Category: Around the Pioneer League

Chukars sweep doubleheader versus Helena; Denson makes history

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregiser.com

Before Saturday, Idaho Falls Chukars fans had not seen their team at Melaleuca Field during the month of August.

The Chukars rewarded their fans with a doubleheader sweep over the Helena Brewers on Saturday night. Idaho Falls pulled out a walkoff 8-7 win in extra innings in the first game, and its pitchers shut down Helena in the second game for a 6-1 win.

In the first game, Idaho Falls erased a 3-1 deficit with a run in both the third and fourth innings. The Chukars scored four runs in the fifth inning to pull ahead, and the lead looked safe behind Carter Hope.

The right-handed Hope pitched four straight scoreless innings after his shaky start and was an out away from the Chukars’ first complete game of the season. But he encountered some trouble in the top of the seventh, allowing one run on two hits. Left-hander Tripp Davis replaced Hope after the run scored.

Davis was a Pioneer League all-star with a 2.70 ERA heading into Saturday’s doubleheader, but the side-armer struggled out of the gate. A hit batter, wild pitch and back-to-back singles netted three runs and sent the game into extra innings.

Helena right-hander Jon Olczak shut the Chukars down when he entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

Banuelos
Banuelos

Olczak struck out 10 of his first 12 batters faced, allowing one baserunner, and he got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth. But center fielder Amalani Fukofuka struck a single to right and stole second base, setting up first baseman Josh Banuelos, who was 3 for 4 at that point.

Moments later, he was 4 for 5.

Banuelos hit a deep drive to right field that one-hopped the wall and easily scored Fukofuka for the Chukars’ fourth walkoff win of the season.

Idaho Falls right-hander Josh Staumont made his first professional start in the second game and dominated. The Kansas City Royals’ 2015 second round draft pick went three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks. He struck out seven thanks to a fastball that consistently sat in the high 90s.

Reliever Cruz Guevara gave up one earned run in his three innings, and Drew Milligan pitched a scoreless seventh. The offense supplied six runs on 12 hits.

Collins went 4 for 6 with a solo home run in the first game, second baseman DJ Burt went 5 for 8 (4 for 4 with a triple and double in the second game) and right fielder Brawlun Gomez hit a 440-foot home run in the second game.

Brewer makes major announcement

Helena outfielder and cleanup hitter David Denson came out as gay, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday night. Denson is the first openly gay player actively playing for a team affiliated with the MLB.

Denson joins former major leaguers Billy Bean and Glenn Burke as the only affiliated baseball players to ever come out, according to the Sentinel. Bean and Burke came out after their careers ended. Bean helped Denson reach out to the Sentinel, the newspaper reported.

Denson isn’t the first professional baseball player to come out. Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the independent Sonoma Stompers, came out in June.

Through Saturday, Denson has a .255 batting average with four home runs in 159 at-bats for the Brewers this season.

Chukars Notebook: Ogden to host Northwest vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game

Idaho Falls Chukar's Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden's Jake Henson during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukar’s Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden’s Jake Henson during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field.
(Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The inaugural Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game does not appear to be the last.

The Ogden Raptors announced near the end of Tuesday’s all-star game that they will host the 2016 game, pending approval from Minor League Baseball. The success of Tuesday’s game, hosted by the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians, led to the decision to play another one next year, this time at a Pioneer League ballpark.

“It will be a big project for us but we will be excited and ready for the game,” Raptors president Dave Baggot said in an article on Ogden’s website.

Ogden could not be reached for comment.

The date and time of next year’s all-star game have not yet been announced. Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy and Northwest League president Mike Ellis will make a joint application for MiLB approval, and Idaho Falls Chukars general manager Kevin Greene hopes the game will be approved in the next few weeks.

“I think what they’re really waiting for is to get feedback from all of the farm directors from all the teams that participated,” Greene said. “Make sure all the farm directors are comfortable with us moving forward and doing this annually.”

As Greene told the Post Register before Tuesday’s all-star game, Ogden was a prime candidate to host next year’s all-star game. The Raptors’ ballpark, Lindquist Field, has a capacity of 6,700 people, making it the largest ballpark in the Pioneer League. Spokane’s Avista Stadium had an attendance of 7,083 for Tuesday’s all-star game.

Other than ballpark size, location was another key factor for Ogden’s all-star game selection. Ogden is about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, narrowly surpassing Orem as the closest Pioneer League town to an international airport. Ogden’s proximity to Salt Lake’s airport allows Northwest League teams to save time and money compared to the Pioneer League’s seven other venues (Idaho Falls; Orem; Grand Juction, Colo.; Billings, Mont.; Helena, Mont.; Missoula, Mont; Great Falls, Mont.).

Next year’s likely all-star game wouldn’t have been possible if Tuesday’s inaugural game went poorly. It went anything but, according to multiple people at the event. The home run derby was well-done, Greene said, and the capacity crowd was treated to a thrilling 6-5, extra-inning victory by the Northwest League.

“Spokane did such a great job,” Greene said. “Their attention to detail was spot-on. These guys worked very, very hard, and they spent a lot of money to pull it off the way they did. The way it was all put together, you couldn’t have asked for it to be done better.

