Category: Kansas City Royals

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.

Chukars cruise 9-2 with World Series trophy at Melaleuca Field

 

Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Curt Nelson “woke up” the 2015 World Series trophy at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Nelson, the director of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, put the trophy in a case and wheeled it out of Kauffman Stadium. The two headed to Kansas City International Airport, where they caught a flight to Denver at 9 a.m. From Denver, Nelson and the Commissioner’s Trophy flew to Idaho Falls.

The trophy’s final destination was Melaleuca Field, where it was on display during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-2 win over the Helena Brewers Friday night. It was the first visit to I.F. in the trophy’s 49-year history.

Trophy life

The Commissioner’s Trophy has now visited five of Kansas City’s six minor league affiliates (the other Rookie-level team, Burlington, will get the trophy in August). These visits must work around the Royals’ schedule because the trophy is displayed for all 81 games in Kansas City. The Chukars got an opening this weekend with the Royals playing in Detroit.

The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Nelson flew coach on his trip to Idaho Falls. Sitting next to him was the trophy, with a seat belt around its base and everything. Passengers gawked.

“The question I get most often is, “Is that the real one?” Nelson said.

Nelson handles the trophy with white gloves, but he doesn’t worry about the trophy — which cost tens of thousands of dollars to make — getting broken or stolen. In fact, the trophy sat on a plastic table and was not covered as fans took photos with it.

“I try not to get too nervous,” he said. “I have to remind myself to be careful with it.”

The trophy will also be displayed during Saturday’s game, and it will fly back to Kansas City on Sunday morning.

Swept away

Many I.F. players saw the Commissioner’s Trophy in person for the first time. An easy narrative would be to credit the trophy — and the 3,280 fans that came to see it — for I.F.’s dominant win.

Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

But the Chukars played like this well before the trophy arrived. Friday’s win completed a three-game sweep and increased their winning streak to four. I.F. won all four games by at least six runs.

“For those guys, it’s good to actually see (the trophy),” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said of his players. “It shows them what they’re working for, the ultimate goal of winning a world championship. I don’t know if it had any effect on our game or not. These guys have been playing hard since we got them.”

Everything was firing on Friday. Matt Portland had a no-hitter through four, the defense made few mistakes and every batter recorded a hit. Luke Willis and David Edwards each hit their third home runs of the season, and Yeison Melo hit his first — a 428-foot, three-run blast in the fourth.

“I feel comfortable hitting the ball right now,” Melo said through translator Ramon Castro, I.F.’s bench coach.

A different World Series celebration

The Chukars’ pitching coach Friday was not Jeff Suppan. In his stead was Royals minor league pitching coordinator Larry Carter.

Suppan is visiting St. Louis this weekend for a reunion with his former teammates on the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Suppan started game four of that World Series, allowing three earned runs in six innings. The Cardinals won that game 5-4 and closed out the series a game later.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Matt Portland

The left-hander was literally unhittable for the first four innings. He struggled in the fifth, allowing two runs on Helena’s only three hits of the game.

Overall, Portland allowed two earned runs with three walks and seven strikeouts in five innings.

Up next

The Chukars (16-11) begin a four-game series against the Missoula Osprey (11-16) at 7:15 p.m. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start for I.F.

World Series trophy to visit Idaho Falls

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For the first time in at least five decades, the World Series trophy will visit Idaho Falls.

The Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets 4-1 in last season’s World Series. The Royals decided to send the Commissioner’s Trophy to all six of its minor league affiliates’ towns, including Idaho Falls. The trophy will be on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday and Saturday, when the Rookie-level Chukars host Helena and Missoula, respectively.

“Real happy that the Royals thought of us on this,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “It will be something else to get excited about for a season of baseball. And I anticipate a couple of really big crowds those two nights.”

Idaho Falls has fielded minor league teams since 1940, but the city’s MLB affiliates have rarely won World Series. The last team with I.F. as an affiliate to win a title was the New York Yankees in 1962 (the affiliate was named the Idaho Falls Yankees). I.F. was also a Yankees affiliate in 1949 (named the Idaho Falls Russets), when New York beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Those were the only two titles by I.F.’s major league clubs before last season.

Greene does not know if the World Series trophy traveled to Idaho Falls in 1949 or 1962, and there are few, if any, ways to know one way or the other. So this week might be the first time the trophy has ever graced I.F.

