Category: Kansas City Royals

Royals draft 41 players, Chukars season starts Saturday

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register
Thanks to the MLB Draft, the Chukars may soon receive some solid players from around the country.

(FILE) Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Royals had 41 picks during this week’s 2017 MLB Draft. Highlighting the picks were first basemen Nick Pratto, catcher MJ Melendez and left-handed pitchers Evan Steele and Daniel Tillo during the first three rounds.
The Chukars, a Single-A affiliate of the Royals based in Idaho Falls, could have the chance to groom some of these players this summer (however, none of the Royals 2016 draft picks started the season with the Chukars last year, according to a previous Post Register report). Since 2012, the Royals have usually sent 11 drafted players to the Chukars, according to a previous Post Register report.
Chukars’ media relations member Logan Ratick said the team will officially announce the roster Thursday at 10 a.m. But some of the Royals’ 41 selections may wear a Chukars’ uniform throughout their 76-game regular season.
The Chukars’ season begins Saturday with an exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Bandits’, an American Legion team. The game begins at 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field. Idaho Falls begins the regular season Monday at Grand Junction.
Here is some insight on the Royals’ draft selections:

First baseman Nick Pratto, selected 14th overall — Ranked the 13th-best player in this year’s MLB Draft, Pratto is worth around $3.7 million, according to MLB.com draft tracker. Pratto is a 6-foot-1, 195 pound lefty from Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School who batted a .318 and hit seven home runs during his senior season at Huntington. He also hit a walk-off home run to win the 2011 Little League World Series against Japan, per the Kansas City Star.
He is considered by many to be one of the best hitters in this year’s draft and is a University of South Carolina commit.

Catcher MJ Melendez, selected 52nd overall — A 6-foot-1, 175 pound catcher from Westminster Christian (Fla.) High School, Melendez is an “all-around” backstop, according to MLB.com’s draft tracker. The website also lauded Melendez’s athleticism and power. He was ranked 72-best in the draft by the website and was the second high school player selected by the Royals.

Left-handed pitcher Evan Steele, selected 73rd overall — A JUCO product courtesy of Chipola College (Fla.), Steele won the 2017 JUCO World Series and caught the Royal’s attention after going 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 40 1/3 innings this season. According to MLB.com, Steele struck out 58 opposing batters while holding them to a .208 batting average.

Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg told Kansas City MLB.com: “To get a big, 6-foot-6 left-hander who throws strikes, who can command his breaking ball, we thought it was a really good day.”

Left-handed pitcher Daniel Tillo, selected 90th overall — From Sioux City, started his career at Kentucky before transferring to Iowa Western and recorded a 2.86 ERA in nine games, according to the Des Moines Register. Tillo has a fastball clocked in around 95 mph, according to MLB.com. He was previously selected by the Minnesota Twins in 2015 (39th round, 1160th pick).

Center fielder Michael Gigliotti, selected 120th overall — A lefty from Lipscomb University, Gigliotti could be a solid professional leadoff hitter. He batted a .310 in the Cape Cod League and recorded a .451 on-base percentage as a junior at Lipscomb, according to CBS Sports. In 2016, he made 49 starts in the outfield and recorded a .301 batting percentage for Lipscomb.

Others selected:

5th round, 150th pick: Charlie Neuweiler/RHP/McClancy HS (Elmhusrt, NY)
6th round, 180th pick: Tyler Zuber/RHP/Arkansas State University
7th round, 210th pick: Brewer Hicklen/OF/University of Alabama-Birmingham
8th round, 240th pick: Holden Capps/LHP/Central Oklahoma
9th round, 270th pick: J.C. Cloney/LHP/Arizona
10th round, 300th pick: Jordan Floyd/LHP/Kansas State
11th round, 330th pick: Sal Biasi/RHP/Penn State
12th round, 360th pick: Collin Snider/RHP/Vanderbilt
13th round, 390th: Cason Sherrod/RHP/Texas A&M
14th round, 420th pick: Isaiah Henry/RHP/North Shore HS
15th round, 450th pick: Robert Garcia/LHP/California-Davis
16th round, 480th pick: Christopher Hudgins/C/Cal State Fullerton
17th round, 510th pick: Julio Gonzalez/SS/ Florida Gulf Coast
18th round, 540th pick: Marlin Willis/LHP/McEachern HS
19th round, 570th pick: Korry Howell/SS/Kirkwood CC
20th round, 600th pick: Bryar Johnson/RHP/Carolina Forest HS
21st round, 630th pick: Isaiah Smith/OF/Battle Ground HS
22nd round, 660th pick: Josh Mitchell/LHP/University of Pittsburgh
23rd round, 690th pick: Matt Morales/SS/Palm Beach CC
24th round, 720th pick: Connor Mayes/RHP/Texas
25th round, 750th pick: Tyler James/CF/William Carey
26th round, 780th pick: Garrett Suchey/RHP/Alabama
27th round, 810th pick: Nick Hutchins/C/Southern Illinois Carbondale
28th round, 840th pick: Taylor Fischer/RHP/Langham Creek HS
29th round, 870th pick: Travis Jones/UTL/Texas
30th round, 900th pick: Adam Brainbridge/LHP/Old Dominon
31st round, 930th pick: Justin Vought/C/Wyoming Valley West HS
32nd round, 960th pick: Andrew Beckwith/RHP/Coastal Carolina
33rd round, 990th pick: Damon Olds/RHP/Indiana State
34th round, 1,020th pick: Jackson Klein/RHP/Stanford
35th round, 1,050th pick: Reed Rohlman/OF/Clemson
36th round, 1,080th pick: Brady Cox/C/Texas-Arlington
37th round, 1,110th pick: Trvor Hauver/SS/ Perry HS
38th round, 1,140th pick: Montae Bradshaw/CF/Patrick Henry CC
39th round, 1,170th pick: Justin Mitchell/C/Platte Country R-3 HS
40th round, 1,200th pick: Yaniel Ramos/SS/Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy

