On The Bubble: Ben Copeland, OF

With spring training just around the corner, it is time for us to get acquainted with the players who will be in Oakland A's major league camp competing for roster spots. In the second of our profiles, we take a look at outfielder and Rule 5 pick Ben Copeland…

Name: Ben Copeland
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 200
H/T: L/L
DOB: 12/17/83
How Acquired: Selected in the major league portion of the 2008 Rule 5 draft


In 2005, Ben Copeland was the San Francisco Giants' top draft pick, although that came in Round 4, as the Giants' habit of signing Type A free agents and losing draft picks was in full force. Copeland came to the Giants out of the University of Pittsburgh, where he had starred for the Panthers in 2004 and 2005.

The outfielder got his career off to a good start, hitting better than .300 in stints with the Giants' Arizona Rookie League team and Salem-Keizer of the short-season Northwest League in 2005. Copeland jumped to low-A Augusta of the South-Atlantic League the next season and put up average numbers, batting .275 with 70 RBIs and a 767 OPS. He did walk 73 times.

In 2007, Copeland moved up to High-A and spent the entire season with the San Jose Giants, who would take home the California League title that season. Copeland had an up-and-down year with the Giants and finished with a .280 average and an 803 OPS. He missed a month with an oblique strain, but he still managed to finish second in the league with 70 walks.

Copeland began the 2008 season with Double-A Connecticut. He struggled early in the season, batting only .173 during the frigid month of April. However, as the weather warmed, so did Copeland's bat, as he posted OPSs of 815 or better in May, June and July, and hit better than .300 in June and July.

Those numbers earned Copeland a late-season audition at Triple-A, where he spent the final three-plus weeks of the season. He hit well for Fresno, batting .341 with a .417 OBP in 22 games. Copeland was invited to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season concluded and he hit .275 with an 876 OPS in 14 games for Scottsdale.

Despite those numbers, Copeland wasn't protected on the Giants' 40-man roster at the end of the season. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens was quoted after the Rule 5 draft as saying that the A's had had interest in Copeland during that 2005 draft, so they didn't want to pass up a chance to grab him when he was available in the Rule 5 process.

Scouting Report

As a player that the A's have had interest in for some time, it isn't surprising that Copeland is a hitter with good plate discipline. In 413 career minor league games, Copeland has walked 209 times and he has a career OBP of .367. He also runs with better-than-average speed, having swiped 72 bases in three-and-a-half minor league seasons, and can play all three outfield positions.

Copeland is a line-drive hitter with gap power, but not much homerun power to speak of. He gets from first-to-third well and has had double-digit triples totals in two of his three full seasons. With the exception of the early part of the 2008 season, Copeland has always been a good hitter for average.

Copeland is both a left-handed hitter and a left-handed thrower. He struggled against left-handers in 2007 with San Jose, but was even in his splits against lefties and righties in 2008 at Double-A. He also hit lefties well in limited action at the Arizona Fall League.

Although he has better-than-average speed, Copeland isn't a pure burner. He has improved his base-stealing skills over the years (in 2006, he was caught stealing 21 times in 51 chances; in 2008, he was 24-of-31), but he is more of a player who will steal an occasional base for you than one who will rack up huge stolen base totals.

Defensively, Copeland has a lot of experience in all three outfield spots. He has the range to cover centerfield, although he isn't likely to be better than average defensively out there. He has an above-average throwing arm.

In many ways, Copeland is the left-handed version of Chris Denorfia, who, ironically, will be Copeland's chief competition for a roster spot (more on that later). He does everything pretty well, but nothing spectacularly well, and profiles as a fourth outfielder/platoon partner in the major leagues.

Chances of Making the Team

As a Rule 5 pick, Copeland will need to remain on the A's 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Giants for a small fee. Over the past three seasons, the A's have selected four players in the Rule 5 draft: Jay Marshall and Ryan Goleski in 2007, Fernando Hernandez in 2008 and now Copeland in 2009. Marshall and Hernandez, both relievers, made the team out of spring training. Marshall stuck with the team for the entire 2007 season before being dropped from the 40-man roster during the following off-season, while Hernandez was dropped by the A's only a few weeks into the 2008 campaign. Goleski struggled at the plate and failed to earn a spot out of camp.