Fans who attend the games Friday or Saturday will be able to view the trophy in the Melaleuca Field concourse, and they will be allowed take pictures with it.

I.F. is the second-to-last stop for the trophy this summer. It traveled to Omaha (Triple-A), Northwest Arkansas (Double-A), Lexington (Single-A) and Wilmington (High A) in early June. Its last stop is Burlington (Kansas City’s other Rookie affiliate), where it will visit in mid-August.

Chukars Notebook: Raul Mondesi highlights Royals’ prospect rankings

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Since returning from 50-game suspension, Raul Mondesi has been all over the place.

The Kansas City Royals shortstop prospect was suspended on May 10 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Mondesi returned on June 25 as a member of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Kansas City’s Advanced Single-A affiliate. On July 4, he moved up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he played prior to the suspension. And finally, Mondesi was called up to Triple-A Omaha on Friday.

That’s not quite all. Baseball America came out with its midseason top 100 prospects list the same day Mondesi moved up to Omaha. No. 55 on the list? Mondesi. He’s one of several former Idaho Falls Chukars on various prospect lists.

Mondesi is the only Royals prospect to make Baseball America’s midseason list, and he actually moved down 26 spots from the website’s preseason list (fellow Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer was No. 85 on that list).

Mondesi is still ranked No. 1 on almost every online Royals prospect rankings. Zimmer is Kansas City’s consensus No. 2 prospect, and he also played for the Chukars. The right-handed pitcher threw 4.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2014, posting a 1.93 ERA. Mondesi spent all of 2012 with the Chukars, hitting .290 with a .733 OPS in 207 at-bats.

The next highest former Chukar on MLB.com’s Royals prospect list is shortstop Marten Gasparini. The Italy native is ranked No. 8 on MLB’s list and No. 7 on Baseball America’s, although most other scouting websites are not that high on him. Gasparini is hitting .197 with a .587 OPS for Single-A Lexington this season. He batted .259 with a .752 OPS with the Chukars last summer.

Northwest Arkansas first baseman Ryan O’Hearn is No. 5 on FanGraphs.com’s Royals list, which is also high compared to most rankings. Unlike Gasparini, O’Hearn has produced at just about every level. His career minor league batting average is .300 and his OPS is .898. O’Hearn was named the Pioneer League Player of the Year with the Chukars in 2014, thanks to a .361 average and a 1.034 OPS.

MLB.com ranks Northwest Arkansas lefty Matt Strahm No. 10 in the Royals’ system. Strahm pitched 30.1 innings for I.F. in 2012 and 19.2 in 2014, posting 5.64 and 2.29 ERAs, respectively.

One current Chukar made the top 30 of MLB.com’s rankings. Shortstop Ricky Aracena is No. 25.

Some other notable former Chukars:

Omaha third baseman Hunter Dozier (played for I.F. in 2013) is ranked N0. 10 on Baseball Prospectus’ Kansas City rankings.

Omaha righty Alec Mills (I.F. 2014) is No. 13 on MLB.com’s list.

Wilmington righty Josh Staumont (I.F. 2015) is No. 17 on MLB.com’s list.

Lexington outfielder Amalani Fukofuka (I.F. 2015) is No. 19 on MLB.com’s list.

Righty Brooks Pounders (I.F. 2014 and 2015) is No. 28 on MLB.com’s list. Pounders made his MLB debut on Tuesday at Toronto. He’s allowed one earned run in three relief innings for Kansas City so far.

Roster move

July 5: Chukars first baseman/catcher Colton Frabasilio moves up to Advanced Single-A Wilmington. Frabasilio’s call-up stemmed from an injury to Zane Evans of the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, according to the Chukars. Evans was placed on the disabled list, which led to a promotion for Wilmington catcher Luis Villegas. Frabasilio filled Villegas’ vacant roster spot.

Frabasilio hit .348 (16 for 48) with a .936 OPS in 12 games for I.F. this summer.

Standings update

The Chukars improved to 12-10 with their 10-8 win over Orem on Saturday. I.F. now sits two games behind the Owlz (14-8) with 16 games left in the first half.

Who’s hot?

3B Manny Olloque

Olloque was named the Pioneer League Player of the Week for his performance from June 27 through July 3. He hit .429 (12 for 28) with three doubles and two home runs during the week.

