offseason. He also dumped his go-to pitch from college: his splitter.
“It was giving me a little more trouble than it was doing me good,” Poulin said. “And the changeup had just gotten so much better over this past offseason that it was time to let (the split-finger fastball) go.”
Last season, Poulin complemented his 90-93 mile-per-hour fastball primarily with his slider. He will still go to that plenty throughout the year, but he intends to incorporate his circle change a fair amount, as well.
Poulin should also have a better understanding of how to go about his business when it comes to taking care of himself and performing on the field. Not just because of his experience either. He’s getting the chance to learn from fellow UConn Husky, Massachusetts native (Tewksbury) and Rockies reliever Scott Berg, who has been with the big-league club since 2015 and found his groove in 2018.
“He’s helped me a lot with some mechanical things,” Poulin said. “I was just sitting down with him the other day. We were looking at my stuff on the computer, some video stuff. He was sitting there taking me through some stuff for a good hour. He took a solid hour out of his day to just sit there with me and look at pitching mechanics and talk pitching. That was really cool.
“That just talks to the kind of guy he is.”
Poulin continues to give himself the best chance to succeed; now he just needs to go out and prove to the Rockies organization once again that he was worth the investment. So far, that has not been an issue for him in the slightest.
By Nick Friar