Will Benson isn’t your typical 18-year old.
The 2016 first-round ndraft pick by the Cleveland Indians is mature beyond his years, already making plans to make baseball more accessible to kids in his native Georgia. He still drives his 2001 Ford Explorder and he even tithed a portion of his $2.5 million signing bonus to his church.
Benson is an incredible athlete, standing 6’5, 225 pounds and swings heavy lumber from the left side of the plate. He roamed right field in 2016 and finished tied for sixth in the AZL rookie league home runs last season with six
The top pick is currently working out in Arizona with fellow Indians prospects but he took some time out of his schedule to speak with Let’s Go Tribe during out weekly prospect chat about everything from dunking and fashion to mechanical adjustments and his 2017 expectations in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (Let’s Go Tribe): You actually come from a really athletic family, right?
Will Benson: Yeah, that’s where I get it all from. My dad went to Purdue and he was a really good basketball player there. My sister went to Florida State and she was a dancer there and she went on to go dance professionally and she actually went to London to continue that career and got into marketing of dance. So yeah, I have a pretty athletic family.
Brian Hemminger: You actually went to London during the offseason, right? Your sister had a baby and you visited around Christmas time, correct?
Will Benson: Yeah, Uncle Bill. That’s what I tried to get the girl to say first off. The baby’s name is Avery. She’s very pretty, very adorable. We went over there for about a week, spent Christmas with them, got a lot of gifts for Avery and she seemed pretty happy.
Brian Hemminger: That must have been a pretty enjoyable time. You had a strong basketball background growing up with your dad’s history, so how did you get involved in baseball because that’s not usually the first sport people think when they hear about these tremendously talented athletes?
Will Benson: For the longest time, I tried to play a sport for every season. Basketball and baseball always conflicted with one another. My mom and dad would take me to a basketball tournament on the weekend and I would have baseball pretty much all week leading up to the weekend and I had to balance back and forth, back and forth and we continued that through middle school.
I got plenty of opportunities to go play with the East Cobb Astros (traveling baseball team) and the seasons started to truly overlap with basketball and I came to a point where I was like, “Hey, should I continue to play basketball?” I was pretty good at it and my mom and dad were big on being a two-sport athlete because basketball really helped with baseball and the other way around. It was beneficial for me to play basketball all through high school and then finally I got the great opportunity to go onto the next level in baseball so I’m happy with that.
Brian Hemminger: Yeah, I have to say, there are probably not a lot of members of the Cleveland Indians organization that can dunk. You are in that elite category. I see some of these pitchers and I’m not even sure some of them can hit the net.
Will Benson: (laughs) Well you’d be surprised. I’m out here at the strength camp in Arizona and I’m actually blown away by the athleticism of my teammates. We do the vertical jump and sometimes we go out and shoot around a bit and I see some guys who can get up there. Like you said, I didn’t expect to see people out here dunking, but we’ve got some athletic guys in our organization which is a good thing.
Brian Hemminger: Is there a specific guy who’s giving you some jumping competition?
Will Benson: Actually yeah. Micah [Miniard], he shocked me. Sam Hentges, he shocked me too. He’s tall and long as well. He had some bounce. Zach Plesac had some good hops on him. Those are the kind of guys I’d go around and shoot with. It’s actually amazing, it’s impressive.
Brian Hemminger: Now speaking of your non-baseball hobbies. We all saw those Mickey Mouse socks at your introductory press conference. You said you had a fox-tail keychain as well. Have you tried to create any new fashion trends in the last few months?
Will Benson: Not yet. I’m actually keeping it super basic right now. We’re out here in Arizona, not too many eyes to see us. I do always gotta keep my fox-tail chain on me but other than that, I go to the field wearing the same thing every day. I guess that’s the new trend, the low-key look.
Brian Hemminger: I know baseball can at time become a grind, all the training and playing. Is there anything you do that has nothing to do with baseball to just relax and recharge the batteries a bit?
Will Benson: Absolutely, my good friend Nolan [Jones], me and him always come back and video games are always an option of course. We usually either do that or we play Uno. That’s like my favorite game to play and we twist up the rules to make it special to us. We don’t put any money on it yet, we haven’t got to that point. We bought some bikes and we bike around as far as our legs can go just to see what parts of Goodyear we can see. We kind of got sick of just sitting around the house all day after long days of work.