Olloque was a bit quieter this week. Then came Saturday, when he went 4 for 5 against Orem to extend his hitting streak to eight games. Olloque is now hitting .350 on the season with an OPS over .900.

Who’s not?

LHP Sam Selman

Selman joined the Chukars on a rehab assignment. He started the season with Northwest Arkansas and has reached as high as Omaha (in 2014). With the Chukars in 2012, he earned the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year thanks to a 2.09 ERA in 60.1 innings.

Selman has not improved that resume with I.F. this summer.

Selman’s ERA with the Chukars dropped to 9.35 after 1.2 innings pitched on Friday at Orem. But he still allowed two unearned run on two hits.

The lefty allowed three earned runs in each of his first two outings with the Chukars, and his opponents’ batting average is .356. Selman has, however, struck out eight batters and walked only two.

Scary injury landed Brandon Dulin with the Chukars

Idaho Falls' Brandon Dulin takes the throw from pitcher Alex Luna during Tuesday's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Brandon Dulin takes the throw from pitcher Alex Luna during Tuesday’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Brandon Dulin should not be in Idaho Falls right now.

The Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman proved last season that was he was too good for Rookie ball, and the Kansas City Royals promoted him to Single-A Lexington this spring. He continued to hit well.

But since April 12, Dulin has played just four games, all with the Chukars. The reason: a freak injury on one of the most routine plays in baseball.

Dulin, 23, started at first base for Lexington in the second half of a doubleheader against the Augusta GreenJackets on April 12 in Lexington, Ky. Dulin walked in his first plate appearance and singled in his second, raising his slash line to .364/.417/.818 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in three games with the Legends.

After the fourth-inning single, Dulin was forced out at second base on a fielder’s choice. He slid feet-first into second base on the play, something he’d done hundreds of times before. As Dulin stood up, pain shot up his back and neck.

Dulin stayed in the game for two more innings but asked his coaches to take him out in the seventh. He was having trouble moving and even breathing.

“They were really worried about me as soon as I was like, ‘Hey, I can’t play,’ because it’s just not like me to pull myself out of the game,” Dulin said.

In the locker room after the game, Dulin fainted for a brief second. That’s when the Legends’ training staff knew something was seriously wrong, so Dulin was rushed to the hospital. In hindsight, Dulin fears what might have happened if he didn’t pass out, or if the training staff wasn’t around.

“I could’ve just went to sleep not feeling good ‘I’m just gonna sleep it off’ and it could’ve been really bad,” Dulin said.

Dulin discovered he had hemothorax, a type of internal bleeding between the chest wall and the lung. It caused his lung to collapse, and it kept him in intensive care for nine days.

Dulin’s parents, Jason and Lisa, flew from their Baker, Mont., home to Lexington after they heard about their son’s condition.The three returned to Whitaker Bank Ballpark after leaving the hospital.

“We walked in and his trainer was like, ‘I literally thought I’d never see you walk through these doors again,’ Lisa said. “‘I thought you were dying that night.’ It was pretty scary.”

Dulin rehabilitated in Kansas City (his hometown) before heading to Arizona for more rehab. The Royals then assigned him to I.F., where he finished the 2015 season. Dulin hit .286/.290/.321 in seven games for the Chukars last year after posting .280/.360/.516 line in 59 games for Burlington. He was batting .385/.429/.615 going into Tuesday’s game, and he hit home run against Ogden on Saturday.

“It wasn’t about baseball, it was his health. That’s all we were concerned about,” said Jason, who watched Saturday’s game with Lisa and other family and friends. “Seeing him out playing and hitting a home run tonight, it makes you feel good that he’s healthy and he’s able to play.”

Dulin is not sure how long he’ll remain in I.F., although his early success points to an exit sooner rather than later. He has steep path to Kansas City, but even after his scary injury, Dulin remains focused on playing in his home city.

“You keep playing as hard as you can and put yourself in position to get that call,” Dulin said. “I believe that I have a good shot.”

Chukars open season without any 2016 draft picks

Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on Tuesday night at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars’ season gets underway with an exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Bandits Thursday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on Tuesday night at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars’ season gets underway with an exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Bandits Thursday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Baked into the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2016 opening day roster was a piece of history.

Idaho Falls’ initial roster features zero players selected in the most recent MLB draft, the first time that’s happened since the team became a Kansas City Royals’ affiliate in 2004, according the Chukars general manager Kevin Greene.