“I’d hate to be the one to try and follow what they did.”

ROSTER MOVES

On Aug. 2, Chukars’ left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons was placed on the voluntary retirement list. The Chukars could not provide further details, and Sons could not be reached for comment.

Sons, 22, was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals. In seven starts and 26.2 innings this season for Idaho Falls, Sons had a 10.80 ERA on 14 walks, 21 strikeouts and five home runs.

The Chukars also added a player on Aug. 2. Catcher Luis Lara, 20, was promoted from the Arizona League, where he had a .278 batting average, a .381 on-base percentage and a .278 slugging percentage in 36 at-bats.

Idaho Falls now has four catchers on its active roster.

Lara played his first game in an Chukars uniform on Saturday. He went 2 for 4 at the plate against Helena.

WHO’S HOT?

RHP Josh Staumont

Staumont has been electric since he joined Idaho Falls on July 15, but he was also wild early on. In his first appearance with the Chukars on July 16 against Missoula, Staumont walked five and gave up two earned runs in 0.2 innings. The 21-year-old settled down a bit his next three relief appearances, but he still finished the first half with 11 walks, nine strikeouts and four earned runs in 7.1 innings.

Staumont, a second- round pick by Kansas City in the 2015 MLB draft, has given up one earned run in his 6.2 second half innings (three relief appearances). But more importantly, he’s walked three batters while striking out 11. Staumont’s fastball has hit 100-plus miles per hour on several occasions, as well.

WHO’S NOT?

1B Josh Banuelos

It’s not easy to find a struggling player on a team that’s won eight consecutive games, and hardly any Chukar is currently slumping. But compared to his hot start, Banuelos fits that bill.

Banuelos’ batting average was .361 before Idaho Falls’ game against Orem on July 23. He’s gone 12 for 44 (.273) since, dropping his season average to .337.

Perhaps most concerning for Banuelos are his walks, or lack thereof. He’s drawn two walks since July 20, leading to a 35-point drop in his on-base percentage.

Banuelos, a 2015 Pioneer League all-star, missed four games last week due to a bone bruise in his hand.

O’Hearn wins Pioneer League MVP, makes All-Star team with four other Chukars

O'Hearn

POST REGISTER

The 2014 Idaho Falls Chukars won’t repeat as Pioneer League champions, but their players sure made an impression on the league this summer.

The Chukars posted a league-high five players on the Pioneer League’s 2014 All-Star team, and also walked away with the summer’s top prize when first baseman/right fielder Ryan O’Hearn earned the Ralph Nelles Award given to the league’s MVP.

Third baseman Mike Hill, shortstop Corey Toups, outfielder Robert Pehl and right-handed pitcher Torey Deshazier joined O’Hearn on the All-Star team.

O’Hearn, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-handed slugger out of Sam Houston State, is the first I.F. player to win the Nelles Award since Clint Robinson in 2007.

He started his pro career with a 5-for-5 night in his debut and never stopped hitting. His .372 batting average entering Saturday’s game was second in the league, and he leads the league in hits (87), runs (58) and slugging percentage (.598) while also belting 12 home runs and driving in 50 runs. He’s currently second in the league in on-base percentage at .449.

“I want to thank God first of all, and my teammates and coaches,” O’Hearn said in a news release. “I’ve been so blessed to end up in an awesome organization in the Royals, and to start my career with the Chukars. I have nothing but great things to say about the fans and my time here. It’s an honor to get picked for this award, and it’s something I will always cherish.”

Toups, a teammate of O’Hearn’s at Sam Houston State, shook off a slow start and is hitting .330 with 46 walks and an on-base percentage of .452. He also has 20 doubles.

Hill showed a strong arm at third base and is also hitting .282 with three home runs, 30 RBIs and a league-high seven triples.

Pehl has been the team’s cleanup hitter for most of the summer, batting .339 with 41 RBIs.

Deshazier has been the Chukars best pitcher all summer, posting a 5-2 record and a league-low 2.85 ERA. He’s second in WHIP (1.23) and opponents batting average (.236) while adding 64 strikeouts.

Kyle Pollock was named honorable mention at catcher while Omar Ramirez was an honorable mention selection as Manager of the Year (won by Grand Junction’s Anthony Sanders).

Chukars eliminated from 2014 Pioneer League playoffs

POST REGISTER

Idaho Falls did its part to stay alive in the Pioneer League playoff chase Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Ogden Raptors didn’t play along.

Idaho Falls knocked 11 hits, stole five bases and got dominating relief pitching to beat Orem 5-1 in front of 2,698 fans at Melaleuca Field. But down in Ogden, Utah, the Raptors cruised to a 9-7 win over Grand Junction and eliminated the Chukars from the South Division second-half playoff face.

The Chukars played a complete game Saturday.

Brawlun Gomez led the offense, going 3 for 4 with a run scored, two RBIs and a stolen base. Corey Toups went 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI and DonAndre Clark was 2 for 4 with a run scored and two stolen bases.

Eric Stout and Matthew Strahm shut the door over the final five innings. Stout earned the win, tossing three scoreless, hitless innings. Strahm followed with two scoreless innings.

