Category: Kansas City Royals

Chukars notebook: Midway through season, Chukars still seeking consistency

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.
Saturday is the start of a new season in the Pioneer League. Teams go back to 0-0 for the second half of the year.
For the Chukars, specifically, Saturday means a clean slate.
Idaho Falls finished in last the Pioneer League south division at 17-21. And if it wants to make the Pioneer League playoffs, it will need to use its clean slate to find some consistency.

Idaho Falls’ Julio Gonzales makes the throw to first base after getting the force-out on Missoula’s Dominic Miroglio at second base during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. The double play ended the sixth inning.

“It feels good, as a team, to know that we get a clean slate,” catcher Darrell Miller Jr. said. “And we have an opportunity to make the playoffs in the second half.”
Even with a developmental mindset, as players attempt to perfect different components of their game, the Chukars’ play have fluctuated through the first 38 games.
On some nights, the hits have come in droves for the Chukars’ offense. Other nights, it’s been quiet.
The Chukars have plenty of hitters that have looked solid at the plate (Chris Hudgins, Matt Moralez, Amalani Fukofuka, Travis Jones, Robby Rinn and Miller Jr.) but it now needs more everyday players.
Only four players — Tyler Straub, Cristhian Vasquez, Fukofuka and Rinn — have played 30-plus games this year.
In general, the Chukars have only had 17 players come to the plate — a league-low.
Ogden, for context, had 25 players come to the plate during the first half of the season. The result: the Raptors are one of the best offenses in the league.
“I like the way the compete,” manager Justin Gemoll said. “We’re just striving for consistency, in all three facets of the game: pitching, hitting and defense. At this level, sometimes you have some of those, sometimes you don’t.”
Pitching has been hot-and-cold for Idaho Falls, too.
Midseason acquisitions like Holden Capps has tightened the Chukars’ command on the mound that lacked early in the year. But, the Chukars’ bullpen has statistically struggled.
They rank last in team ERA (6.86), hits allowed (474) and earned runs (256) allowed. The Chukars have allowed 10 or more runs in 13 games this season.
Defensively, the Chukars had 21-straight games with an error.
So, maybe, a clean slate is a good thing.
“Our goal as coaches is to get them better and move them through the system,” Gemoll said.

First half MVPs:

Robby Rinn — Arguably the Chukars best hitter. Rinn leads the team in hits, RBIs, total bases (with Fukofuka) and is third in batting average (.357).

Amalani Fukofuka — one of the Chukars’ most consistent players. Has played well in right field and at the three spot in the lineup. Leads the team in stolen bases (13).

Darrell Miller Jr. — Miller Jr. has shown plenty of power in 76 at-bats this season. He also garnered five hits in a game … twice.

Vance Vizcaino — Athletic and a utility-type of player during his tenure with the Chukars, Vizcaino has moved up the Kansas City Royals’ farming system. He now plays for single-A Lexington.

Chukars infielder Tyler Straub (18) gets ready to catch the ball while Brewers infielder Dallas Carroll (29) goes to slide to the base during a regular season game at Melaluca on Wednesday night.

Holden Capps — Selected to the Pioneer League All-Star team, Capps has been a good mid-season acquisition for the Chukars. In three starts, has a 4.05 ERA and a 1-1 record on the mound.

Janser Lara — Also an All-Star, Lara has gone 2-1 in four starts with the Chukars this season.

Michael Silva — A solid reliever for Idaho Falls. Has a 3.44 ERA in nine games and 18.1 innings pitched.

Team Transactions (as of July 23-29):

– The Chukars received right-handed pitcher Dillon Drabble from the Arizona League on July 25.

First half standings:

North division

Billings Mustangs (CIN): 18-18 (.500)

Missoula Osprey (ARI): 18-19 (.486)

Helena Brewers (MIL): 15-22 (.405)

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS): 14-23 (.378)

South division

Orem Owlz (LAA): 26-11 (.703)

Ogden Raptors (LAD): 23-15 (.605)

Grand Junction Rockies (COL): 18-20 (.474)

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC): 17-21 (.447)

Chukars’ notebook: Just like the rest of the MLB, Chukars’ games can go long

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Editors note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.