Timing contributed heaviest to I.F.’s unique group of 27 players, who graced Melaleuca Field for their first workout Tuesday night. But the current roster will change throughout the season, and some of the 2016 draftees will likely don Chukars uniforms this summer.

“It’s not like we’re getting rejects or anything,” Greene said. “There are players here who have earned the right to come back into this organization for second or third years.”

The Chukars’ previous 11 seasons as a Kansas City affiliate started at least seven days after the MLB draft concluded. That week-plus gave the Royals time to sign their draftees, put them through the post-draft process and assign them to their respective minor league teams.

This year was different. The draft ended on Saturday, a mere five days before the Chukars’ exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Bandits. Kansas City’s other Rookie-level team, the Burlington Royals, doesn’t begin its season until next week. Same goes for the Arizona League Royals, Kansas City’s third short-season team. So the most logical decision for Kansas City’s front office was to assign its recently signed rookies to Burlington and Arizona.

The Idaho Falls Chukars held their first workout at Melaleuca Field on Tuesday night. The team has an exhibition game on Thursday night against the Idaho Falls Bandits and will begin Pioneer League play on Friday. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
The Idaho Falls Chukars held their first workout at Melaleuca Field on Tuesday night. The team has an exhibition game on Thursday night against the Idaho Falls Bandits and will begin Pioneer League play on Friday. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

“It takes time to get those players signed and get them into the organization and just go through the process of preparing them for the season,” said Ronnie Richardson, Kansas City’s director of minor league operations. “They’re drafted on the 11th. To expect them to be (in I.F.) playing games on the 16th is not quite realistic.”

Richardson said Kansas City has to evaluate its recent draft class before it can decide to send any of those 40 players to I.F. But Greene was confident that his team would receive some 2016 draftees this season, and sooner than later. Either way, he and Chukars manager Justin Gemoll are pleased with the current roster.

“I’m happy because all of these guys were in extended (spring training),” Gemoll said. “They’re familiar with each other. It’s just a matter of keeping it going.”

The Chukars have seven players who finished last season in I.F. pitchers Nick Andros, Brian Bayliss, Arnaldo Hernandez, Drew Milligan and Matt Portland, and infielders Ryan Dale and Brandon Dulin. I.F. was also the last stop for right-hander Sam Lewis, only in 2014.

David Edwards is the lone true rookie on the team. The former Loyola Marymount infileder was signed as a free agent in February.

Fifteen of I.F.’s 27 players were undrafted free agents. The highest draft pick in the group is right-hander Alex Luna, who the Royals took in the 10th round of the 2015 draft.

The Chukars will take the field on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for media day and hold their second team workout at 7 p.m. It is open to the public.

The Chukars face the Bandits at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday and host the Ogden Raptors on Friday at the same time to begin their season. I.F. lost to the Missoula Osprey in the Pioneer League Championship last season.

2016 Chukars opening day roster

LHP Nicholas Andrus
SS Ricky Aracena
RHP Brian Bayliss
LHP Enmanuel Camacho
3B Angelo Castellano
LHP Reinaldo Cepin
3B Ryan Dale
1B Brandon Dulin
2B David Edwards
RHP Igol Feliz
LHP Christian Flecha
C Colton Frabasilio
RHP Jason Freeman
RHP Arnaldo Hernandez
RHP Sam Lewis
RHP Alex Luna
RHP Andres Machado
OF Yeison Melo
LHP Drew Milligan
3B Manny Olloque
LHP Matt Portland
RHP Reid Redman
OF Jose Sanchez
OF Tanner Stanley
C Meibrys Viloria
LHP Cole Way
OF Luke Willis

Correction (6/15): An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when David Edwards was signed as a free agent. That has been corrected.

MLB draft provides glimpse of future Chukars

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The MLB draft concluded Saturday, and several of the Kansas City Royals selections will appear at Melaleuca Field this summer.

The Royals have sent about 11 freshly drafted players per season to the Chukars since 2012, when teams saw their picks reduced from 50 to 40. Most of those players joined Idaho Falls on opening day, and some turned into future stars.

The Chukars’ rookie crop last season was relatively small compared to recent years. Kansas City’s highest 2015 pick on I.F.’s opening day roster was outfielder Roman Collins (fifth round). Five more 2015 selections made the Chukars’ initial roster, and they were all selected in the 14th round or later.