Chukars announce their 2017 coaching staff

Gemoll
Gemoll

A new hitting coach will sit in the Idaho Falls Chukars dugout this summer.

Damon Hollins will replace Andre David as the Chukars’ hitting instructor for the 2017 season, the Chukars announced Friday. Manager Justin Gemoll and pitching coach Jeff Suppan will return to Idaho Falls for their third straight seasons, and Justin Kemp will serve as the Chukars’ head athletic trainer for the second straight year.

This is not Hollins’ first stint as the Chukars’ hitting coach. He held the same position in 2013 and 2014. Hollins spent the previous two seasons as the hitting coach for the Single-A Lexington Legends. 2017 will be Hollins’ eighth year in the Kansas City Royals’ organization.

David was named the hitting coach for the Burlington Royals, Kansas City’s other Rookie-level affiliate, according to the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News. Former Chukars manager Omar Ramirez will become Burlington’s manager this upcoming season, as well. Ramirez, who managed the Legends the last two years, spent three seasons in Idaho Falls. He and Hollins won a Pioneer League title in 2013.

The Chukars did not name a bench coach on Friday. Ramon Castro has occupied that role the previous two seasons.

Chukars Notebook: Meibrys Viloria reflects on MVP season

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Barring a major slump, the Pioneer League MVP was Meibrys Viloria’s to lose at the end of the first half.

Viloria, 19, tailed off a bit in the second half, but it didn’t cost him. The catcher became the third Idaho Falls Chukar since 2007 to win the Ralph Nelles Award. The league announced his MVP honor on Tuesday.

“I was working hard since spring training to right now, so I’m very excited,” Viloria said Thursday through I.F. bench coach Ramon Castro.

In the first 38 games, Viloria led the league in almost every major category: batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.793), hits (53), RBIs (36), doubles (15) and total bases (92). Most of those leads evaporated in the second half, but he still remained near the top.

His numbers look especially impressive compared to 2015. In 150 at-bats with Burlington last season, Viloria did not record single extra-base hit. He had 37 in 226 at-bats this season (28 doubles, three triples and six home runs).

“I’ve been working hard, working with Andre (David) in the cage every day, Viloria said. “That’s part of why I had a great season.”

Viloria still saw parts of his game that need improvement. Defense was his biggest weakness, he said, especially throwing outbase stealers. Viloria did, however, throw out 34 percent of all runners who tried to steal on him this season. That number would land him well within the top 10 of MLB catchers, and it was near the middle among regular Pioneer League catchers this season.

David, the Chukars’ hitting coach, said Viloria is mechanically sound as a hitter. One of the big things David worked on with Viloria was improving the position of his back elbow. That area has improved, David said, but there’s still room to grow.

David also praised Viloria’s hitting approach.

“When there were days that weren’t going well, which weren’t very many, he seemed to maintain a positive approach and knew that his plan and daily routine would carry him over into good things,” David said. “He understands what it takes on daily basis.”

DINI’S BUMPY ROAD TO I.F.

Nick Dini played 42 games for the Chukars last season. The catcher returned to I.F. for nine more this summer.

Dini, 23, began the 2016 season with Single-A Lexington, where he played one game. He moved up to Class A Advanced Wilmington for seven games, then returned to Lexington on June 30. In his first at-bat back on July 2, a pitch hit Dini in the hand, forcing him to exit the game. He later found out that his hand was broken, and he was placed on the 7-day disabled list.

Dini returned to action in the Arizona League on Aug. 16 and was moved up to I.F. on Aug. 22. He hit .378 with an .843 OPS in 39 plate appearances for the Chukars.

The constant shuffling and limited playing time this summer has frustrated Dini. But he put his struggles into perspective after seeing so many of his former teammates get released.

“Every opportunity you get, you’ve gotta take advantage of it,” Dini said. “The harsh reality is, if you don’t, you’ll be out of job. It sucks seeing guys go, but you understand that that’s part of it.”

STRAHM’S STRONG SEASON

Former Chukar Matt Strahm has thrived during his brief action with the Kansas City Royals this season. The left-handed pitcher owns a 0.54 ERA, 22 strikeouts and six walks in 16.2 innings pitched for the big league club this year.

Strahm, 24, was called up on July 31. He made his MLB debut that day and allowed one earned run in 0.1 inning against the Texas Rangers. He hasn’t allowed a run since.

Strahm made his professional debut with the Chukars in 2012. He returned to I.F. in 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery the year before, according to the Kansas City Star.

MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings has Strahm at No. 4 in Kansas City’s system.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS

Multiple Chukars led the Pioneer League in various statistical categories this season. Here they are:

Batting average Meibrys Viloria (.376)

Doubles Viloria (28)

RBIs Viloria (55)

Stolen bases Nick Heath (36)

Errors Ricky Aracena (38)

Hits allowed Arnaldo Hernandez (99)

Walks issued Matt Portland (37)

THE “WHO’S HOT?” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

C Meibrys Viloria

Apologies to Joe Dudek, Nick Heath, Alex Luna, Yeison Melo, Manny Olloque and Luke Willis, but this honor clearly belongs to the MVP.

THE “WHO’S NOT” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LHP Nick Andros

Andros finished the season with a 9.20 ERA, 48 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, 14 walks issued and seven home runs given up. On Monday at Orem, the Chukars had a 9-8 lead in the 10th inning when Andros entered the game. The Owlz scored two runs off Andros to walk off and eliminate I.F. from playoff contention.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Ricky Aracena

Aracena
Aracena

Perhaps no player represents the Idaho Falls Chukars’ poor second half more than Ricky Aracena.

Through Sunday, the shortstop had hit .183 since the first half ended. His on-base percentage dropped from .320 to .286, and his slugging percentage fell from .379 to .305.

Aracena’s biggest area of struggle this season has been defense, where he committed 38 errors going into Monday’s game.Missoula shortstop Jasrado Chisholm is second in the Pioneer League with 24 errors.

But errors only tell half the story. Aracena has a cannon of a right arm that’s rarely inaccurate (MLB.com ranked his arm a 65 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale). He’s also shown good range thanks to his above average speed. His biggest issue is corralling routine ground balls.

Aracena signed with the Kansas City Royals for $850,000 as a 16-year-old in 2014. He was MLB.com’s No. 24 international prospect at the time, and he’s the 29th-ranked prospect in Kansas City’s system in the website’s most recent list.

“Aracena has the quickness and range to play shortstop, and his very strong arm allows him to make all of the necessary throws,” MLB.com’s scouting report says. “He exhibits good instincts in all facets of the game and earns praise for his makeup as well.”

Aracena recently talked with the Post Register about his defense, signing with the Royals and his favorite MLB player. Chukars bench coach Ramon Castro translated.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve noticed good arm strength and accuracy from you this season. Is that something you would say, too?

“I haven’t been good with defense, but I try every time to throw perfect to the base. I think it’s becoming better.”

What has been the main reason for the errors this season?

“The errors I make are because I’m not ready, not focused. It’s a mentality.”

Do you think you’ll be able to fix your error troubles going forward?

I’ve been more focused, I’ve been more relaxed from making nice plays. I’m continuing to work.”

Do you feel like you’ve improved as a defender this season?

“I try to work hard all the time, whether I make an error or not. There are a lot of things I can do better.”

How did you get noticed by MLB scouts as a teenager?

“I was training in the Dominican Republic. Some friend told a scout with the Kansas City Royals, ‘I’ve got this guy here, so come down here and watch him.’ I was good when I signed. I was running good, threw good to the base and hit good. That’s why the Kansas City Royals signed me.”

How did you react when you signed?

“I was excited to sign with the Kansas City Royals. I was very happy coming to the states. I’m working hard and trying to go to the big leagues.”

Did earning that much money surprise you?

“I was looking for more money. Another team wanted to give me less money. I wanted to stay in Kansas City because I knew the Royals give a lot of opportunities.”

Who is your favorite MLB player or players?

“Jose Reyes.”

Why him?

“He plays hard every day. He plays hard, he plays exciting, he enjoys the game.”

DOZIER MOVES UP

Former Chukar Hunter Dozier was promoted from Triple-A Omaha to Kansas City on Friday. The Royals made room for Dozier on their 40-man roster by placing pitcher Luke Hochevar on the 60-day disabled list, according to the Kansas City Star.

Dozier hit .294/.357/.506 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 15 home runs in 433 plate appearances this summer with the Storm Chasers. Before Friday, the third baseman was considered the Royals’ top minor league prospect in the minor leagues, per MLB.com.

Dozier, 24, played for the 2013 Pioneer League champion Chukars. He hit .303/.403/.509 with seven homers that season.

2015 CHUKARS MOVE ON

The Post Register ran an interview last month with former Chukar Josh Banuelos, who was released by the Kansas City Royals in June. But he wasn’t the only 2015 I.F. player who was released since last summer. Here are the others (their 2015 stats with the Chukars are in parentheses):

LHP Tripp Davis (Pioneer League all-star; 2.81 ERA, 30 Ks, 11BB in 32 IP)

LHP Cruz Guevara (5.30 ERA, 37 Ks, 17 BBs in 37.1 IP)

OF Brawlun Gomez (.231/.279/.447, team-leading 11 HRs in 208 ABs)

C Pedro Gonzalez (.328/.403/.552 in 58 ABs)

LHP Nick Green (3.52 ERA, 15 Ks, 7 BBs in 15.1 IP)

LHP Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 Ks, 24 BBs in 47.1 IP)

RHP Carter Hope (6.07 ERA, 28 Ks, 12 BBs in 56.1 IP)

OF Riley King (1 for 3 in one game)

C Luis Lara (.320/.393/.320 in 25 ABs)

INF Logan Nottebrook* (.252/.341/.470 in 33 ABs)

C Kyle Pollock (.280/.348/.464 in 125 ABs)

RHP Alberto Rodriguez (3.38 ERA, 21 Ks, 13 BBs in 29.1 IP)

LHP Brandon Thomas (3.35 ERA, 34 Ks, 25 BBs in 45.2 IP)

LHP Ian Thompkins (4.44 ERA, 25 Ks, 20 BBs in 2.41 IP)

*Nottebrook retired

WHO’S HOT?

