After career in football, Indians farm director Harris fitting in

Former Oregon and Eagles employee heads Cleveland's operation

After career in football, Indians farm director Harris fitting in

Organizations are continually looking for ways to better develop talent, and the Indians, with the recent hiring of James Harris as farm director, are focusing efforts on the body -- both physically and mentally.

"The first pillar of life is health," Harris said. "No matter whether you're a coach, staff member or player, healthy people succeed at a higher level. It's a simple fact of life."

Harris' mindset meshes well with the Indians -- an organization already heavily focused on nutrition. The shared belief system appealed to Harris, who is looking forward to expanding and hopefully improving upon a system already in place, rather than rebuilding an entire system.

Similarly, the Indians have been impressed with the development work Harris has done in the past, making Harris' addition an easy decision for club president Chris Antonetti.

"We've tried to do a lot of work organizationally in the performance service area, from mental skills, to strength and conditioning, to nutrition and medical areas," Antonetti said. "James has a lot of experience in each of those areas, and as importantly, not only in the individual domain, but how you integrate those domains and how you help athletes produce at an optimal level."

Harris has only been in professional baseball for a year, serving as a special assistant to baseball operations with the Pirates in 2016, but has plenty of experience developing athletes.

Harris worked at the University of Oregon, where he was hired as a dietician and left as an associate athletic director. He then parlayed that job into a stint in the NFL, following then-head coach Chip Kelly from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles, where Harris served as Kelly's chief of staff.

"Development is the lifeblood for small-market team success," Harris said. "So having the opportunity to lead a department like this, that doesn't come around very often. This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."

As Harris prepares for his new role with the Indians, he will draw on some of the experience he gained while working at Oregon.

"It's the same exact thing in my eyes," Harris said. "You're developing people for the next level and adulthood. You look at any farm system, a majority of the guys in the farm system aren't playing for your Major League team, so you're trying to make them better men as players and your staff, better men and women because not all of our players and staff are going to the Major League team. You're trying to help develop them for life."

Antonetti also believes Harris' experience at the collegiate level will be an asset since many of the players in the farm system are college-aged or even younger.

"He's dealt with athletes of all ages and this is a similar demographic that he will have the opportunity to work with," Antonetti said. "The young players transitioning into our system are 16, 17, 18 years old, all the way through to the more experienced players. He's had an opportunity to work with athletes of all ages and help them grow and develop."

Overseeing the growth and development of young men is part of the job Harris truly enjoys. While he was in the NFL, Harris was still working to help athletes improve and get batter on a daily basis, but was also dealing with more refined individuals.

Working in the Minor League system will present Harris a new challenge and overseeing the entire process is a task he readily embraces.

"Doing the development, doing more on the scouting side and kind of building something was really appealing to me," Harris said. "Seeing it from the beginning to end, it felt like the NFL was sort of the end of the process. I felt that baseball would allow me to go through the entire process."

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.