Friday, January 25, 2008
Q&A with Joe Benson
Twins Outfield Prospect
Good morning everyone! Twins Fest is this weekend, and I personally plan on being there pretty much all weekend. I will probably be wearing my red SethSpeaks.net hat, so if you happen to see me, just say hi! I'd be happy to meet you. Howard Sinker will be at the Star-Tribune booth on Saturday from 1-3, so stop by there if you get a chance. Here are my reports from Twins Fest from 2006 and from 2007. It's an event that I really enjoy. For me, it is a sign that baseball is getting close. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting in three weeks to Ft. Myers. The Dome will have a lot of people, all there to be around baseball. There is just a great atmosphere there. Although I don't really collect autographs per se, there is the opportunity for that. I will likely spend quite a bit of time near the minor league booths and signing areas. It should be fun since there is a great collection of prospects (four of my top five Twins prospects will be signing) and others that have had Q&As for this site (Mark Hamberger, Toby Gardenhire).
One of the Twins prospects who will be at the Dome this weekend will be Joe Benson, the Twins 2nd round pick in 2006 out of high school in Illinois. He signed and reported to the GCL Twins. He spent the entire 2007 season with the Beloit Snappers where he experienced the ups and downs of a full season league for the first time. After the season, Joe participated in the SethSpeaks.net NFL "Expert" Pick panel. He was a very good high school football player who has a ton of skill and potential, and it will be fun to see him develop now that he is just a baseball player. I think what you will find out through this Q&A is that Benson is far more than "Just a baseball player." He is a bright, young, athletic guy with a great family. In other words, he is the type of guy that is built to be a Twin. OH, and Baseball America just named him the Twins #2 prospect.
Anyway, I asked Joe if he wouldn't mind answering some questions for the site, and he said he would. I was hoping he would be able to get his responses to me in time for Twins Fest, and he has. So, take some time and learn some more about another Twins prospect, and if you do go to Twins Fest, be sure to thank those who have participated in Q&As here. There are a lot of them!
But you're not hear to read a bunch of words by me. Let's get to the questions so that you can read the words of Joe Benson. IF you want to check out his stats, click here. Of course, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me or leave Comments below. I don't fully know what Joe's schedule is this weekend or if he would be able to respond, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Maybe others will know the answers too.
Let the Questions Begin!
SethSpeaks: Growing up in Illinois, who was your favorite team, and who were some of your favorite players to follow?
Joe Benson: Even though I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, my favorite baseball team was the Chicago Cubs. Being a Cubs fan, I grew up idolizing guys like Lance Johnson, Mark Grace, Jeff Blauser, Greg Maddux and others. My other favorites outside the Cubs are Ricky Henderson and Kirby Puckett.
SethSpeaks: You were a high school football star. Tell us a little bit about your football career.
Joe Benson: During my freshman year I had fractured my ankle and had quit going into my sophomore year. Last minute, I changed my mind and wanted to hang out with my friends after school and even though I missed summer camp and tryouts my coach let me on the team. I went on to went on to win 2 state titles and all-state honors my senior year along with conference MVP.
SethSpeaks: Tell us a little bit about your high school baseball career. I recall that you did a lot of catching.
Joe Benson: In high school, I had caught three out of four years, including my senior season. My senior year we were ranked #1 for majority of the year in Illinois but came up short in our regional tournament. I had finished my senior year with all-state honors and conference co-MVP once again.
SethSpeaks: Did you participate in any other activities in high school?
Joe Benson: My freshman and sophomore years in high school I had played basketball but quit to focus on football and baseball. Outside of sports, I concentrated heavily on my grades and participated in a few academic organizations.
SethSpeaks: The Twins drafted you in the 2nd round in the 2006 draft. Were you expecting to be selected at that time? Had you been in contact with the Twins scouts much?
Joe Benson: Truthfully, I had not expected to go until later in the draft. I had gotten to know the scout who drafted me, Billy Milos, very well due to him attending most of all my games my senior year. Also, I did a workout for the Twins organization at the Metro Dome a few days prior to the draft.