1B Joe Dudek

From Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, Dudek notched at least two hits in each of the four games. Through Sunday, Dudek had gone 17 for 35 (.486) with three home runs, five doubles and 11 walks in his last 11 games.

WHO’S NOT?

C MJ Sanchez

Sanchez has been saddled with the backup catcher role thanks to Meibrys Viloria, so his playing time has been sparse. When Sanchez has played, he’s struggled.

Through Sunday, the 22-year-old had played in nine games since the start of August. He went 2 for 28 (.071) with one walk in those contests. He’s hitting .214/.291/.229 on the season.

Chukars Notebook: Road tripping

chukars-extra-125x125

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ first-half road struggles could be largely explained by luck, or lack thereof. Their most recent road trip was different.

Close losses made up the bulk of the Chukars’ 7-12 first-half road record. The Chukars went 1-6 at the Billings Mustangs and Great Falls Voyagers from Aug. 4 through

Wednesday. They were outscored by 25 runs.

Diagnosing I.F.’s road woes is difficult if not counterproductive. Teams go through slumps. The fact that the Chukars’ slump was away from Melaleuca Field could be coincidental. But manager Justin Gemoll saw some signs that explain the road struggles.

The Chukars fell to 8-18 on the road for the season following the Montana trip. Through Friday, that record was tied for the second worst in the Pioneer League. Their home record, meanwhile, was a league-best 18-6.

Why the polarization?

“At home you’re more familiar with the surroundings, you’re in a routine, Gemoll said. “(On the road) some of it is they’re going to a new place and they don’t know where to eat. A lot of it’s unfamiliarity.”

Discomfort can carry over to the field. Gemoll said his players, mainly the hitters, tried to do to much on the recent trip. They’d often swing at pitches they’d normally take.

“I told the guys, ‘Hey, relax,’ Gemoll said. “Sometimes you try so hard, you try harder and harder, and you dig yourself into a hole.”

The results have reflected those impatient approaches, especially the last seven games. The Chukars averaged 3.1 runs on 7.3 hits on the road trip. They now average 6.0 runs per game on the road, compared to 8.5 at home (through Friday).

The pitching staff has been more consistent, at least from a run prevention standpoint. The Chukars allowed 6.2 runs at home and 6.4 on the road going into Saturday.

But these results don’t necessarily point to an overarching problem. Randomness is rampant over small samples, from three-game series to 76-game seasons. The Chukars haven’t played enough games to make definitive conclusions about performance. For instance, the Chukars went 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position in their three-game sweep at Billings. There’s little evidence to suggest that major league hitters perform better than their peers with runners in scoring position.

The Chukars, of course, are far away from the big leagues. Some are teenagers. Many are in their first professional seasons. Road trips likely affect them more than seasoned vets.

“Professional baseball takes a toll on your body and your mind,” Gemoll said. “It’s a long grind. Get them used to it now.”

CHUKARS IN THE INFIELD

The Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd published a story Monday about a good problem for the Kansas City Royals: they have a logjam at third base.

Former Chukar Chelsor Cuthbert currently resides at third. The rookie is hitting .301 with a .795 OPS and 10 home runs in 337 plate appearances through Saturday filling in for all-star Mike Moustakas (also a former Chukar), who is out for the year with a knee injury.

Moustakas has been Kansas City’s starting third baseman for the last five years and was a key piece of the 2014 and 2015 World Series teams. First baseman Eric Hosmer (another former Chukar) and shortstop Alcides Escobar have been equally, if not more, valuable. Second base is occupied by Kansas City’s top prospect and former Chukar Raul Mondesi.

Highly touted prospect Hunter Dozier (and, you guessed it, a former Chukar) is playing third base for Triple-A Omaha. Dozier has made starts at first base and in the outfield, according to Dodd, the Star’s Royals beat writer. The Royals also think Cuthbert can play multiple positions, including second base, per Dodd. Kansas City could stick one of their infielders at designated hitter next season, as well.

There are scenarios where Kansas City’s entire infield will be made up of former Chukars next season. That would involve moving on from Escobar, who the Royals have a team option on for 2017. Mondesi would then move to shortstop (his main position in the minors), and Cuthbert would transition to second. The new infield would look like this: Hosmer/Dozier at first, Cuthbert at second, Mondesi at short, Moustakas/Dozier at third and Salvador Perez (a 2008-2009 Chukar) at catcher.

These position decisions, of course, won’t be made until at least the offseason.

STANDINGS UPDATE

The Chukars are 4-9 in the second half, leaving them three games back of Pioneer League South leader Grand Junction. The Chukars have 25 games left in the half to make up the deficit.

If the Orem Owlz (5-8 second half) finish first in the division for the second half, the Chukars would need to come in second to make the playoffs.

WHO’S HOT?