Brian Hemminger: Is there a specific video game you guys get competitive with?
Will Benson: Absolutely, Infinite Warfare. The new Call of Duty. I’m super on it. You’ve got to keep the K/D ratio at one at all times. Gotta unlock some camos. Usually we’re on the same team. I don’t want to embarrass him too much.
Brian Hemminger: Have you ever faced Triston McKenzie? From what I heard last year, he’s a Call of Duty God.
Will Benson: He’s pretty good, he’s pretty good. They like to play zombies and I’m not big on zombies. I don’t know why. I just can’t sit there for three hours and just shoot little clowns and whatnot. I heard he was pretty good himself and also Clevinger was good too with zombies.
Brian Hemminger: How’s your 2001 Ford Explorer doing? That was one of my favorite stories of your press conference, you saying you weren’t buying a new car because your old 2001 Ford Explorer still running like a charm. It’s six months later, is it still going strong?
Will Benson: It’s still going. When I went back home after instructs, it was working perfectly fine. My dad had cleaned it up for me actually so I came back to it and it was all pearly black for me. I got to whip it around. It felt pretty good. It’s still running and hopefully I can ship it up to me wherever I go next year. It’ll be a charm to have it with me. It’ll probably remind me of home.
Brian Hemminger: I would have at least pimped it out a little bit. Maybe gets some lights, some big speakers....
Will Benson: Yeah, I thought about that. It’s kinda old though. The car’s kinda old and it’s got some miles on it. I’m just gonna ride it down until it can’t go anymore. No need to pimp it out just yet.
Brian Hemminger: We talked about how you went to London, but I want to talk about a time you were on the complete other side of the planet with Team USA. You guys went through some adversity for that Under 18 baseball team being in China, Japan and going through some illnesses but you persevered and brought home the gold. Did you have any major takeaways from that experience?
Will Benson: Well one of my biggest takeways was when Shaun Cole, we were on the bus and we had just lost to Chinese Taipei and he really lit a fire under us. Being on a team, that was one of the prime moments of my career where it felt like we were a bunch of guys on the same page going for the same thing. It just felt amazing to go through so many obstacles. We weren’t playing so well at the beginning but we kept our minds on straight and we kept fighting. Everyone got sick, we even had one guy have to be hospitalized but we pushed through it and won the gold medal. It was incredible.
Brian Hemminger: I do a lot of research for these interviews and one thing that stood out when I was going through your social media posts was your selflessness. You are constantly praising your fellow athletes on their accomplishments. I love that. Where does that come from?
Will Benson: Every one of those guys had a special impact on my life and I like to let them know that and stay in touch with them and let them know they’re doing good things. Uplifting him, that fellow teammates, well then he’ll go out and uplift someone else so that selflessness will carry on and expand. That’s why we play the game. I play the game for love and I love the people I play the game with. Those relationships go way beyond the game. Sooner or later we’ll all have to put the cleats down eventually but you want to have good connections after that.
Brian Hemminger: There was one thing about you the day you got drafted that I thought was amazing. The Indians draft you, they put your name up on the board, you’re holding an Indians hat and they’re talking to you. The other team’s on the clock, they haven’t even announced the number 15 pick yet and you say, “I am definitely signing with the Cleveland Indians, 100 percent.” I’ll tell you now, when some guys get drafted and they have a full scholarship offer to Duke like you did, some guys would use that for leverage to get something extra for themselves but that’s not what you did. You took all the pressure off. What led to that decision?
Will Benson: Well going into the draft, I had already talked to my parents and the Duke coach about the area I might be going in and if I went in that area and he said he’d understand my decision and said, “Best of luck to ya.” Through the whole process, the Indians were a treat, absolutely the nicest people up and down through the organization. I grew a great relationship with them along with them along with other teams but the best relationship was with the Indians. To be drafted by them in that moment, it was almost picture perfect. It was such a blessing. The whole moment, great team, great people, I’m signing. There was no second thought. I heard the Cleveland fanbase is absolutely ridiculous. I went up to Cleveland that week and the amount of love I felt from the fans for the players was absolutely beautiful. I was just so happy to be a part of the Indians.
Brian Hemminger: You mentioned the relationships with the coaches even before you got drafted and I looked into that. I saw something about one coach giving you a tip which helped you start launching balls 450 feet. What was the mechanical adjustment?