The Chukars (35-36, 15-18) finish the regular season with five games against Ogden, the first three in Utah beginning today with the final two at Melaleuca Field beginning Wednesday.

Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game to debut in 2015

 

POST REGISTER

The best of the Pioneer League will take on the best of the Northwest League in an all-star game starting in 2015, the leagues announced Tuesday.

The first PBL-NWL All-Star game will be hosted by the Spokane Indians and will be played at Avista Stadium on Aug. 4, 2015.

“The Northwest League and Pioneer League are two prominent short-season leagues in Minor League Baseball,” Pat O’Connor, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, said in a news release. “To combine the two and showcase the talented individuals from 14 Major League farm systems is a win for everyone, especially the fans.”

The release didn’t specify how the teams would be chosen.

The Pioneer League is made up of teams from Idaho Falls, Ogden (Utah), Orem (Utah), Grand Junction (Colo.), Missoula (Mont.), Billings (Mont.), Helena (Mont.) and Great Falls (Mont.).

The Northwest League has teams in Boise, Spokane, Everett (Wash.), Tri-City (Wash.), Eugene (Ore.), Hillsboro (Ore.) and Salem-Keizer (Ore.).

Around the Pioneer League notebook, July 14

Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game will feature 11 Pioneer League alums. In addition to former Chukars catcher Salvador Perez representing the Kansas City Royals, Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder (Ogden, 2002), Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy (Ogden, 2001) and Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (Billings, 2001) earned spots on the American League team.

The National League roster features Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (Missoula, 2009), Arizona pitcher Patrick Corbin (Orem, 2009), Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura (Orem, 2009), San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera (Casper, 2006), Cubs pitcher Travis Wood (Billings, 2005), Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (Missoula, 2003) and Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto (Billings, 2003).

Continue reading “Around the Pioneer League notebook, July 14″

Around the Pioneer League notebook, July 7

Missoula Osprey right-handed pitcher Felipe Perez produced a rare feat in the Pioneer League on Monday — a complete-game shutout. With strict pitch counts and schedules for relievers set by Major League clubs, starting pitchers rarely last past the seventh inning. And if they do, a shutout only adds to the feat in the highest-scoring league in minor league baseball. But the 19-year-old right-hander turned in a three-hit shutout of Helena on Monday, facing one batter over the minimum, retiring the final 14 batters in a row and never issuing a walk. Perez only needed 83 pitches (58 strikes) to complete the nine-inning game. He induced three double plays and didn’t allow a Helena runner to reach scoring position. Continue reading “Around the Pioneer League notebook, July 7″

Around the Pioneer League notebook, June 30

The Ogden Raptors are home to five players this year whose fathers played in the major leagues.

Right-handed pitcher Dillon Moyer is the son of Jamie Moyer, who played 25 years in the majors. Third baseman Alex Santana is the son of Rafael Santana, who played shortstop with the Cardinals, Mets and Indians in his seven-year career. Right-handed pitcher J.D. Underwood is the son of Tom Underwood, who pitched for six teams in his 11-year career. Second baseman Zach Babitt is the son of Shooty Babitt, who played 51 games with the Athletics in 1981. And second baseman Jesmuel Valentin is the son of Jose Valentin, who played 16 years as a shortstop until retiring in 2007. Jose Valentin also played with Leo Garcia, Ogden’s hitting coach this summer.

Continue reading “Around the Pioneer League notebook, June 30″

Around the Pioneer League notebook, June 23

Longtime Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman resigned from the Angels’ organization last fall after the Angels asked him to focus solely on scouting and step back from managing. Kotchman declined, resigning and then signing with the Boston Red Sox, who made him the manager of the their rookie-level club in the Gulf Coast League, the GCL Red Sox.

Kotchman, 58, has spent the past 23 years managing the Angels’ short-season clubs in Idaho, the Boise Hawks, and Utah, and has worked with the Angels for 29 years. He took over the Provo Angels in their first year in 2001 and moved with the club when it became the Orem Owlz in 2005.

Under Kotchman’s tutelage, Orem/Provo has posted a 532-378 (.585 winning percentage) record, has reached the Pioneer League playoffs every year until 2012 and won four Pioneer League titles. In 34 years as a minor league manager – he spent five combined years with Detroit and Boston, where he managed Roger Clemens – he owns a 1,704-1,435 career record (.543 winning percentage). Continue reading “Around the Pioneer League notebook, June 23″

Around the Pioneer League, July 22

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton started a rehab assignment with the Grand Junction Rockies on Friday.

Helton, a five-time All-Star, went 2 for 2 with a walk in his three plate appearances and was in the lineup again Saturday. The 38-year-old has been on the disabled list since July 9 with a strained right hip, and he is eligible to come off the disabled list for the Major League Rockies on Wednesday.

Grand Junction drew 5,161 fans Friday, setting a record for the franchise in its first year.

The trip to Grand Junction marks Helton’s second appearance in the Pioneer League in the past three years. He played in three games with the Casper Ghosts in 2010, going 5 for 10 with one double. All three games sold out, a rarity in Casper. Continue reading “Around the Pioneer League, July 22″