The first 2023 in-season C’s Chat is with Vancouver Canadians pitcher Cooper Benson.

C's Chat

The San Luis Obispo, Californian starred at his local high school with a sterling two-way career that saw him dominate on the mound and in the batter’s box. The southpaw put up an earned run average of 0.80 in three seasons, winning 28 of 33 decisions for the SLO Tigers. His 2018 junior season saw him go 10-0 with a minuscule ERA of 0.35 that included a no-hitter. Benson also had a career .347 batting average with 10 home runs, 68 runs batted in and 45 stolen bases.

Benson then went to Arizona State and made an immediate impact in the Sun Devils rotation in the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign with two quality starts and an out shy of a third. He pitched 6-1/3 innings of two-run ball with eight strikeouts against number-10 ranked Michigan on February 15 before beating Nebraska with six innings of one-run ball with six whiffs on February 28. His final outing saw him go 5-2/3 innings and ring up nine batters against Fresno State on March 6. That was among 25 Ks in 20 innings with a 3.60 ERA.

The 2021 season began promisingly for Benson when he blanked Sacramento State on a one-hitter through six innings, punching out eight on February 19. He only pitched one more scoreless inning in his next start against Hawaii on February 26 as he left the game due to an injury which turned out to be Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. With the eventual firing of coach Tracy Smith and the departure of pitching coach Jason Kelly to Louisiana State University (now coach of the Washington Huskies) after the season, Benson’s days as a Sun Devil were over.

Though Benson was on the shelf, the Toronto Blue Jays decided to take him in the 17th round of the 2021 Draft on the recommendation of scout Adam Arnold. After getting a signing bonus of $125,000, Benson reported to Dunedin to continue rehabbing from Tommy John.

Benson was back on the mound 15 months later as he made his 2022 pro debut with three scoreless stanzas for the Florida Coast League Blue Jays against the FCL Phillies in which he walked just one batter while striking out five on June 14. After yielding just one unearned run in 9-1/3 innings with a 16-3 strikeout/walk total in the FCL, Benson was bumped up to Dunedin where he also debuted with three more scoreless frames, scattering three hits and striking out five against Clearwater on July 6. His first professional win came next door in Clearwater on July 31 when he stifled the Threshers to just one hit over five innings and collected eight Ks. Benson was also part of Dunedin’s no-hitter against Tampa on August 14, earning the win with four shutout innings with just two walks while punching out four. In total, Benson struck out 35 batters against eight walks in 25-2/3 innings with Dunedin, splitting four decisions.

In 2023, Benson broke camp with the Vancouver Canadians and made his Nat Bailey Stadium debut against the Tri-City Dust Devils on April 12 as he struck out the first Northwest League batter he faced by getting Brendan Tinsman looking to strand a runner to end the fifth inning. Though Benson would give up two runs in the next inning, all three of his outings came by way of the strikeout. Benson’s next outing saw him get the win as he held the Dust Devils to one run over 2-2/3 innings and struck out a pair in a rain-shortened affair on April 15.

C’s Plus Baseball had a chance to chat with Benson during the Canadians first homestand of 2023. This interview has been edited for clarity.

C’s Plus Baseball – Talk about how you got started in baseball.

Cooper Benson – I’m from San Luis Obispo, California and I’ve been playing the game for as long as I know and had lots of travel ball growing up. Just had a bunch of like really good times and good friends growing up and it just made me want to keep playing. In high school, I found some pretty good success there. I started getting a little bigger, being left-handed, being a pitcher, and kind of got some recognition from there. I went to Arizona State for just two years. My first year was Covid, it was the best team we had there so that was kind of a bummer. And then the second year, my second start of the year, I injured my arm. Fortunately, I still got drafted in the 17th round by the Blue Jays. I went to the complex and rehabbed and was there for a little over a year, getting a couple weeks off for Christmas and Thanksgiving, like I was kind of still in college. But the training staff did a great job with me I would say. I mean they really care about your body and how you’re feeling. And I was working with Alex (Alex Suerte), he’s one of our physical therapists and I would do anything for that guy. Me and him are really tight and he’s a really good guy to talk to. If I needed anything I could still hit him up. So he helped me out a lot then. I pitched like 35 innings last year and now I’m up here this year. So it’s all been pretty good so far, it’s been fun.

CPB – In high school, is there maybe any one moment that stands out for you?