But other draftees started to roll in. Flame-throwing right-handed pitcher Josh Staumont (second round) joined the Chukars in July, as did outfielder Cody Jones (sixth round). Right-handers Daniel Concepcion (12th round), Matt Ditman (16th round) and Jacob Bodner (27th round) also came to I.F. later in the season.

The Chukars received 14 of Kansas City’s 2014 draftees that summer, and they all made the opening day roster. Two of those players were left-hander Eric Skoglund (third round) and first-baseman Ryan O’Hearn (eighth round) both of whom are top-30 prospects in Kansas City’s system, per multiple baseball scouting websites. O’Hearn, who currently plays for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, was the Pioneer League MVP in 2014.

Triple-A Omaha shortstop Hunter Dozier was selected eighth overall in 2013 and played 54 games for the Chukars that year. Dozier is currently Kansas City’s 11th-best prospect, according to FanGraphs.com (O’Hearn is fifth).

Kansas City forfeited its first-round pick this year after signing free-agent pitcher Ian Kennedy last offseason, per the Kansas City Star. But the Royals had a pick in each of the final 39 rounds, and they used their first to select Pepperdine right-hander AJ Puckett (No. 67 in round two).

The Chukars will announce their full opening day roster in the next few days. Their season starts Friday at Melaleuca Field versus Ogden. They also face the Idaho Falls Bandits in an exhibition Thursday.

Kansas City Royals’ 2016 draft class
AJ Puckett / second round / RHP / Pepperdine
Khalil Lee / third round / CF / Flint Hill School (Va.)
Jace Vines / fourth round / RHP / Texas A&M
Nicholas Lopez / fifth round / SS / Creighton
Cal Jones / sixth round / CF / Dadeville (Ala.) HS
Travis Eckert / seventh round / RHP / Oregon State
Chris DeVito / eighth round / 1B / New Mexico
Walker Sheller / ninth round / RHP / Stetson
Richard Lovelady / 10th round / LHP / Kennesaw State
Vance Vizcaino / 11th round / CF / Stetson
Jeremy Gwinn / 12th round / RHP / Colby CC
Logan Gray / 13th round / 2B / Austin Peay
David McKay / 14th round / RHP / Florida Atlantic
Mike Messier / 15h round / LHP / Bellarmine
Nick Heath / 16th round / CF / Northwestern State
Dillon Drabble / 17th round / RHP / Seminole State
Vance Tatum / 18th round / LHP / Mississippi State
Tyler Fallwell / 19th round / RHP / Cochise
Anthony Bender / 20th round / RHP / Santa Rosa JC
Dalton Griffin / 21st round / CF / South Effingham HS (Ga.)
Cody Nesbit / 22nd round / RHP / San Jacinto North
Kort Peterson / 23rd round / OF / UC Los Angeles
Mike McCann / 24th round / C / Seattle
Robby Rinn / 25th round / 1B / Bryant
John Brontsema / 26th round / 3B / UC Irvine
Rex Hill / 27th round / LHP / TCU
Yordany Salva / 28th round / C / Broward
Grant Gavin / 29th round / RHP / Central Missouri
Geoffrey Bramblett / 30th round / RHP / Alabama
Malcolm Van Buren / 31st round / RHP / Hanahan (S.C.) HS
Luke Bandy / 32nd round / CF / Providence Classical Christian Academy
Kameron Misner / 33rd round / OF / Poplar Bluff (Mo.) HS
Nathan Webb / 34th round / RHP / Lee’s Summit (Mo.) North HS
M.J. Sanchez / 35th round / C / California Baptist
Alex Massey / 36th round / RHP / Tulane
Justin Camp / 37th round / RHP / Auburn
Joey Fregosi / 38th round / SS / Murrieta Valley HS (Calif.)
Chase Livingston / 39th round / C / Rhode Island
Taylor Kaczmarek / 40th round / RHP / San Diego

Chukars announce five opening-day players

On Saturday, the Chukars announced the first five players assigned to Idaho Falls. They are Igol Feliz, Arnaldo Hernandez, Drew Milligan, Tanner Stanley and Miebrys Viloria.

Milligan is a left-handed pitcher who made 17 relief appearances for I.F. last season, amassing a 4.07 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 13 walks.