SethSpeaks: You had already signed a letter of intent to play college football (I believe at Purdue). You had the opportunity to become a professional baseball player. How difficult was the decision to sign with the Twins and forego college sports?
Joe Benson: Although I had a very successful senior football season, baseball is my passion. My parents and I had both agreed that if the draft had worked out and the money was right, I could pursue my goal and play professional baseball. Even though I was looking forward to going to college, signing with the Twins was not difficult because it was my dream.
SethSpeaks: Who were some of the people most instrumental in your growth as a player and have helped you get to this point?
Joe Benson: My parents were the most important people in my life that helped me grow as a player and a person. Along the lines of coaches, I would not be here right now if it weren't for Todd Fine, Shaun Sanderson (Top Tier summer team coaches), Steve Kubinski, Dave Siefert, John Zurliene, Steve Millsaps ( Youth travel and all-star team coaches) and my highshool athletic director Dan Sharp and varsity baseball coach Jared Voss.
SethSpeaks: You signed and reported to Ft. Myers and the GCL Twins. What was the adjustment to pro baseball like for you?
Joe Benson: Jumping out of high school and into professional baseball, the biggest adjustment was living on my own for the first time. Although it was tough at first, getting to know teammates and coaches made the transition a lot easier. Also, coming from Illinois, the pitching was a lot better than in high school but I must admit I enjoyed using a wooden bat.
SethSpeaks: How would you describe yourself as a player. What would you say are your strengths, and what areas do you feel you need to most improve on as you advance?
Joe Benson: I would like to think of myself as a very aggressive and hard-nosed player. Some of my strengths are my speed and athleticism. The area I am trying to improve the most on is my hitting. I would like to develop into a better hitter, eliminate more of my strikeouts, and develop some more game time power.
SethSpeaks: You moved up to A ball this year and the Beloit Snappers. It appeared that you had your struggles in the first half, particularly with strikeouts. But as the season moved along, you must have made several adjustments and your numbers just kept improving. Can you even explain the difficulties of baseball and the adjustment process?
Joe Benson: This season for me was a season of adjustments. I had to learn to have more plate discipline and swing at better pitches. The more I worked with Jeff Smith and Rudy Hernandez the more comfortable I felt at the plate. Being able to work with them day in and day out, I was able to build my confidence as the season progressed. The hardest adjustment for me was definitely dealing with the first really big slump I had experienced, but after that I feel my season ended strong.
SethSpeaks: Like you, the Snappers continued to improve as the season progressed. Talk a little bit about the season and what it is like to be in that winning, team environment.
Joe Benson: The 2007 Snapper season was a great experience. We started the season winning a lot and it reflected in our clubhouse. We had a very loose, fun, and talented team and never really pressed as the winning continued. Being young, that type of atmosphere really helped me stay relaxed and not worry too much about statistics. Probably the most exciting experience in baseball to date, would be the Midwest League playoffs and championship series. The highlight though was definitely our champaign shower in Quad Cities after clinching the first half.
SethSpeaks: Fellow 2006 draft pick Chris Parmelee was on the team with you. Were the two of you able to lean on each other at all through the struggles and successes?
Joe Benson: Along with Chris, I had Wilson Ramos, Tyler Robertson and Alan De San Miguel to help deal with a lot of the highs and lows of the season. It was helpful having a group of 19 year olds all of which are great people and teammates.
SethSpeaks: Your pitching staff was really impressive, especially down the stretch. Can you speak briefly about Alex Burnett, Tyler Robertson, Cole DeVries and the rest of the pitching staff?
Joe Benson: When you look at the Snapper's offensive numbers, there is no doubt that our pitching staff carried us throughout the entire season. Alex ,Tyler and Cole were our work horses down the stretch and really gave us quality innings that helped keep our offense in every game. Although they did a great job, our bullpen always was capable of coming in and shutting the door especially when we needed big outs. Finally, by the end of the game we were able to give it to nasty-stached Rob Delaney or Anthony Slama to close it out.