CB – No, just being with all my friends. I miss all of those guys a lot. One of ’em still plays. His name’s Brooks Lee (2022 Minnesota Twins first-round pick), I went to high school with him. His Dad’s the head coach at Cal Poly and he is pretty, pretty good himself so he’ll probably be in the show this year at some point but I still talk to him every day. And then my other buddy plays at the University of Arizona right now. So we had a pretty good high school team for a small area but not one moment. Just kind of being with the guys every day and we were always together outside of the field and doing stuff together. My little brother played on my team with me my senior year as well so that was really cool. He was three years behind me and he played junior college baseball and is now at Monterey Peninsula in Northern California. But yeah, just getting to hang out with those guys all the time, the relationships make the game so fun for me. It’s just meeting a bunch of different people and stuff like that. It’s my favourite part about it.

CPB – Arizona State, how did you wind up there?

CB – I always grew up going to Arizona for tournaments and I really liked it out there. My grandma, my dad’s mom lived out there so every time we got there I would stay with her when I visited out there. It’s kind of one of my last visits and I just really liked the coaching staff and everything. It felt like home and you know, a very cool ballpark, good weather, a lot of cool guys that I knew that were going there so it was a pretty easy fit for me. If you’ve ever been there, you would kind of know why it’s nice.

CPBFitz Stadler pitched for Arizona State. I don’t know if you had a chance to interact with him. He was here in Vancouver in 2018 but have you had a chance to chat with him?

CB – Yeah, he has been at the complex rehabbing his arm so I’ve seen him a lot. I missed Fitz by, I think, one year or two years (at ASU). He’s a little older than I am but yeah, we have some ties, some good inside jokes from school and everything. Actually the guy, the catcher who signed also went to Arizona State (Lyle Lin), I don’t know if he’s coming up here or not but he played with Fitz at ASU so it’d be cool to talk about our experiences together. But yeah, Fitz is a great guy and he’s good guy to talk to about stuff. He’s been in the organization for a while so any questions I have or if I need anything I can definitely talk to him about it so it’s been good.

CPB – When you were drafted, where were you when that happened?

CB – I was in my apartment in Arizona with my girlfriend. Me and her were the only people there. I didn’t think I was gonna get drafted. It was the last day of the draft and there was some coaching changes being made at my school. I always wanted to come back for my junior year and play becauseI never really got to pitch that much in college. Then after our season ended and I was still rehabbing my arm, our coach got fired and my assistant coach also got another job as my pitching coach and it was just kind of hard for me to come back with a brand new staff being injured. So after that kind of happened, I kind of looked to see if anyone would kind of gimme a shot and had a couple teams but it ended up being the Blue Jays. I was just watching it, the tracker on my phone, kind of talking to my (advisor), talking to my parents and then when it happened I just was with my girlfriend. And then I actually took her to the airport 15, 20 minutes later. She was going back to school and then I just went to the field and did my rehab with my trainer at ASU. That was pretty much it. It was kind of a weird day for me. I didn’t really know what was gonna happen and then ended up waiting like a couple weeks and then came down here. It all kind of happened at once. It was pretty crazy but I’m glad I’m here. This place has been awesome so far so I’m really glad that it happened. But yeah, it was kind of a wild ride for sure.

CPB – Going through Tommy John’s surgery, I’m sure you got lots of advice on how to deal with it, but what worked for you in getting back on the field?

CB – Trust in your arm and not trying to worry too much about it. You just have to trust like your trainers and make sure you’re doing every exercise, every set and you can’t lollygag through it or, you know, BS through it. You gotta actually put in the work and it’s really more mental than anything because after a while you’ll start to feel really good and then you’ll hit a couple bumps in the road. Like I had a couple where my arm was kind of killing me and it was really, really frustrating because all I wanted to do was just play baseball again. So it ended up taking me about 14 months fully get back into games. But yeah, just being patient and not freaking out when the little things happen. What was the biggest part for me—whatt would be my biggest advice—just don’t push it and every day is gonna feel different so if you’re feeling good, don’t overdo it. And then when you’re not feeling good, just make sure you’re doing the right exercises and getting the right treatment. Make sure you feel good because it’s basically a brand new arm so it’s gonna take a while. Like now it’s been a little more than two years, it kind of started to feel like normal again. It takes a long time so I just gotta be patient.

CPB – Talk about your pitch mix. What is it that you’re throwing right now?

CPB – I throw a four-seam, a changeup and then a slider. Mainly fastball and changeup to righties and then sliders to lefties. Four-seam kind of at the top of the zone has been kind of my bread and butter. I didn’t throw a slider until after surgery. The Jays kind of taught me that so it’s been good, just gotta be confident with everything and it always plays up. I just gotta throw strikes and get it in there. My pitches will play pretty well together.