OF Luke Willis

Willis has quietly been one of I.F.’s best hitters this season, in part because he doesn’t play everyday. Since July 28, his batting average has risen from .311 to .341. Willis has gone 14 for 32 (.438) with two walks and no extra-base hits in that span.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Nick Heath

Heath’s batting average reached .297 on Aug. 4. He has recorded one hit since.

The left-hander has gone 1 for 22 with two walks and five strikeouts in his last six games. His average now sits at .264.

Chukars extend their affiliation with the Kansas City Royals through 2018

chukars-logo-125x125

The Idaho Falls Chukars will remain a Rookie-level affiliate of the Kansas City Royals for at least two more seasons.

The Chukars and Royals agreed to an extension through 2018, the Chukars announced Wednesday. Before the extension was finalized, the affiliation was going to expire at the end of this season.

“We are truly excited to continue our partnership with the Idaho Falls Chukars,” Royals director of minor league operations Ronnie Richardson said in a news release. “The Idaho Falls organization and the entire community continue to embrace our players and staff each year, and that truly makes Idaho Falls a special place to develop our players.”

The Chukars have been a Royals affiliate since 2004, so Wednesday’s extension will give them 15 seasons (and counting) in Kansas City’s system. The only MLB club to have I.F. as an affiliate for a longer period of time was the California Angels from 1965 to 1981.

“We couldn’t be happier with the relationship that we have developed with the Kansas City Royals over the past 12 1⁄2 seasons,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said in the news release.

The Chukars have made three Pioneer League championship series since 2004. They beat Helena in 2013 for their only league title as a Royals affiliate.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with recently released Josh Banuelos

Josh Banuelos slides into third base during the bottom of the first inning of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2015 season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Josh Banuelos slides into third base during the bottom of the first inning of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2015 season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Less than a year after a successful season with the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Kansas City Royals released Josh Banuelos from his minor-league contract.

Banuelos, a 28th-round pick in the 2014 MLB draft, played nine games for Single-A Lexington and 26 for Advanced Single-A Wilmington this season. Overall, he hit .194 with a .614 OPS.

Banuelos, 24, played for the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros for about a month after his release. The first baseman returned to his hometown of Hanford, Calif., last week.

Banuelos recently discussed his release and his three-year professional career.

(Note: this Q&A has been edited for clarity and length)

Is your baseball career over?

“As of right now, I told myself I’m done with baseball. I was actually gonna go back to the college I got drafted out of [Fresno Pacific] and try to coach there, be an undergrad assistant, and have them pay for my college so I can finish my degree (in sociology, plus a minor and criminology).”

“I’m still gonna be training as if I’m gonna go back, but as of right now, something dramatic has to happen.”

Have you talked to any MLB clubs since being released?

“When I got released, I got a couple of phone calls. They said they were interested. But it came at a tough time with the draft just happening. There wasn’t a lot of space for me at the time. That’s why I want to be prepared and train if I was to play again, just in case I do get that phone call.”

You were a Pioneer League All-Star and finished the season hitting .357 last year with the Chukars. Did any part of you think you’d get released a year later?

“Heck no. When it happened, everyone was so surprised. I got so many texts from the guys: ‘Are you serious? How could they do that after the year you just put up?’ There are guys who haven’t really shown anything. I don’t want to talk bad about anyone. They’re all my friends still. But after the year I put up, how could that happen?”

Who broke the news to you about your release?

“It was Charlie Corbell, the High A pitching coach. We just got back from a road trip. We were going to start the all-star break. He pulled me into the office and was like, ‘Sorry, we’ve gotta release you.’

What else did he and the Royals tell you?

“They said that the organization is going a different way. I didn’t really get what it meant.”

“I kinda figured it was going to happen sooner or later. I wasn’t really getting a lot of chances. I got left in extended spring training again. I didn’t break with a full-season team this year. Right then and there, I knew that it wasn’t my time. Then went to Low A, and I kinda sat on the bench there. I got bumped up to High-A, and I kinda sat on the bench there, too.”

So you were expecting to get released?

“I wasn’t really expecting it, it was more of a relief off my shoulders. It was a relief because I was debating, ‘Should I ask for my release? What should I do? I don’t want to be a quitter, so I’ll stick it out.’

Did the Royals give you specific reasons for releasing you?

“(Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo) kinda explained to me in spring training why I was left off the roster. He told me, ‘It comes down to money. Other guys have a lot more money than you.’ Which I told him I understood: ‘You have a business to run. I have no regrets and no hate toward the Royals. You guys gave me an opportunity, the dream of my lifetime, to come play with you guys.’ To this day, I don’t hate them or anything. I have nothing but love for the Royals organization.”

If your career is in fact over, what will you miss the most about affiliated ball?

“Just being around the guys. You create that bond with them. For instance, (Amalani Fukofuka) and I were real close last year in Idaho. This was our third year on a team together. You create bonds with people who you care about so much. A lot of these guys are going to be at your wedding one day.”

FORMER CHUKARS HONORED

Former Chukars Cheslor Cuthbert and Danny Duffy were named the Kansas City Royals player and pitcher of the month, respectively.

For the month of July, Cuthbert hit .340 with a .862 OPS and two home runs in 102 plate appearances. The third baseman played 14 games for I.F. in 2010 at the age of 17.

