Five minutes with….Oneri Fleita
The story goes something like this:
George Halas, looking for a suitable name for his football club, the Staleys, saw that sportswriters were calling the Chicago National League Ball Club, the Cubs. Halas liked the name so much and wanting to keep some continuity to the city’s mascots, briefly decided he’d rename his Staleys the Cubs, as well. But then it occurred to him–if baseball players are Cubs, and his football players were significantly larger than baseball players, wouldn’t that make them Bears?
And the rest is history.
About a month ago, Cubs VP of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita (below) was in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, the annual evaluation of college football’s top players. It is here where NFL teams put into empircal data the skills and physical attributes of players into whom they
might be investing millions of dollars. It is also where Fleita saw first-hand the vast
disparity in just sheer size between his baseball players and these football players.
I guess Halas was right.
Fleita was there as a guest, a precursor visit to his real objective–the NFL pre-camp workouts. He was interested to perhaps glean some player development techniques, exercises or programs he could install into the Cubs farm system. With the NFL Draft on the near horizon, the Combine acts as a clearing house of scouting information and Fleita came away impressed.
Vine Line: I overheard at Spring Training that you had attended the NFL Scouting Combine. What was that like?
Oneri Fleita: Well, the first thing I was thinking was I wish we could get some of these great athletes out on the diamond to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. These guys were really impressive athletes. Elite. We have to get more of these kind of guys playing baseball.
VL: What were the differences or similarities between scouting techniques used for baseball and those used for football?
OF: I’d probably compare the scouting methods comparble to what we do in the Dominican Republic in the sense that we really can’t go to see a lot of high school games or college games. It’s a lot more of open tryouts, physical tests like making guys run the 60 [yard dash]
and time them or put them through some agility drills like catching fly balls, ground balls, those kinds of things. Pitchers throwing a bullpen would be similar to what the Combine did with quarterbacks and having them throw to receivers running pass patterns or through targets.
VL: Are football scouting staffs smaller or larger in size than baseball scouting staffs?
OF: Well, baseball staffs are much larger. Football guys are scouting mainly at college games because for them, college is like their minor leagues. But there aren’t that many games in a season. What, maybe 14, 15 games? Our guys easily see over a hundred games between minor-leagues, high school, college and the majors. So I think the Combine allows
the NFL scouts to measure certain things using drills such as speed or strength. I mean, heck, we don’t ever have anyone see how many times they can bench 225 pounds! Seeing some of these guys who look like toothpicks fire it up and down was quite impressive. (Photos by NFL.com) But their scouting reports are very detailed. We don’t measure things like hand size or vertical leap. But they don’t do a lot of projecting like we do. Their guys have to go and step in and play, whereas we’ll try to project maybe a kid will develop a second or third pitch or he’ll get a little bigger. In the NFL, these guys often have to go straight from college to the NFL gridiron.
VL: I guess that’s the big difference between the sports, personnel-wise. The NFL teams don’t have that reserve of guys who have time to learn. Most have to be ready to play now?
OF: In just listening and observing and understanding what many of the teams have to contend with, things are very tight. They have a salary cap, so their numbers are very tight to where you just can’t carry a lot of guys who aren’t ready to step in and contribute to winning a game every Sunday.
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