Copeland will be up for a big challenge in trying to make the A's roster this spring. Even before they acquired Copeland, the A's were already looking at a crowded outfield picture for 2009. In addition, the signing of Jason Giambi has likely pushed Jack Cust into the outfield, eliminating one more spot.

The A's starting outfield on most days figures to be Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney and Cust. Oakland will probably carry two more players who can handle the outfield. Given that Sweeney isn't a true centerfielder, the A's are likely to want at least one of the back-up outfielders to be a centerfielder-type.

The players who will be in camp competing for those two outfield spots are Denorfia, Rajai Davis, Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham, Javier Herrera, Richie Robnett, Matt Murton, Matt Carson and Eric Patterson. Herrera and Robnett are more in the "prospect" category and Carson is the only non-roster player, so they are the biggest long-shots to make the A's roster out of this group. Patterson is really a second baseman by trade, but he has some experience in the outfield and could appeal to the A's if they were looking for bench players with maximum position flexibility.

Murton was acquired from the Cubs last season along with Patterson. He struggled badly during his time with the A's (and really for most of the 2008 season), but he hit well during the Venezuelan Winter League season and he has had significant success at the major league level in the past. Murton is strictly a corner outfielder, but he is a right-handed bat with some power, both fairly unique commodities on the A's roster, so he could earn a spot with a strong spring.

The other three players Copeland will be in closest competition with are Buck, Davis and Denorfia. Of the group, Buck has the best chance of not only making the roster out of spring training, but also getting a lot of major league at-bats this season. Despite a poor 2008 season, Buck is still highly regarded within the A's organization and will likely be given an opportunity to be an everyday player over the next season or two.

Davis and Denorfia are more strictly fourth outfielders and, therefore, Copeland's biggest competition. Davis, ironically, is another former Giants' farmhand. He was claimed off of waivers by the A's early last season and spent most of the year with Oakland. Davis brings some unique elements to the A's line-up. With the exception of Patterson and possibly infielder Cliff Pennington, Davis is the only player on the A's who is capable of swiping 30 bags a season. In fact, despite appearing in only 101 games for the A's last season (mostly as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch-runner), Davis swiped 25 bases. He also played a capable centerfield, although he isn't really an everyday option at the plate. Davis is out of options, so, like Copeland, he is likely to have to make the team out of spring training to remain in the organization.

Denorfia began the season as the A's fourth outfielder, but he got off to a slow start and injured his back, missing a big chunk of the middle of the season. When he returned, there wasn't a spot for him in the big leagues, so he spent most of the rest of the year at Triple-A Sacramento. He finished strong for the River Cats and hit well in a brief stint with the A's in September. Denorfia is a more well-rounded hitter than Davis and is a little better defensively, but he doesn't have as much speed, although he can swipe a few bags. Like Davis, Denorfia is a right-handed hitter.

Cunningham is the wild card in the outfield competition. The sparkplug outfielder is one of the A's top prospects and is thought to be part of the team's long-term future. Acquired from Arizona last off-season, Cunningham had a strong first year in the A's organization, hitting .329 with 17 homers and a 932 OPS in 107 minor league games split between Double-A and Triple-A. He made his major league debut late in the season and hit .250 with a homer in 80 big league at-bats.

Although Cunningham is a top prospect, he will likely have to have a standout spring training to make the team. He still has work to do defensively, especially in centerfield, and he only has a handful of at-bats at the Triple-A level and might need more seasoning. The A's view Cunningham as an everyday player in the big leagues, so they may decide that they are better off having him play everyday in the minors at the start of the season rather than having him come off of the bench in the majors, at least at the start of the year.

For Copeland to make the team, he will have to demonstrate in big league camp that he can handle centerfield defensively and that he can hit both lefties and righties. He will be at a disadvantage in the competition for a back-up spot as a left-handed hitter, given the number of left-handers in the A's starting line-up.

Did You Know?

* Copeland overcame two shoulder injuries in high school. He wasn't signed by the University of Pittsburgh to play baseball until the summer before the start of his freshman year. He impressed the Pitt coaching staff in a summer league.

* In 2005, Copeland won the Big East batting title by hitting .384.

* When he was selected in 2005 in the fourth round, Copeland was the highest draft choice out of the University of Pittsburgh in 20 years.

* Copeland appeared in two major league spring training games for the Giants last year. He scored a run in one official at-bat.

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