Duffy pitched 34 innings in five starts last month. The left-hander had a 3.18 ERA, allowed 31 hits, walked six and struck out 31. Those numbers don’t even include Monday’s start, one of the best by any MLB pitcher this season. Duffy pitched eight scoreless innings against Tampa Bay, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 16 Rays.

Duffy made two starts for the Chukars in 2010 as a 21-year-old.

WHO’S HOT?

2B Jordan Ebert

Ebert has been hot since he joined the Chukars in late June. Through Friday, he was batting .349 with an .842 OPS in 66 at-bats for I.F. Last Sunday, Ebert went 4 for 4 with his first home run of the season.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Rudy Martin

Martin’s batting average reached .350 and his OPS was .935 on July 21. Heading into Saturday, those figured dropped to .224 and .658. Martin had gone 4 for 39 (.103) with one extra-base hit in his eight games since July 21.

Chukars Notebook: A heartbreaking end to a strong first half

Bayliss
Bayliss

In the ninth inning of the final game of the first half, the Idaho Falls Chukars didn’t know what their audience did: the Orem Owlz had lost.

Orem’s loss to Billings gave the Chukars an opening. If they came back to beat Missoula, they’d be the Pioneer League South Division first half champions.

As Orem’s game was concluding, the Chukars staged a comeback. A 4-1 deficit turned into a 4-4 tie, and it was feet away from a 5-4 lead. Angelo Castellano hit a double high off the wall to tie it up.

I.F.’s joy soon turned into anguish. Jacy Cave hit a walkoff home run off Brian Bayliss to put a disappointing end to an otherwise successful first half for the Chukars.

“It was a tough loss, especially when the game’s over and you find out that Orem lost,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “Still, (we) accomplished a lot. I think a lot of our losses were by one or two runs. A lot of close games. With those close games, it just makes you focus on doing the little things right because a bunch of little things add up to a win.”

In some ways, Bayliss symbolized I.F.’s strong first half and its dispiriting end. Bayliss is a Pioneer League All-Star. The right-hander finished the first half with a 2.87 ERA, 13 strikeouts and three unintentional walks. Cave’s home run was one negative moment in a half full of positive ones.

“It’s baseball. It happens,” Bayliss said. “You’ve got another half season, and you just have to move on.”

The Chukars haven’t won a first half title since 2007, and they went a league-worst 13-25 in the first half of 2015. Bayliss was on last year’s team, and the playoff race this week didn’t feel new to him. It felt like the second half of last year, when the Chukars won the South Division.

The biggest goal for Gemoll and company, of course, is to develop their players. The coaching staff wants all 29 players to improve, wins and losses be damned to some extent.

Not every aspect of development is mechanical. Close games and tight playoff races can also prepare the players for the next level, even if Pioneer League contests feel light years away from the World Series.

“To get to that next level, you’ve gotta be a little bit sharper up top,” Gemoll said. “That’s what the good big league players do.”

One positive from finishing second in the first half title chase: the second half has stakes. The Chukars have another playoff race to look forward to.

LUNA’S STATUS

Chukars starting pitcher Alex Luna strained his left oblique Tuesday at Missoula. The injury will force Luna to miss Tuesday’s All-Star game, but neither he nor Justin Gemoll expect him to miss much time. Luna isn’t exactly sure when he’ll be back, but he hopes to throw again by Tuesday.

Luna leads I.F. with 42 strikeouts, and he’s issued seven walks in 40 innings pitched. The right-hander also leads all Pioneer League starters with a 2.48 ERA.

MONDESI CALLED UP

Kansas City called up former Chukar Raul Mondesi on Tuesday. The 21-year-old has started at second base the previous five games for the Royals and has gone 6 for 17 (.353) at the plate. He recorded his first MLB hit Wednesday, a bunt single against the Los Angeles Angels.

Mondesi, widely considered the Royals’ top prospect, was added to Kansas City’s 2015 World Series roster and made one plate appearance in Game 3. He started this season in Double-A Northwest Arkansas but was suspended 50 games in May after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing drug. He returned to Advanced Single-A Wilmington on June 25, moved up to Northwest Arkansas on July 4 and ascended to Triple-A Omaha on July 9.

Mondesi played for the Chukars in 2012 at the age of 16. He hit .290 with a .733 OPS in 232 plate appearances.

FORMER CHUKARS LITTER TOP 30 LIST

MLB.com released its updated overall and team prospect lists this week. The Royals’ new top 30 looks similar to their preseason list, but several players have moved around.

Below are the former and current Chukars who made the Royals’ list:

1. SS/2B Raul Mondesi (preseason: No. 1) Was a Chukar in 2012; No. 54 on MLB.com’s top 100 list

2. 3B/OF Hunter Dozier (preseason: No. 15) Chukar in 2013

4. LHP Matt Strahm (preseason: No. 10) Chukar in 2012, 2014

6. RHP Kyle Zimmer (preseason: No. 2) Chukar in 2014

8. 1B/OF Ryan O’Hearn (preseason: No. 13) Chukar in 2014

9. RHP Alec Mills (preseason: No. 15) Chukar in 2012, 2014

10. RHP Jake Junis (preseason: unranked) Chukar in 2013

11. RHP Josh Staumont (preseason: 18) Chukar in 2015

14. SS Marten Gasparini (preseason: 8) Chukar in 2014, 2015

23. RHP Brooks Pounders (preseason: 29) Chukar in 2014, 2015

24. LHP Eric Skoglund (preseason: 28) Chukar in 2014

29. SS Ricky Aracena (preseason: 26) Current Chukar

30. 2B/SS Corey Toups (preseason: unranked) Chukar in 2014

Former Chukars who dropped out of the top 30: OF Amalani Fukofuka (preseason: 20; Chukar in 2015), OF Brandon Downs (preseason: 24; Chukar in 2014)

WHO’S HOT (FIRST HALF)?