Will Benson: The thing with my swing is sometimes I don’t move forward and I get locked up in my back leg. Jim Rickon said, “Hey, start a little bit earlier and move your body forward towards the pitcher,” and it just clicked. Out of all the pre-draft workouts I could have gone to, that was the one I felt like I actually learned from and benefited from. That’s another reason why I was like, “I’m definitely gonna sign,” because hey, if he can come and help me out in one 45 minute hitting session, what can they do in 2-3 years on my journey to the big leagues? Everything was perfect. That workout was a key example or key reason why I felt I had to sign.
Brian Hemminger: After you got drafted, you got tossed into the fire. The Arizona Rookie League, the AZL, there are a lot of talented players down there. You went out and had a pretty good season I thought. You had a lot of extra base hits, a really good walk rate and you were near the tops of the league in home runs with six. What was your evaluation of your performance?
Will Benson: It can always get better. That’s my one and only evaluation, it can always get better. But I know, going away from it one thing I truly did learn is you’ve got to be there in the moment. You can’t think too far ahead and that’s what really helped me to put up some really good numbers. When I first got there, my numbers weren’t as great and I wasn’t actually in a good mental state either. Once I sat down with one of the area scouts, he took me to lunch and told me I wasn’t gonna be in the big leagues tomorrow and I’ve got to embrace the day so I started doing that and that’s when I started putting up some good numbers.
Brian Hemminger: Is there a specific thing you’ve kinda been working on this offseason? I know everyone works on everything, but was there a primary goal of your training?
Will Benson: There’s two aspects. There’s a mental aspect and there’s a physical aspect. For the physical aspect, I wanted to work on simplifying things. Sometimes I, especially in the batter’s box, I get really out of hand with super jumping out moving forward. I took that moving forward action excessively. I like to overcorrect things so I can really truly feel it. So I tried to really feel myself digging into the back hip, uncoiling but still having a good, firm base beneath me.
Mentally, I read books to really find ways to slow the game down. I had in depth practice, not just hitting the ball off the tee, but feeling the ground beneath you, actually feeling your arms, feeling your hips and doing what you really want to do, not just hitting 20 balls and getting nothing out of it. Also, from reading, I found ways to in game actually calm everything down going up in your mind. You have to have these mechanics, think about this pitch and that, but I’ve learned that slowing the game down, taking deep breaths actually helps you through that process and makes the game easier.
Brian Hemminger: Are there any specific coaches or trainers or teammates that have had a big impact on you since you’ve been drafted and been down there?
Will Benson: Yeah a couple. The one that’s on the back of my hand is Dennis [Malavé]. He’s our fielding coach/hitting coach here. The time period when I wasn’t doing so well in the AZL, I remember sitting in the van they take us home with from games and I broke down a little bit. I was genuinely upset. I came out here, I’m a first round draft pick, I had so much weight on my shoulders it feels like and I’m not carrying my load right now. I feel like I was being pointless out there and he reassured me that it’s gonna be a process. You’re gonna have many days like you’re having right now and you’ve got to just bounce back. Those that bounce back are the ones that you see on TV at the end of the day. That really stuck with me.
A couple weeks later I actually had that area scout Mike Bradford come out and he talked with me and that’s another guy who’s had a major impact on me along with his brother C.T. Bradford. They basically said, “Be in the moment, be right there,” and that’s something that will stay with me the rest of my career. Those three guys had the biggest impact on me.
Brian Hemminger: Let’s talk 2017. Do you have any major statistical goals or anything you’d like to specifically accomplish this year?
Will Benson: No, not really. Honestly, I expect to have fun and I expect to be locked in every day. I feel if you lock yourself into certain statistical goals and you don’t accomplish them, you’ll almost feel like a failure. I just want to be free and easy and have fun when I’m there wherever I am. The rest will take care of itself.
Brian Hemminger: Do you know where you’ll begin the year, any inklings yet?
Will Benson: I have no idea. God-willing it’ll be somewhere nice but I don’t know. Wherever they put me, I’ll be ready. I just want to dominate wherever I’m put.
Brian Hemminger: Any last words or shoutouts?
Will Benson: I just wanted to thank you guys for giving me this opportunity on here to connect with the Indians fans. I think that’s the most important thing, connecting with people who love you and watch you so I thank you guys for this opportunity.
You can follow Will on Twitter @_TheKidBilly_