As the Florida Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting and assistant general manager, Jim Fleming is a big part of the Marlins working to get back into championship form. During the last three years, Fleming has been a part of Marlins drafts that have taken Yukon's Chad James in the first round (2009) and Carl Albert's J.T. Realmuto in the third round (2010). The former OU assistant, who still lives in Purcell, was in Oklahoma City last week to watch the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate New Orleans Zephyrs play the RedHawks.
“I got into this by accident. I started coaching in professional baseball and then was also doing some scouting. I don't know, it just snowballed into scouting director, then from that to farm director and overseeing both of them. It just kind of happened. It wasn't by design by any means.
I'm a coach at heart, so I like player development. But scouting's good, too, and they're all kind of interrelated. I like dealing with trying to intermingle the two and try to get player development and scouting to not only coexist but to get along and improve each other and learn from each other.
My biggest influences were the coaches that I had when I was at the University of Arizona. I played for Jerry Kindall, who was a big leaguer. There was a guy there named Mark Johnson that was the head coach at Texas A&M for a lot of years. There was another guy there, the pitching coach Jim Wing. All three of them were unbelievable baseball people. They were really highly thought of in the profession and really understood the game and were really great workers. I'd always been in love with the game but they're the ones that really showed me the possibilities.
In pro ball, there were different guys. I worked for Gary Hughes in scouting and John Boles, who ended up being a big-league manager, in player development. There's a lot of people along the way that you go, ‘Oh geez, they were really important.' If you're a good baseball guy, you steal from everybody. That's what it's all about. There aren't a whole lot of original ideas in the game but you're continually processing information. I don't know that I've changed my philosophy a lot, but a lot of the time you hear something and that's a better way to phrase it or it's a better way to get to that. You want to try to continue to learn the game. The older I get, the more into the game I get, the less I know. It's not a complicated game but it's a hard game. The key for young players is don't make it complicated. It has to be enjoyable.
Scouting is tough because you're working on 18-year-old kids and you're trying to decide if in four years this 18-year-old kid's going to be able to play in the major leagues. You're looking at physical, mental makeup and there's so many facets of it and that's not easy. You miss more than you hit and that's part of it. You've got to have guys delve into all parts. We do a pretty good job with bringing in quality kids that will work.
We get as deep as we can get with draft picks. We try to find out as much as we can. Obviously we watch them play a lot. The higher the draft pick, the more we've seen them and the more people that have seen them and the more discussion we have on them. We break down film and it's a pretty extensive process. Our area scouts have to dig into who they are. If they're a high profile guy like (Yukon's) Chad James, we knew them as juniors and sometimes as sophomores and we watched them play in the summer, so we've got a big background and you get to know them and they cross many paths with different coaches and AAU coaches and USA coaches, so you inquire to anybody who may have crossed paths with them that you trust. You don't just take a random opinion. And then from there you build a profile of who he is. Then you try to line them up and hope that one of the ones you really like get to you.
The farther down you draft, the more excruciating it is. The key is not to fall in love with anybody that you just hope is there. You don't want to be disappointed. We can usually get it into a range of these five or six guys, it's going to be one of these five or six guys and we're happy with all of them. If we're not happy with them, we're going to throw somebody out and move somebody into that. You try to build a grouping rather than just one or two individuals. It's certainly less painful. You don't want to pick somebody that you're not happy choosing his name and if you build on one guy, that could happen unless you pick first. What we have found by doing it the way that we do is usually the guy that we pick is somebody that we really like and we're really happy about.
Pressure is kind of self-induced. Our job is probably more important to the Marlins than it is to other clubs because we have to build from within our system, but there are a lot of teams like that. I think if you think about that, then you can create pressure. We know we've got to create big leaguers. You've just got to go do your job. It's like a hitter or pitcher stepping into the box. If you think too much about it, you're going to lock up a little bit. You can't think about the amount of money you're giving people. You can't think about the importance of this guy getting to the big leagues. You've just go to believe in what you see and what you feel about him and what your people do and make your best choice and then go onto the next one.