C Meibrys Viloria

Alex Luna, Manny Olloque, Yeison Melo and others had excellent halves, but Viloria is the indisputable choice for this award. In the first 38 games, Viloria led the Pioneer League in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.793), hits (53), RBIs (36), doubles (15) and total bases (92).

WHO’S NOT (FIRST HALF)?

LHP Nick Andros

Andros finished the first half with a 10.80 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched. He allowed 27 hits, seven walks (11 strikeouts) and a team-high six home runs.

Chukars Notebook: Divergent first-half records

Viloria
Viloria

The first half of the Pioneer League baseball season will conclude in four days, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first place in the South Division. The Chukars have already won 20 games, a mark they didn’t reach last summer until August.

With 20 new players this season, I.F. was bound to play differently than last year’s team. But this much improvement is impossible to predict. Here are a few key areas of success for I.F. this half:

Deep lineup 

Alexis Rivera was one of the Pioneer League’s best hitters last season before moving up to Single-A Lexington (he was released this spring but signed a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Angels). Josh Banuelos and Amalani Fukofuka painted the field with hits, as well, especially in the first half. The dropoff between those three and the rest of the lineup was Yellowstone Falls-esque.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini and second baseman D.J. Burt hovered around the Mendoza line. When right fielder Brawlun Gomez wasn’t hitting home runs, he was probably striking out. Third baseman Ryan Dale was never productive.

This year’s lineup is as deep as it relentless. I.F. has five wins this season when it trailed in the seventh inning or later, and that’s despite an error-prone defense and a shaky bullpen.

The bats are highlighted by catcher Meibrys Viloria, who transcends hyperbole. He leads the Pioneer League in five categories: batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles and RBIs.

Viloria’s season has rendered many of his teammates underrated, namely third baseman Manny Olloque, right fielder Yeison Melo, outfielder Luke Willis and first baseman David Edwards.

Outfielder Tanner Stanley and first basemen Colton Frabasilio and Brandon Dulin were all promoted after each hitting over .300 in I.F. Newer starters like second baseman Jordan Ebert and outfielders Nick Heath and Rudy Martin have filled in admirably.

The only mediocre everyday hitters are Ricky Aracena and Angelo Castellano, and even the 5-foot-8 Aracena has trouble fitting into that category. The shortstop was hitting .282 with a .702 OPS through Friday.

The Chukars have already scored 274 runs (8.1 per game) this summer. They mustered 238 (6.3 per game) in the first half of 2015.

Improved pitching 

None of I.F.’s 2016 starters own ERAs worse than 7.00. Three I.F. starters had ERAs above 7.00 at this point last season, which led to more innings for a shaky bullpen. This year’s bullpen has been inconsistent, but manager Justin Gemoll has three arms with sub-4.00 ERAs at his disposal.

The biggest difference between these two staffs: strikes.

I.F. had issued 3.4 walks per game going into Saturday. Last year’s team averaged 3.8. Like nearly every 2015 pitching stat, that number was much higher in the first half.

Home comfort

The Chukars are 5-10 on the road this season, not far off from their 5-13 record away from home in the first half last season. The obvious key difference is at home.

I.F.’s home record this summer is 15-4, easily the best in the Pioneer League. The Chukars’ home run differential is plus-60, as well. The club went 8-12 at Melaleuca Field in first half last year, and they were outscored by 12 runs in those 20 games.

CC RAKING IN KC 

Cheslor Cuthbert moved up from Triple-A to the Kansas City Royals in May to fill-in for another former Chukar, Mike Moustakas. The All-Star third baseman is out for the season with a torn ACL, but Cuthbert has done his best to fix the broken hearts in Kansas City.

A 2-for-3 performance Saturday lifted Cuthbert’s batting average over .300 and his OPS over .800, the second time that’s happened in 63 games this season (the first time was in his fourth game).

Cuthbert’s progression has been linear. He hit .253 with a .601 OPS in May, .283 and .844 in June and .377 and .958 thus far in July. He also has nine home runs on the year.

Cuthbert played 14 games for I.F. in 2010 as a 17-year-old. He got a cup of coffee with Kansas City last season, when he hit .217 with a .650 OPS in 19 games.

ROSTER MOVES 

The Royals haven’t initiated much movement with the Chukars roster the last two weeks. In fact, I.F. has undergone just two makeovers since July 5.

July 13: Chukars outfielder Tanner Stanley moves up to Lexington. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons is released. Second baseman Jordan Ebert, outfielder Rudy Martin and right-handed pitcher Paul Young are promoted from the Arizona League to I.F.

July 16: Double-A Northwest Arkansas activates left-hander Sam Selman from the 7-day disabled list, ending his rehab assignment with the Chukars.

WHO’S HOT? 