CPB – Your slider, did anyone teach you a certain grip or did you figure it out yourself?

CB – I think the first day Cory Popham, our pitching coordinator, kind of helped me with the grip and just kind of told me the feeling and then I just kind of went with it from there and it’s been pretty good. It’s just something I have to feel out a lot. But yeah it’s been good. They are really good with all that type of stuff so if I have any questions I can just ask anyone and they’ll help me out with it so that’s good.

CPB – The player development complex in Dunedin state. Did you have any familiarity with the equipment there that maybe from Arizona State or beforehand?

CB – Not with the rehab side. I mean the equipment they have for recovery and everything is pretty top-notch. They got everything you need there. I wasn’t too familiar with it but obviously, I am now. I tend to use all that crazy stuff when I was doing my rehab and stuff. But I mean the facility is awesome. It’s a nice place to call home for you know, a month and a half or two months. It’s fun going down there and just seeing everyone when you first get down there so it’s just a really nice spot. A lot of stuff to do down there too. It’s a cool, cool area. I like it a lot.

CPB – Is there anything you worked on in the off season mechanically, any tweaks or finetuning of pitches?

CB – No. Just trying to stay in shape, stay strong and just kind of try to do what I did last year. I had some success last year so just need to just like lock it in and just do what I do and being confident and that’s really it. I haven’t really worked on too much. My goal this year is just to be healthy. I’ve missed out on so much baseball. I haven’t played a full baseball season class since my senior year in high school with everything that’s been going on and didn’t get to play much in college. I played a little bit last year so I’m excited just to be healthy this year and just to be out on the field is my biggest goal for this season.

CPB – If you had to give a scouting report on yourself, how would you describe yourself as a pitcher?

CB – Bulldog mentality, come after hitters, not afraid to throw strikes. The fastball’s coming at you, man. It may not be the hardest but thrown with a lot of conviction. I have kind of a funky wind-up delivery from the left side. So I feel like it’s coming on you a little bit and then just kind of like changeups early in the count just to get strikes and just trying to put you away with the fastball. just someone that’s gonna attack and just let you see if you can put it in play and see what else happens. There are nine guys on the field for a reason.

CB – Your debut at Nat Bailey Stadium. What was it like to finally get to pitch here in Vancouver?

CB – It was good. I mean, it didn’t have the results I wanted. Still felt good and this place is awesome. I mean I’ve been looking forward to playing here since I signed. Looking at all the pictures and people raving about it up here. It’s a really cool place to be in. just lucky just to have like a great stadium and the city’s been awesome like walking around and stuff. It’s nice to have that also in a city where you’re playing because you can kind of get caught up in a lot of just ‘baseball, baseball, baseball.’ With a one o’clock game, you know, it’ll be nice to get back and then maybe go do something and there’s so much to do here. It’s really nice to kind of not think about it even though if you have a bad outing or you know you’re struggling, baseball’s a hard game so it’s nice to go back and hang out with your boys and go do stuff. Where it’s not a city you know, you’re just kind of stuck going to a movie or going out to dinner. Like you can go walk down the beach, you can do a bunch of stuff here. We’ve gone downtown a bunch of times, and walked around, there’s countless things to do here so it’s really nice to have that in a city.

CPB – Finally, I want to ask. Did you have a favorite major league team or player?

CB – Growing up I was kind of a Red Sox fan. I really liked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. I was on a little league team. My first team was the Red Sox so that was kind of my favorite team growing up. But now I’m just kind of a baseball and Blue Jays fan I would say. But I just love watching highlights and stuff and like seeing all these guys play. But yeah, growing up it was probably David Ortiz. just his clutch gene, the playoffs and stuff, it was super cool to see. But now I’m just kind of a baseball fan.

Cooper Benson File

  • Born – August 3, 2000 in San Luis Obispo, California
  • Height/Weight – 6-foot-0, 213 pounds.
  • Bats/Throws – Left/Left
  • Uniform Numbers – Wore 17 with San Luis Obispo Tigers, Wore 12 in 2020 and 17 in 2021 with Arizona State. Wore 56 with FCL Blue Jays and 23 with Dunedin in 2022
  • Twitter@coopb__17
  • Instagram  – @cooperbenson17
  • Fun Fact – Former Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen attended San Obispo High

Thanks a million to Cooper Benson and to C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for arranging the latest episode of C’s Chat.

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