Prospect Q&A: Ben Copeland

In his second full professional season, many expected Ben Copeland would emerge offensively for San Jose. However, the former Pitt standout instead struggled for much of the season, looking particularly spotty against left-handed pitching. We talk to the speedy outfielder about his work this offseason to make this the year he puts it all together.

Q: Last year wasn't really a bad year offensively, but it probably came up short of many people's expectations for you. How did you feel at the plate with San Jose?
Ben Copeland: The one thing I remember about it was the bat felt like it weighed six pounds. I tried three or four different bats and I couldn't get a feel for what I was swinging. And that's because my swing was so screwed up. I was pulling off everything. I couldn't even see the fastball. An 80 MPH fastball looked like it was 96. I did the same stuff I do all the time – I hit off the tee, the soft toss, I did extra batting practice. There were BP's where I'd feel good, but I would only feel good maybe three times a week. I could never get in that consistent groove where I was excited to go to the plate and hit. When I'm going good, I just go up there, it's fun for me, and I'm like yeah, bring it and I'm going to hit it. It doesn't matter. But then, when I get into a slump, I think too much – you know, get my foot down, be ready for it – and my thinking blocks my vision and I don't see the ball.

Q: You missed May with an injury. Did that contribute to feeling like you couldn't find your swing?
Copeland: I don't think that had any impact on it at all. I missed a month, but I really would have been alright missing two weeks. And if you look at my season, the best month I had was when I got back from the injury.
The thing at the end of the season was me not sticking with the in-season plan. That's one thing I want to work on this year, the weightlifting. My approach at the plate went out the window. I was pretty disappointed with my second half last year for the most part.

Q: Feeling that way, what did you do this offseason to get ready for 2008?
Copeland: I made some adjustments over the offseason at the plate so I'm excited to see how that pans out for me during the season. I've never really hit this much in the offseason. I tweaked some things and I feel good right now. I see the ball a little bit better and I've slowed things down, so I'm excited about that.
I really did a lot of repetitive practice. I cleaned up my stride – before I was diving in a little bit and that made my front shoulder fly open. Now it's more straight forward so it's letting me get to that inside pitch a lot easier. And it's keeping my shoulders parallel with the ground instead of dipping that back shoulder and hitting so many fly balls.
The difference between now and last year is that I can feel my swing – I can feel a proper swing, I can feel an improper swing - and I know what I do wrong when I do something wrong. That will help me in making my adjustments.

Q: When you're locked in at the plate, are you looking for something on the outer half to go at, or do you look inner-third to turn on a pitch?
Copeland: When I'm on, honestly, I could hit a ball and I wouldn't be able to tell you where it was. The only way I'd be able to tell you where it was is just by where I hit it. When I'm going good, it doesn't matter where it's pitched, I feel like I can get to anything. The toughest thing for me to handle has been that inside pitch because I've been striding toward the plate rather than toward the pitcher.

Q: Even as you fought your swing last year, you still drew 70 walks, good for second in the Cal League. Was that by design, or because you weren't comfortable attacking pitches?
Copeland: I started to learn my swing a little bit last year, so I knew what I could handle and what I couldn't handle. So if a pitcher made a good pitch on a pitch I couldn't handle, then I could feel I needed to take that pitch. And a lot of times, he'd miss with it and so I'd get ahead in the counts.

Q: Do you think you'll be able to bring that with you to Double-A facing pitchers who are more capable of throwing any pitch at any time in the count?
Copeland: I think so. To me, it doesn't matter what the count is, I'm always trying to do the same thing – I mean depending on the situation in the game and where the runners are. If I'm up there and there's no one on base and he gives me a 2-0 count, I'm looking to do the same thing than if I have two strikes. I don't try and walk, I think it would be kind of a bad thing if I tried to draw walks, but the walks just come.
Actually I thought to myself, maybe I should try to cut down on the walks a little bit because I'm taking too many good pitches. I catch myself every once in a while, taking a good pitch to hit because I'm ahead in the count 2-0 and I want to get to that 3-0. And it'll get me to 2-1 and I foul a pitch off and I've wasted that good pitch to hit. My approach at the plate now is, if you get a good pitch, just hit it. Don't try to work the count too much.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself this year?
Copeland: I don't really like to tell my goals to other people because I set them pretty high. I want to have the year that I feel that I can have where I round out my game quite a bit more than what it's been. I haven't done what I'm capable of doing on the bases as far as manufacturing runs by stealing bags and taking the extra base – going first-to-third, that kind of thing. I want to steal some more bases – maybe get 25 or 30 bases. I know hitting .300 is pushing it, but if I don't try, I'm not going to. Hitting .300 is always a goal. Defensively, one of my goals is actually a practice goal. I just want to work on shagging balls in BP every day. If I can do that every day, that will carry over into the game.

Q: What are you expecting in making the transition to the Eastern League?
Copeland: Everybody complains about how bad the weather is and everything, but I think that's such an adjustment for them to make because they don't know what to expect. They can't fathom that you have to play in that kind of stuff. There's no getting used to it, so I'm not going to say I'm used to playing in it because you don't get used to it. But I will say I know what to expect and I know how hard it is and I know how to dress for it. The weather thing doesn't bother me one bit. The size of the park doesn't bother me one bit. The thing that concerns me is just me sticking to my routine and being consistent. If I can do that, then I'll be successful.

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