RHP Andres Machado 

Machado had a 13.50 ERA after his first start. That number shriveled to 4.00 after Monday’s gem against Missoula.

Machado didn’t allow a run or a walk in five innings against the Osprey. He gave up one hit and struck out four.

Machado’s stinginess doesn’t end there. He has allowed one earned run on 11 hits, one walk and 17 strikeouts in his last 14 innings pitched.

WHO’S NOT? 

INF Angelo Castellano

Castellano’s batting average was as high as .280 on July 4. Since then he’s gone 12 for 56 (.214). He still has a solid OBP (.350 through Friday), but his patience has waned lately. And Castellano has only hit five extra-base hits all season, including none for home runs.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Meibrys Viloria

Idaho Falls' Meibrys Viloria slides into third base with a triple against the Orem Owlz on June 24 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Meibrys Viloria slides into third base with a triple against the Orem Owlz on June 24 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Four years ago, professional baseball scout Rafael Miranda told Orlando Estevez to check out a 15 year-old catcher/shortstop from Cartagena, Colombia.

Estevez was, and still is, the Kansas City Royals’ coordinator of Latin American scouting. The 15-year-old was Meibrys Viloria.

Estevez was in Colombia when he got Miranda’s call, so he made a short trip to see Viloria. Viloria’s bat, athleticism and makeup impressed Estevez so much, the Royals signed Viloria to a minor league contract a year later.

Last season with Burlington, Viloria didn’t record an extra-base hit. He has 20 extra-baggers in 21 games for the Idaho Falls Chukars this season, his third in the Royals’ farm system. Going into Saturday, Viloria led the Pioneer League in batting average (.462), on-base percentage (.511), slugging percentage (.859), doubles (13) and RBIs (28).

Viloria sat down with the Post Register on Thursday to discuss his blazing start to the season.

Miguel Castellano, brother of Chukars shortstop Angelo Castellano, translated for Viloria. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Have you done anything differently at the plate this year?

“One thing that has changed is that I’ve tried to swing more (than in previous seasons). Have better swings to whatever pitch is coming. Whatever I see in the zone, I’m swinging.”

Are you surprised you haven’t been promoted to Single-A Lexington or another level?

“I’m not surprised at all. I’m just trying to play very well and just wait and do my best. Whenever the time comes, I’m going to take it. But I’m not worried and I’m not waiting for it. I’m just going to do my best, and that’s it.”

How amazing did it feel to hit the walk-off grand slam against Ogden on July 5?

“It was a really good experience. I just waited for the right pitch and I swung. That’s what came.”

First walk-off home run in your career?

“The first walk-off in my life.”

You watched that ball for a few seconds. What explained that?

“(Smiles) It’s the last inning, so when you get a hit to make your team win, you feel amazing. You don’t know what to do. I was really excited because of the moment.”

On July 2, Grand Junction pitcher Heath Holder was ejected after hitting you in the back with a pitch. Why do you think he did that?

“It was because of the home run I hit earlier in the game. I stayed at home plate for a bit (and flipped my bat). It’s disrespectful to do that, so that’s why he did it.”

What was your reaction to getting hit?

“I knew that was going to happen at any time. I got up to the plate and knew it was coming.”

What can you improve on as a player?

“On defense, the throws to second base.”

Describe your life growing up in Cartagena.

“I was kind of poor. My mom always supported me to keep playing. When I got to travel to other cities (for baseball), my mom did everything possible to make it happen. When I got the chance to come here, I just took it.”

FROM CHUKARS TO ALL-STARS

Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are two of the most famous former Chukars. They improved their resumes on Tuesday at theMLB All-Star Game in San Diego.

Both Hosmer and Perez hit home runs in the second inning. Those two blasts provided enough runs (three) to give the American League a victory over the National League.

The AL ultimately prevailed 4-2, and Hosmer, who went 2 for 3, was named the MVP of his first All-Star Game.

Hosmer, a first baseman, made 15 plate appearances for the Chukars as an 18-year-old in 2008.

Perez spent parts of two seasons with the Chukars. The catcher made 46 plate appearances for I.F. at the age of 18 in 2008 and made 259 plate appearances the following season.

BUTLER BACK

Oakland Athletics first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler made his near-annual trip to Idaho Falls this week as the MLB had it’s All-Star break.

Butler visited I.F. the same time last year and in previous years. The former Chukar lived in I.F. during the offseason from 2007 to 2011 and met his wife, Katie Hansen, there in 2004.

Butler played 74 games for the Chukars in 2004 and became an All-Star with the Royals.

STANDINGS UPDATE

The Chukars (16-12) sit a game behind first-Orem (17-11) in the Pioneer League South standings with 10 games left in the first half.

WHO’S HOT?

OF Yeison Melo

Melo has ridden waves of production this season. His batting average reached a season-high .357 on June 28 but fell to .275on July 6. Going into Saturday, Melo had gone 16 for 34 (.470 average) with a home run since, and his OPS rose from .711 to .850.

WHO’S NOT?

RHP Igol Feliz

Feliz had a 2.76 ERA through his first three starts. That number ballooned to 6.48 his last two starts.

So what went wrong? First off, he allowed 20 hits in 8.2 innings pitched, leading to 13 earned runs. He also allowed five walks and only struck out three. It’s hard to limit runs when you’re not missing bats and not throwing strikes.