Fans enjoy witnessing a Chukars’ win, but, it may take them a while to see one.
Friday the Chukars beat the Brewers easily, 13-1, in… three hours and 38 minutes. It wasn’t even the longest game of the season — that was Idaho Falls’ 13-10 win over Grand Junction on June 22.
It took four (!) hours.
For context: MLB games took about two hours and 56 minutes in 2015, according to a Fox Sports report. The average time increased to three hours and 26 seconds in 2016, per ESPN.
Intriguingly, MLB games are taking longer today than a they were decade ago, according to research from Baseball Reference.com.
“It’s tough,” Vance Vizcaino said of how long some games go. “We’ve got good opponents and our pitchers throw well and they throw strikes. And when we face good hitters, they’ll get hits.”
Still, the Chukars are trending around three hours a game in 2017.
In the month of July (so far), the average Chukars’ game takes two hours and 58 minutes. Eight of the Chukars’ 19 games took three hours or longer.

(FILE) Idaho Falls’ Julio Gonzales makes the throw to first base after getting the force-out on Missoula’s Dominic Miroglio at second base during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. The double play ended the sixth inning.

The Chukars’ 12 games in June took even longer: three hours and 16 minutes. Nine of their 12 games went past the three-hour mark.
Considering the Chukars’ normal start time at home (7:15 p.m.), most games don’t finish until 10-10:30 p.m.
The quickest Chukars game this year was Tuesday’s 6-1 win against Missoula at two hours and 18 minutes.
“I mean, this game, it was 15-11 so that kind of explains (why it went long) a little bit,” Chukars catcher Chris Hudgins said on July 15. “I don’t know, really. We have extra time in between innings where we’re doing some stuff, entertaining the crowd so that could be a big part of it, but it could also depend on the tempo of the game.”
The justification behind why baseball games — whether at Melaleuca Field or the Kansas City Royals’s Kauffman Stadium — take so long? It depends on who you ask.
The length of baseball games has, historically, been longer than its major sports contemporaries because of pitches, time in between innings and the natural structure of the sport.
The MLB has tried to implement new rules in order to speed up the game. But baseball games are still about the same length of a “Lord of the Rings” movie.
“I wish I knew the answer,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said after Idaho Falls’ home opener. “Maybe an earlier start time would get us done earlier. We had a long day last night. We left (Grand Junction) around midnight and rolled in here around 8:30 in the morning, so quick turnaround.”
The Chukars are the only Pioneer League team to start home games at 7:15 during Monday through Saturday. Other teams start anywhere from 6:05 p.m. (Billings) to 7 p.m. (Ogden).
Pitcher David McKay said he actually enjoys the later starts.
“It’s not bad,” he said. “You get to sleep in.”
Secondly, the Pioneer League is also a developmental level for the MLB’s farming system. Players are trying different pitches and perfecting different components of their respective games.
With errors and mistakes being made, games have the potential to go longer because of more batters, pitches and chances for games to be extended. Vin Scully told the Boston Globe in a 2013 article that even minuscule changes, like Velcro, have added time to baseball games.

(FILE) Chukars infielder Offerman Collado (1) runs to second base during a regular season game against the Brewers on Wednesday night at Melaluca Field.

Other theories include the amount of promotions before first pitches and between innings.
“I don’t know,” pitcher Michael Silva said. “It’s just the game of baseball. Every game can be different and it happens everyday.”

Chukars transactions (as of July 18-22)

– The Chukars received outfielder Travis Jones from the Burlington Royals on July 19. Idaho Falls is Jones’ third destination this year. He played seven games for Burlington and nine games in the Arizona League before arriving in Idaho Falls.

Around the Pioneer League

With the first half of the regular season coming to a close, Orem leads the league at 23-8. Ogden is second in the Pioneer League South division (behind the Owlz) at 17-14. Grand Junction is third at 15-15. Idaho Falls is in fourth at 14-17.

In the North division, Billings (15-15) is only 0.5 games ahead of Missoula (15-16) atop of the standings. Helena is third (14-17), as Great Falls has the worst record in the league at 10-21.

Chukars notebook: Rinn continues to improve

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Editors note: Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate every week. Normally on Sundays, this week’s notebook comes on a Tuesday.

