Cubs, Oneri Fleita building big advantage with Dominican Academy

Bruce Levine interviewed Theo Epstein today on ESPN 1000.  Much of it was the usual fodder, but Levine saved the most interesting question for last.  Well, it was actually more of an open-ended question so it was the answer that was really interesting.

The question was about what Theo’s biggest surprise upon taking over the Cubs.

The most pleasant surprise, Theo said, was the program and facility the Cubs had set up in the Dominican Republic.  He said it’s extremely well-organized, not like other camps where you “just see the ball being sprayed around”. Epstein mentioned that the young players were always working hard and already fundamentally advanced.  It’s something that takes some time to build, so the fact that it has already been established has to be encouraging for Cubs fans.

The Cubs have Oneri Fleita to thank for that.  It’s no wonder now that owner Tom Ricketts made sure he kept him in the fold while the Cubs search for a GM dragged on.  The people in the industry I spoke with had a lot of respect for Fleita and had no problems with the Cubs extending his contract.  He’s a guy that most teams would love to have in their organization.  In my opinion, the hiring of Fleita may end up being former GM Jim Hendry’s biggest contribution to what we all expect will be a first class organization within the next few years.

It goes along with something else Epstein talked about.  With the limitations now imposed on the draft and international free agency, the Cubs will just have to be better at both scouting and developing players.  The facilities and instruction in the Dominican Republic are a big step in that direction.  It makes me excited for the development of talented high end signings like Marck Malave, Luis Acosta, and Ricardo Marcano (as well as Jeimer Candelario and Carlos Penalver last season) but it also means the Cubs will have an edge developing under the radar players.  The Cubs can gamble more on high ceiling guys if they build a system where they can 1) identify players who have a lot of projection and 2) develop their skills from a very early age.

It also has to be appealing to amateur free agents in the next couple of years.  Not just because it’s a professionally run facility where they can learn and make the most of their ability, but also because it’s a place that will allow them to return to their home (or closer to it) in the offseason and continue to work on their skills whether they are a recent signee or a veteran player already on the team.  The building itself gives the Cubs a strong visual presence in the Dominican.  Click this link to see more photos of those plans.

The Academy will have 4 fields, 4 covered batting cages, 8 bullpens.  It will also have weight rooms, a cafeteria and kitchen, a video room, dorm rooms for up to 80 players and coaches, and an education program where players can earn their GEDs.  It’s a facility that can help young players in the area can develop and mature both on and off the field.

Ricketts and Fleita have given the Cubs a big head start and now, with the infusion of front office talent like Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod, plus a first-rate, well-organized academy, the team has the potential to become the standard when it comes to developing players in Latin America.


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  • If we are fortunate enough to sign Jorge Soler besides the money being a deciding factor the wild card could be having Oneri Fleita sit in on any meetings between the parties.

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    I think it has to be an advantage with Soler. It must be appealing for a kid to be able to go home and still work on his skills at a place like that. He'd the last player the Cubs would have no restrictions signing and they have a whole lot of selling points.

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    Speaking of Soler. Does anyone know what's taking so long in getting him eligible for free agency? Cespedes and Concepcion worked right on through, but Soler seems to be dragging.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    It's hit or miss with these things but I believe Soler is going to have this done soon. Can't put a time frame on it because there are just too many variables. The team itself probably doesn't even know.

  • Didn't catch the interview, so thanks for the article! It is so refreshing to see this organization has a plan. This is off topic, and I'm not sure if it has been touched on in previous discussions, but did you hear that Soriano is being considered for the leadoff spot again? My first reaction was are they flipping crazy. But the more I think about it, it may not be such a bad thing to start the season. Soriano has always produced best from that spot, and it's not like we have a natural leadoff guy anyway. I guess my thinking is anything we can do to make him productive enough to move works for me.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    Your welcome! It was mentioned in the interview as well and Theo said not to make too much of Soriano leading off. It's a good time to just experiment but that Sveum is well aware of modern lineup construction.

    He did also say, as have others on this site, that while lineup construction does help, the impact isn't huge one way or another. When the season starts, though, I look for Soriano to bat somewhere around the 5th spot.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's kind of where I expect him to fit in too. The lineup is too weak to hit him 7th. Lineup construction with this team will be a challenge. We have 2 guys(LaHair, Stewart) right in the middle of the lineup in which we have no idea what they'll produce. Not to mention is Soto going to bounce back? What's DeJesus going to do in the NL, and is he going to bounce back after a rough year? I'm definitely preparing myself for a high frustration year as far as the Cubs offense goes.

  • Thanks a lot John -
    Here's a link to and article at through the fence baseball that runs kind of counter to this post:

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I think the draft will have a negative impact overall as well for everyone except for owners who don't want to invest in international scouting. I wrote a piece earlier how it can be especially bad for players in the Pacific Rim, but it's pretty much a bad thing all around the world.

    I think one way it can affect Latin players is that they are are now going to be chosen by teams that are less concerned with their overall development. Players that will get picked by the Cubs, Blue Jays or Rangers should consider themselves lucky, while those selected by teams like the White Sox might find a harder road to the majors. This CBA hurts both teams willing to make a strong investment and the players they invest in. It's a shame. It gives an advantage to nobody. At best it evens out the playing field a bit more-- but like the MLB draft, teams who put more money into scouting and develop better will always have some advantage.

    I disagree with the author, however, on the Puerto Rico comparison. It's a different situation. Puerto Rican players are part of the MLB draft now but my presumption is there will be a separate draft for international players and US/Puerto Rican players.

  • Yeah good thing you corrected yourself on giving Levine any credit, as his question was lame and has been asked umpteen times already. "What has surprised you most about the Cubs thing"....puke.

  • I'm a big fan of Oneri Fleita. Keeping him around was huge. Listening to him talk at Cubs Conventions for the past several years, you can really tell that he cares about these kids, not just ballplayers, but as if they were family. He sounds truly passionate about education, both on and off the field. It's refreshing to see someone in his position take that stance.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Agreed. The Cubs have a good one in Fleita in every sense of the word. Great decision by Ricketts to extend him and hopefully nobody tries to steal him from us. And if Boston tries, I think we should demand Jacoby Ellsbury as compensation ;)

  • I wish I'd heard all this praise for Fleita when Ricketts extended him. Instead the story was, "What a gaff signing him before they've signed a GM! This rules out Cashman or Epstein as GM candidates." I wish someone held all these mainstream journalists accountable for their wildly inaccurate stories after the fact.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    You didn't hear it from me ;). I was uncertain at first but the more I talked to people, the more I realized it wasn't going to be a big deal. I was doing the best I could to get my voice out on Twitter and convince people it wasn't going to to matter and could actually be an asset. I was definitely in the minority on that one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You are correct sir! I opined with my first Cubs Den post - a WTF about the Fleita signing and your reasoning and reference to sources convinced me that this would be my favorite site.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    Thanks kansas!

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Good point Carne.....I too was concerned because so many folks criticized the move suggesting it tied the hands of a new GM. Now it seems the consensus is that it was a great move. I guess the main lesson is to give all moves a little time to play out before reaching a conclusion.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    And to not pay attention to a bunch of reporters more concerned with being first than being right. With these short news cycles, they're all elbowing each other out of the way to report "new developments", which are too often just their own hunches.

  • It's great that we can build such a fantasy place. Better still if it
    helps us sign more prospects in the future. Soler would really
    put our farm system up there.

  • This is a great move by the Cubs, it looks like they are ready to join the big boys, like the Rangers and Yankees in getting talent from the DR.

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