The 5,000-Calorie Diet: How 6-foot-8 Pierce Coppola Added Strength And Honed His Delivery
There aren’t many areas Pierce Coppola hasn’t experienced growth in over the last year.
The 6-foot-8 righthander has consistently added inches throughout his life—Coppola thinks he might be done growing now—but in addition to also changing the scale to the tune of 45 pounds since baseball shut down just over a year ago, he’s added to his repertoire, expanded his pitch development, and further refined the toolbox he already had.
First thing first—motivated by the quarantine and limited to a makeshift gym in his garage, Coppola began to focus on adding weight to his frame. Last March, he was weighing in at about 185 pounds and by the time he headed to Florida to play for the Orlando Scorpions through the summer months, he was up to 210. By the time he returned home, he was at 205, but throughout the offseason, he doubled his original gains and added more, and is now hovering around 230.
“My diet is crazy right now,” Coppola said. “Ever since my summer circuit ended, I got really into my body and working out and nutrition, so I’ve been on a nutrition plan and a really hardcore workout plan since September. So it’s been hard to keep my weight because it fluctuates a lot and I’m a really tall guy, I’m also very lanky. I’ve gained 25 pounds this offseason so it’s been a lot. I’ve been eating about 4,500 to 5,000 calories a day.
“My mom just went to Costco and bought $300 worth of meat. For lunch, I’m a big chicken and rice guy. Then for dinner, I’m a burger or steak guy. My parents get sick of it but I like it. They’ll make something else for themselves because they can’t have steak every night.”
Despite the immense amount of change in a relatively short time period, Coppola has managed to stay consistent in his delivery and mechanics, just as he’s been able to do as he’s seen his height increase year over year.
“Some kids have growth spurts when they’re starting puberty, but I was just constantly growing,” said Coppola, who came into his freshman year at Verona (N.J.) High at 6-foot-2. “I’m fortunate to have a really good pitching coach in Jim Wladyka and we’ve been working on the same mechanics for five years now.
“So every year that I come back to the winter, it gets easier and easier for us to make changes. Last year I was 6-foot-6 and I wasn’t that strong, so we had to make changes because of that, but now it’s a lot easier because I’m so much stronger now and I have the strength to control my body a lot more. So the weight and the height have gotten easier over the years because I’m maturing into my body.”
Coppola has come to understand the importance of splitting his time between gaining strength and maintaining mobility. The Florida commit has needed to spend more time on the latter since baseball became his primary focus, leaving football behind after the eighth grade and abandoning basketball after his sophomore year of high school—though he doesn’t think his team lost much since “I stayed behind the three-point line the whole time, so I wasn’t the most ideal 6-foot-8 basketball player ever.”
“When I work out with my trainer, before we even start lifting weights we do a lot of stretches and a lot of running and just staying mobile and keeping my athleticism,” Coppola said. “Because I don’t play basketball anymore, and that was the main factor for how I stayed so athletic while I was growing and gaining weight. But when I stopped playing, it became about getting on the right workout plan and doing a lot of stretches and making sure I’m loose and then working out, that’s why I’m able to stay athletic now.”
Coppola understands why so many bigger-bodied pitchers might have trouble finding consistency with their mechanics, but has found success in maintaining repetition in his own delivery throughout his high school career.
“I’ve always had a repeatable delivery and that’s how hard I work in the offseasons with my mechanics and making sure I’m consistent with every pitch,” he said. “Right now I’m old enough and I’m mature enough that when I throw a pitch and I know that I did something wrong, I can feel it.
“When you throw a good pitch, everything feels fluid and easy and you’re not trying to do too much and you’re not trying to impress other people. You can feel that you finish right over the top of your front knee and you’re just straight on. When you throw a bad pitch, you can feel your head going forward or your front side pulled a little bit too much, and where you’ve ended up, you can run off the mound. Now I just easily feel that and I can self-correct. Before my pitching coach even says anything now I’m like, ‘I know I did that.’ ”
Coppola spent this offseason specifically adding a new changeup into his mix, though he doesn’t plan to debut it this year. Instead, he will stay with his fastball-slider-curveball-splitter combination, with enhanced differences between the slider and curve, thanks to some time spent with Casey Mulholland at Kinetic Pro Performance in Florida in February.
“The way I was throwing my curveball, it was actually a gyro slider, and the way I was throwing my slider was actually a cutter, so me and Casey worked on spinning the ball and getting the feel for both pitches and changing it up.
“I didn’t change grips, I just changed the way I released it. With my curveball, I have to get my finger on top of the ball now and just think up, and I have to throw it a little slower because when I throw it too hard I throw through it and that’s when it becomes a gyro slider. And then my slider, what I was doing with my curveball before I went to Tampa, that’s how I have to throw my slider now.”
Coppola’s revamped curveball now sits 75 to 78 mph, while his slider is 82 to 83 and vastly improved from where it was last year.
“My best secondary pitch is my slider right now,” Coppola said. “It’s 50% better. If it were 100% better, it would be like Chris Sale’s slider, so I’d say 50% better.”
Already finding success on the mound while wanting to add an increased level of information to the mix, the righthander has balanced adding without subtracting ahead of his season. But when his season begins on April 19, and he gets into games, he hopes that everything he’s learned will translate.
“This is the time when I can really work on stuff, really get better, and make sure everything’s sharp for the season,” Coppola said. “But once the season starts I’m not going to think about anything there, I’m just going to go out there and do what I normally do. I work on all the stuff in the offseason, learning new things, working on new pitches, working on the same pitches, and trying to perfect them, but it’s baseball and you can’t be perfect.
But once the season starts I just do my thing, I don’t really think about what was my velo then, what was my spin rate today? I forget about all that stuff and just go out.”