Robby Rinn has been all over the place.

Robby Rinn (via Chukars media)

Massachusetts. Rhode Island. Arizona. Idaho Falls. He’s been racking up the air miles since he was drafted in the 25th round by the Royals in 2016.

He’s also been racking up the hits since joining the Chukars this summer.

Rinn leads Idaho Falls in hits (33), at-bats (101), walks (16) and RBIs (24, good for third in the Pioneer League). For the Chukars, he’s second in doubles (7), tied for second in home runs (3), third in total bases (50), third in on-base percentage (.429), fifth in slugging (.495) and fourth in batting average (.327).

O.K., you probably get it — Rinn can do it all.

“He is very consistent for us,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “He’s got good at-bats and doesn’t try to do too much.”

Rinn’s handy work with a baseball bat began attending private schools in Warwick, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts before walking on at Bryant University.

From there, he was drafted by the Royals in the 2016 MLB draft and spent 2016 in the Arizona League. He batted .280 in 189 at-bats, with 53 hits and 31 RBIs in 50 games.

Rinn, 24, has continued to improve in Idaho Falls.

“You get here and the players are more polished for sure,” Rinn said on June 26. “I mean, kids are still a lot more polished than I am, it’s just a different style it seems … Yeah, I’m from a small school and it was even hard for me to get to that small school because of the recruiting process in college, too, and it was hard for me to even get to this point so I’m just appreciating it.”

Gemoll said Rinn is the type of hitter managers look for in the middle of order. Rinn is batting fourth behind Amalani Fukofuka, and found some luck: he’s notched eight hits in the previous 10 games.

“He’s a strong guy, and keeps swinging in the zone as much as possible,” Chukars’ hitting coach Damon Hollins said. “Just gotta keep going up there and get his pitch.”

Team transactions (from July 8-17):

– The Chukars received Julio Gonzalez from the Burlington Royals, as Ricky Aracena was assigned to the Lexington Legends. Aracena played six games for Idaho Falls, registering 10 hits and 10 runs while batting .385.

– Dalton Griffin was listed as “suspended” on July 12, according to MiLB.com league transactions. Chukars manager Justin Gemoll did not clarify the reasoning behind the suspension. Griffin, 19, last played on July 7 against Ogden. He had one at-bat.

– On July 11, the Chukars swapped three players with the Arizona League Royals: Pitchers Danny Hrbek, Andrew Beckwith and Holden Capps came to Idaho Falls. In return, Jose De Leon, Randy Acevedo and Adres Sotillet were assigned to the Arizona League.

– Left-handed pitcher Josh Mitchell was also assigned to the Chukars on July 11.

– Vance Vizcaino was transferred to the Lexington Legends on July 15. Vizcaino was vital to the Chukars’ offense this season. He batted .287 with 25 hits and 16 RBIs in 22 games. Gemoll called Vizcaino “athletic” and “smart” on the field and is a player who can play multiple outfield positions.

– Jonathan McCray was assigned to the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Monday. It will be McCray’s second stint in Carolina. With the Chukars, McCray tallied 30 hits, 54 total bases and 14 RBIs in 22 games.

Around the Pioneer League (as of July 17):

– Orem is the best team in the Pioneer League, sitting at 19-7. Missoula and Billings leads the Pioneer League North Division at 14-13. Idaho Falls is tied for fourth in the South Division at 12-15 (7.5 games behind Orem).

– Speaking of Billings, the Mustangs recently acquired Reds’ first-round pick Hunter Greene, according to the Billings Gazette. Greene was selected second overall in this year’s draft, signing a $7.23 million signing bonus.

– Orem and Ogden continue to be the league’s top offenses. Orem leads the league in hits (326), runs (237), RBIs (212) and batting average (.326). Ogden has the most home runs with 43 and OPS at .946.

– In terms of pitching, Great Falls leads the league in team pitching with a 4.39 ERA. The Voyagers have allowed a league-low 12 home runs.

– Grand Junction’s Shael Mendoza is the league’s hits-leader at 41. Orem’s David MacKinnon leads the league in batting average at .468.

– Billings’ Moises Nova holds the league’s best ERA at 2.49 in 21.2 innings pitched.

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

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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

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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.