Results tagged ‘ 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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Last week I wrote about how Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has given opportunities to high school kids on the baseball field that they never had before. This week, I look at how the Cubs perceive the potential and risk of RBI products.
Baseball games and cultural bonding are not the only opportunities that RBI provides. This year alone, three kids from the Chicago RBI league were drafted in the First-Year Player Draft. Julian Kenner of Whitney Young (Chicago, IL) and Steven Florence of Simeon (Chicago, IL) were drafted by the White Sox, while Troy White of Whitney Young was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
Even though RBI is giving these kids new possibilities, it is dragging behind with player development that may be found in other communities that have more money, space and qualified coaches. Therefore, many of the players that come out of programs like RBI are what scouts call “toolsy.” This means that they posses many of baseball’s five tools–the abilities to hit for power, hit for average, run, field and throw–but are not polished baseball players yet. This is best exemplified by their draft rounds. Kenner was the first of the three RBI players drafted after being taken in the 45th round.
Oneri Fleita, Cubs vice president of player personnel, explained how taking a risk on a “toolsy” player over a polished player can be worth it in the long run.
“You might find a guy who is very polished, who can do a lot of thing now, yet he doesn’t have a lot of ceiling,” Fleita said. “The raw guy trails that guy a little bit but has tools that can look so superior to [the more polished player] when he’s on, on a particular day. But on other days it can look like he is a freshman in high school, and the other guy’s a senior. But over the course of time, if you let them keep playing, that freshman, if he ever catches up to his abilities, will certainly shine, and the other guy may end up shining his shoes.”
Taking risks on raw players also means allotting more time to development. For Fleita, this means finding the right team and level to place unrefined talent.
“You might have a 22- or 23-year-old who can really run, who was drafted as a senior-sign, that you’re really hoping will hit, but you know he will be overmatched at the next level up,” he said. “That’s why we have levels. That’s why we have a Rookie club in Mesa [Ariz.] and the Rookie club in Boise [Idaho]. We try to separate them a little bit based on [readiness].”
Chicago has talented but raw players that scouts are discovering because of RBI. Major-league teams are willing to take a risk on them because of the potential upside that many “toolsy” players have shown in the past. It’s not hard to believe that the kids who played on Wrigley Field on Aug. 12 for the RBI Chicago Championships will one day play there as professionals.
Throughout the season, Vine Line Online will speak with players, managers and front-office personnel in the minor-league system. Today, “Down on the Farm” checks in with Oneri Fleita, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel, about how Kevin Hart and Rich Hill will find their ways back to Chicago. Keep coming to the blog for reports, player profiles, interviews and stories during the week.
The old baseball adage “It’s harder to stay in the majors than get there” rings true even for successful players — just ask Kevin Hart and Rich Hill.
Hart was a September call up last year and was a key ingredient in the Cubs playoff run. He posted a 0.82 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. Hill also broke out in 2007, winning 11 games, leading the Cubs in strikeouts with 183, and ranking fifth in the National League in batting average against (.235). But both have struggled this year and were optioned to Triple-A Iowa to work out their problems.
For Hart, Fleita believes, it might have been an issue of familiarity.
“[Hart’s] a young guy who was brought up and asked to throw out of the bullpen, and did a nice job,” Fleita said. “But because of his lack of experience with irregular work, it was hard for him to stay in sync….”
Fleita believes the key to getting Hart back to Chicago is by getting him back in a familiar role as a starting pitcher, something that may even lead to other opportunities for the big righty.
“Hart has been put back [into the rotation], to get him back on track,” Fleita said. “Putting him in the rotation gives us, as an organization and him individually, the opportunity to be a starter, should that need arise. And if not, it will give him the opportunity to get in sync so that the next time he comes up he will be back where he was last year throwing out of the ‘pen.”
Unlike Hart, Hill was used as a starter, and instead of losing rhythm and routine, Hill seemed to lose trust in his pitches and thus his command.
“Hill has been sent [to Iowa] to gain a little confidence,” Fleita said. “He struggled to throw strikes and is kind of retracing his steps. I don’t think it will be a major overhaul. Sometimes players lose their confidence and get a little off track, but he threw here a couple nights ago and looks like he’s right back where he was.”
If that is the case then look for Hart and Hill to be back in Chicago soon, something that Fleita attributes to their team-first approach.
“The bottom line is that we are talking about two guys with great attitudes that care more about getting up there and helping us win than [they do about] themselves.”
— Zach Martin
Throughout the season, Vine Line Online will speak with players, managers and front-office personnel in the minor-league system. Today, “Down on the Farm” checks in with Oneri Fleita, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel, about what he has learned about the system through a month and a half. Keep coming to the blog for reports, player profiles, interviews and stories during the week.
The State of the Farm
Sometimes it is tough for organizations to gage the strengths and weaknesses of their minor-league pools because of how raw the players still may be. For Fleita, this is not the case.
“I feel like for the first time we have some catching depth,” Fleita said. “We have Steve Clevenger, who’s a converted guy, and he’s catching in Double A with Chris Robinson. These are all guys who have caught in the major leagues. Welington Castillo has done a nice job in Daytona and Josh Donaldson in Peoria. That’s a nice little piece of depth we have.”
Chicago also finds itself with a bevy of talented young third basemen.
“We feel pretty good at third base with [Peoria’s] Josh Vitters, Jovan Rosa and Marquez Smith, [pictured Iowa’s] Casey McGehee [and Tennessee’s] Kyle Reynolds,” Fleita said. “That’s been another area of strength, third base.”
Starting pitching has proven over and over again to be the key to success at the major-league level and Fleita is doing everything he can to ensure the Cubs will develop more starters for the future. Alessandro Maestri and Jose Ceda, for example, have been moved from the bullpen to the Daytona rotation.
“We are really trying to develop as many starters as we can,” said Fleita. “So we are taking every good arm and trying to get them into the rotation because to develop a 200-plus-innings pitcher is probably our biggest goal in the minor-league system.”
— Zach Martin
Read on for a level-by-level report of the Cubs farm system.