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12/19/2005 1:14 PM ET
Angels look to NFL's Colts for ideas
LA scouts find similarities, differences with their NFL counterparts
Colts president Bill Polian welcomed members of the Angels scouting staff to the Indianapolis preseason camp last summer.  (John Harrell/AP)

The Los Angeles Angels scouting staff isn't exactly known as one that embraces "revolutionary" thinking.

Not a negative judgment in the least, it's just that scouting director Eddie Bane and his staff tend to follow more of an "old-school" approach when it comes to their jobs. They don't use complex statistical formulas to assess performance or subscribe to any newer theories on scouting.

That's not to say they don't try to think creatively. Just because a spreadsheet or logarithm isn't their best friend doesn't mean they don't try to improve on what they've been doing -- quite successfully -- every year. Case in point, a visit Bane and his assistant Abe Flores paid to another elite another sport.

Last summer, Bane and Flores spent a couple of days in the Indianapolis Colts' preseason camp. They spent a great deal of time picking the brain trust of the Colts, namely president Bill Polian and his son Chris, the vice president of football operations.

"We started talking about how to think outside the box a little more," Bane said. "I've always been intrigued with what the NFL does and all the athletes they have. We looked at the Colts, and their reputation was top of the line."

With the Colts now 13-1, the relationship begun by the Angels with the Colts may have been perfectly timed.

The Angels contingent hoped for an interesting and maybe creative idea-inducing overview as to how an NFL team goes about its business. They left with more insight than they could've dreamed of, plenty of ideas to bring back to what's an already successful organization, and the realization that sometimes when you try to think way out of the box, you end up right where you started from.

Colts open doors

It's one thing to have the idea to cross a sports border; it's another to have the target of such an unusual initiative welcome you with open arms. Yet that's exactly what the Colts did. Bane and Flores got to sit in the team's first meeting of the preseason, Polian's and coach Tony Dungy's addresses to the team.

They got to watch the now invincible-looking Colts go through early drills and practice, the Polians spending most of the day with their guests. Bane and Flores, admittedly, marveled at the pure athleticism of the Colts' roster.

"I'm sitting at practice watching Peyton Manning make a perfect throw and I say 'Wow!'," Bane recalled. "I'm not used to watching Peyton Manning throw a perfect ball every time. Bill Polian jumps and asks, 'What's the matter?'"

Polian feared there was an injury or something of that sort. When Bane told him he was just awed by Manning's skill, Polian ho-hummed, "Oh, he does that all the time. We don't pay attention to that."

Then there was a defensive "hit-and-spin" drill. Again, Bane was amazed by what Dwight Freeney, Larry Tripplett and Robert Mathis could do. Bill Polian tells Bane and Flores, "If we can get this safety to play this year healthy, we're really going to be something."

That safety? Bob Sanders, who's third on the team in tackles and has been a big part of the Colts' success this year. It's enough to make a baseball scout drool at the possibilities.

"You'd give your left arm to have a guy like Bob Sanders playing baseball, or Peyton Manning as your shortstop," Bane said. "We're just not doing a very good job of getting those guys to play our sport."

Tools vs. performance not debated in NFL

The "revolution" in baseball these days, of course, is the emphasis on statistical analysis and performance rather than the raw tools that "old baseball" folks focused on in scouting. While that might be oversimplifying the issue into Moneyball and "traditional scouting" camps, it cannot be questioned that the debate continues to rage on in baseball.

Football doesn't really have that problem. When NFL teams scout amateur talent, those without tools don't ever get serious consideration. Sure there are overachievers throughout the league, but there's no NFL equivalent to "pitchability."

"If a guy can't do this or that on a measurable scale, you're not going to make it in the NFL," said Bane, recounting how the Colts' draft board he saw had a player's 40-yard dash speeds and bench-press weights along with psychological testing scores and overall grades next to his name. "All the heart and guts isn't going to make up for the fact that you can't cover a guy."

That's not to say there isn't any fine-tuning; teams like the Colts don't necessarily take the best athlete each round of the draft. While some baseball organizations look for the "best available player" on the board when it's time to select, the Colts try to find the tools that fit best into their offensive or defensive system.

"We have to take into account schemes and what our coaches want to do," Chris Polian said. "Coach Dungy wants to run a certain type of defense that requires a certain type of athlete. We acknowledge there'll be some very good athletes out there we'll pass on because it doesn't fit out scheme.

"That might be the biggest difference [between football and baseball]. They only have to worry about that at the catching position."

The larger focus on physical skills is not the only difference between how Bane and Bill Polian would go about running a draft. One obvious separation is the size of the draft itself. Bane and his staff prepare for 50 rounds each year; Polian and company, only seven.

Of course, those seven face a little more immediate pressure than perhaps any of the Angels' 50 picks would have to deal with after being drafted.

"Of their first three picks, they better be ready to start that first year," Bane said. "We're not looking at that. Unless it's a quarterback, from what they told me, they're supposed to play."

As a result, you won't see NFL teams take "projects," especially not early in the draft. Baseball scouts, on the other hand, are often on the lookout for projectable talent. Bane certainly hasn't shied away from "risky" projects such as Nick Adenhart in the past.

In some ways, the NFL marries the tools and Moneyballapproaches. They need athletes, but they're only allowed to take them from the college ranks, helping to minimize the risk and eliminate the need for projectable picks.

"We've seen our players play at the highest level," Chris Polian said. "We've seen him compete in college. He's going to have three or four years of college to go back on.

"We don't take a kid in terms of where he'll be three or four years down the road, because he's a free agent by that point. That's a difference in the leagues, I think, that we don't have as big a developmental aspect of our draft as they would in baseball."