SethSpeaks: Jeff Manship was a big part of the team's success in the first half. Tell us a little about Manship as a teammate and also what it is like to pitch behind that kind of pitcher.
Joe Benson: Jeff is the kind of guy every manager loves to have on his team. He always stays positive and earns the respect of all his teammates. As a pitcher this year in Beloit, he was lights out. I must admit some games did get boring in centerfield because he had piled up so many strikeouts but as a defender you always had to stay ready because his games were quick and Jeff was always around the strikezone. Also, Jeff has the nastiest curveball I have witnessed in person.
SethSpeaks: When guys like Manship, Johnny Woodard, Danny Valencia and Brian Dinkelman were promoted to Ft. Myers, did that have any affect on your or the team, or do you just understand that that is the goal in the minor leagues.
Joe Benson: When Manship,
J Wood, Danny V and Dink got moved up, it was obvious we had lost a large
portion of the core of our team. But, as a team, we really never lost any
chemistry and it helped us with our playoff push at the end of the season. Due
to their impressive halves, we all knew they were going to get moved up and
that's part of the game but with the Twins putting pride into their farm system
and personnel we received big time play from guys like Tintor, Betsill, Cates,
Slama and Ramos.
SethSpeaks: Heading into the season, what were your goals and how do you feel you did in those areas?
Joe Benson: Statistically, I did not set any specific goals for the 2007 season, I just wanted to win and improve as a player and I feel I achieved both.
SethSpeaks: Based on your 2007 numbers, will you try to set any goals for 2008 in terms of numbers, or what are the goals you have for yourself.
Joe Benson: Once again, I try not to set any statistical goals because they are out of my control but I would like to cut down my strikeouts and continue to progress as a hitter and centerfielder.
SethSpeaks: One number that stands out to me is your On base percentage. You clearly have an ability to take walks (and get hit by pitches). How do you develop that patience at the plate?
Joe Benson: A lot of my patience was acquired from Jeff Smith and Rudy Hernandez. Both really helped me understand counts, situations, and pitcher's tendencies. With more experience, I began to instinctively react in those situations and it helped raise my on base percentage.
SethSpeaks: Are there certain stats that you look at for yourself more than others?
Once again, I'm not one too put too much thought into personal statistics
but with speed being a part of my game, I would love to cut down on my
strikeouts and put the ball in play more often. But all in all, a successful,
winning team is most important to me. A few more stolen bases wouldn't hurt
either or a few less caught stealing. Don't worry though, I'm still working on
SethSpeaks: So, what have you been up to this offseason? Do you take some time away from baseball? When do you start preparing for the 2008 season?
Joe Benson: Living at
home, my parents let me rest my body the first month of the offseason. After
that, I began working for my cousin's construction company part-time doing odd
jobs. As far as baseball, I began working out in December concentrating on my
hitting and began my throwing program in January. Other than that, I have spent
a lot of time with family and friends and working out a lot at a local gym
following the off-season guide given to me by John Kertis and the Twins.
SethSpeaks: What are your hobbies away from baseball?
Joe Benson: Outside of baseball, I love to fish, golf, spend time with family, and most importantly bowl!
SethSpeaks: Favorite baseball movie?
Joe Benson: Sandlot or The Rookie
SethSpeaks: Favorite baseball book?
Joe Benson: Eight Men
SethSpeaks: What will it be like to put on a Twins uniform for the first time in a regular season game?
Joe Benson: If I were to one day be able to put on a Twins uniform it would be a dream come true. It would be a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction to know all the hard work paid off.
SethSpeaks: What is one thing that you would like Twins fans to know about you?
Joe Benson: I am very grateful to have been selected to play for such a great organization and hopefully someday will appear at the major league level with the Twins. GO BEARS!
OK, so hopefully that "Go Bears" thing doesn't affect your thinking. Please, please only think about everything up to that point!!! A big thank you to Joe Benson for taking the time to answer all of these questions. Let me know what you think. Send me an e-mail, or let's talk about it in the Comments here.