Feliz and Hernandez are both right-handed pitchers. Feliz signed with the Royals in 2011 and played for Rookie-level Burlington last season. Hernandez made one appearance (a start) for the Chukars in 2015, allowing six runs (two earned) in four innings.

Stanley, the son of former MLB catcher and first baseman Mike Stanley, is an outfielder in his second minor league season with the Royals.

Viloria is a catcher who spent part of 2014 and all of 2015 in Burlington.

Former Chukars receive minor league awards from Kansas City Royals

Several former Idaho Falls Chukars picked up 2015 minor league awards from the Kansas City Royals.

Jonathan Dziedzic, who pitched for Idaho Falls’ Pioneer League championship team in 2014, won the Paul Splitorff Award given to the organization’s top minor league pitcher. Dziedzic went 10-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 27 appearances for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals and AAA Omaha.

Elier Hernandez, who spent 2012 and 2013 in Idaho Falls, won the Carlos Fortuna Award given to the player who is dedicated to improving his english, his work ethic and his conduct. Hernandez hit .268 with 26 doubles, six homers and 54 RBIs in 124 games in Wilmington (A) and Lexington (A).

Parker Morin, a 2012 Chukar, won the Mike Sweeney Award given to the player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Morin hit .309 with 10 doubles, four homers and 30 RBIs in 56 games for Northwest Arkansas.

Ryan O’Hearn, the 2014 Pioneer League MVP as a member of the Chukars, won the George Brett Hitter of the Year award given to the top position player in the organization. O’Hearn his .263 with 21 doubles, 27 homers and 77 RBIs in 127 games for Wilmington and Lexington.

Nonprofit/charitable opportunities at Melaleuca Field

The Idaho Falls Chukars will be offering several opportunities for nonprofit and charitable organizations to enjoy games for free this summer.

The Rocky Mountain Power Community Section will provide 20 seats for each home game to a local nonprofit or charitable organization. For information, call the Chukars at 522-8363.

The Fred Meyer Community Spotlight program will offer local nonprofit and charitable organizations to set up a table at the entrance to Melaleuca Field for direct fan interaction. There is no cost for the table. Call 522-8363 for information.

Chukars surrender three-run lead in eighth, lose 6-5 to Orem

The Idaho Falls Chukars held a three-run lead with six outs remaining. Then they led by one with two outs.

If they preserved the lead, they’d be headed to the Pioneer League championship.

Now they’re heading to an elimination game.

The Orem Owlz clawed back from a 5-2 eighth-inning deficit and earned a 6-5 walkoff win in game two of the Pioneer League South Division championship series Thursday at Orem, Utah. Tonight’s game in Orem will determine who advances to the championship.

After three scoreless innings, the Chukars took control of the game in the fourth.

First baseman Josh Banuelos (1 for 4) drove in second baseman D.J. Burt with a two-out double. The next batter was designated hitter Brandon Dulin, who bombed a two-run home run for a 3-0 lead.

Orem’s designated hitter Jared Walsh answered, hitting solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings to cut I.F.’s lead to 3-2.

But the Chukars extended the lead back to three in the top of the eighth. Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka (1 for 4) hit an RBI double, and he scored two batters later on a single from Dulin (2 for 4).

I.F.’s bullpen woes began with Matt Ditman, who loaded the bases with no outs to start the bottom of the eighth. Orem scored one run on a groundout, and another came in on an error from shortstop Marten Gasparini. Ditman suddenly had a one-run lead to work with, and the bases were loaded with one out, but he escaped the threat.

Brian Bayliss recorded the first out of the ninth inning, but he subsequently walked first baseman Jeff Boehm. The next batter was center fielder Jared Foster, who drove Boehm in with a double. Bayliss walked the next two batters, bringing up catcher Angel Genao. He grounded to Burt, but the Chukars couldn’t complete the double play, and the Owlz forced another game.

Chukars starter Bryan Brickhouse gave up one run (earned) on four hits, a walk and three strikeouts in his four innings of work.

Julio Pinto gets the start tonight for the Chukars in their playoff rubber-match at Orem. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15.

In the North Division, Missoula knotted up its series with Billings after a 7-5 win Thursday night.

Royals honor Fukofuka, Gordon

On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals announced their players and pitchers of the year for each minor league affiliate. Fukofuka was named I.F.’s player of the year, and Derek Gordon was named its pitcher of the year.