The immediacy of turning picks into pros may make it seem like the Colts' scouting staff has a much more difficult job, but Polian points out there are several things in their court to help minimize the risk.

"We don't have to cover as much ground as they do," Chris Polian said. "We don't have to cover high school people or international people, only college people and other NFL teams."

The NFL scouts also use film as a means to cover the players they need to know to a much great extent than their counterparts in baseball.

"Tape is a valuable tool, and our scouts can get on campuses where college coaches make that available," Chris Polian said.

Outside the box is inside the box

If it seems like the Polians are very familiar talking in baseball circles, they are. When Bane and Flores set out to be outlandishly creative, little did they know their exploration would land them right back at home.

The Polians, it turns out, are no strangers to baseball. Bill used to coach the sport once upon a time and unlike just about every other team in the NFL, his scouting system mirrors what Bane and Flores are used to in baseball, complete with area scouts and cross-checkers.

The Colts employ a larger staff than many organizations in the league, allowing them to employ such a regional scouting system. They've got a director of college scouting -- Mike Butler -- and eight area scouts. Bill Polian and Dungy act as cross-checkers when necessary, though the use of film certainly cuts down on the need to see players in person.

Where did Bill Polian come up such a concept? It turns out that while he was with the Buffalo Bills years ago, he got to pick the brain of one of the brightest minds in baseball, Pat Gillick, then the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"When my dad was in Buffalo, the Blue Jays were rolling at that time," Chris Polian explained. "He had spent some time with Pat and gotten their ideas on some things. They patterned what they did at that point on what the Jays had done.

"Similarities from baseball would come from the exposure to Pat, and we have talked to baseball and basketball people through the years, bouncing ideas off of people. You never make a dramatic change to what you're doing, but refinements, smaller tweaks are done annually. We've gotten a lot of ideas for those tweaks from baseball people."

So Bane's attempts to break from the shackles of almost institutionalized baseball scouting brought him right back to ... baseball.

"The Angels aren't known as a team looking at formulas or that kind of thing," Bane said. "But we like to think outside the box. And it turns out we get there and we find out he was a baseball coach, and he's talking about Pat Gillick and he's talking about area scouts.

"It all ends up working together when you think it's going to be outer space stuff they'll be talking about."

Bill Polian is such a baseball guy that he spends his down time -- away from piloting the best team in football -- scouting baseball. Not professionally, but he was sure to tell the Angels about a player he saw in the Cape Cod League who really stuck out for him.

"It was that [Matt] Antonelli kid at Wake Forest," Bane laughed. "I told Bill, 'I'll send you a dollar if we draft him.' It turns out he's a good hitter [Antonelli led the Cape in runs scored after leading Wake Forest with a .332 average in 2005]."

Angels learn some lessons

Bane and Flores left the Colts' camp with more than just a 2006 draft tip. While the systemic differences between the sports -- size of the draft, need for pure athletes only, lack of Minor Leagues -- make it unwise and unrealistic to completely mirror an organization's design across sports, Bane is already planning to use some of what he learned during his visit in the present and future.

The Angels may forever -- or at least as long as Bane is at the scouting helm -- look at injury histories a little bit more carefully. The change will come not in the players with major injuries, but rather those with little nagging nicks. In the past, a player who missed a little time here or there but had tremendous power potential or plus stuff, would still be high on the board. Now, Bane and his staff may evaluate that player more closely and guardedly.

"They do a lot of research into injuries," Bane said. "If there's a guy who's missing games with a pinched nerve or something, the Colts are not going to take him.

"We're going to look at a guy who misses a turn on a Friday night because he's a little tender [differently now]."

The other strategy Bane would like to incorporate is the use of film. He knows he'll never be able get to the Colts' level with the current structure. Indianapolis and other NFL teams may have six different films from a variety of angles against a host of opponents for any given player. MLB teams get video only from the Major League Scouting Bureau and because of the sheer volume of players being drafted, there's no way the MLSB could ever see every single draft-eligible player, let alone multiple times. That doesn't mean, however, that Bane and his staff can't use what they have to a greater benefit.

"We're going to do a better job of breaking down the films now, rather than looking at it just one time," Bane admitted.

Cross-sport relationship will continue

This won't be a one-time exchange program. Bill Polian sent Bane a lengthy note congratulating the Angels on dispatching the Yankees in the playoffs, a gesture Bane thought particularly thoughtful considering the Colts were already weeks into their regular season.

Plans are in the works for future visits. Next time, it seems the Colts will play the students with Bane and the Angels opening their doors.

"We would like to see them in Spring Training and look closely at what they're doing," Chris Polian said. "It gives you, outside of the competitive nature of dealing with peers in your own league, a sounding board, someone to talk to. Here's a problem we're encountering with our scouts, have you encountered anything like that? Because we're in different sports, albeit at the highest level, we're more apt to speak freely."

In an ideal world, the teams will get a chance to sit in each other's draft war rooms. Then they'd really get a chance to see how the system works, how the draft board is built and utilized on draft day. Schedules may make that difficult -- the NFL's draft is in April when Bane and company are in deep scouting mode; the MLB draft takes place right around mini-camp time for the Polians. Nevertheless, the invitation has been extended.

"They have carte blanche for them to come out for the draft, which will be hard for them," Bane said.

Knowing the Polians as he does now, though, it wouldn't surprise Bane to see the most effective brain trust in the NFL to figure out a way to get to the Angels' offices in early June. In the end, Bane's comfort level in Indy's camp may have stemmed more from the similarities between the elder Polian and his boss with the Angels (and they happen to share a first name) than anything else.

"Bill Polian reminds me of [Angels GM] Bill Stonemen," Bane said. "He doesn't want publicity. All he wants to do is win."

Working together in this unusual, yet seemingly perfect new relationship, both may be able to help each other do just that.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.