Category: Links and notes

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.

Chukars notebook: Life at Melaleuca Field

By Luke O’Roark | Loroark@postregister.com | @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.

Jake Anderson and Troy Prigmore, interns for the Chukars, unfold the United States flag behind Melaleuca Field’s center wall. It’s mid-Friday, and the last day of Idaho Falls’ four-game home stand against Ogden.

Shamilee Danklefsen, 19, laughs while getting the ‘play ball kid’ ready at Melaleuca Field on Friday night. Danklefsen has been working at Melaleuca for three years and said she absolutely loves working there.

Wrestling with the flag, attempting to hoist it correctly on the pole, Anderson’s white shirt reads: “Eat. Sleep. Baseball.”

If you work for the Chukars — a minor league affiliate for the Kansas City Royals — the words on Anderson’s shirt probably ring true.

Working at the minor league ballpark is as continuous as it is rigorous.

“Common day for us on gameday is 9 (a.m.) to 11 (p.m.),” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “And when you do seven games in a row, it’s long hours, but it’s only 38 games.”

Anderson and Prigmore are two of six interns, and two of about 50 game-day staffers, that keep Melaleuca Field alive during the Chukars’ 38 home games this summer.

They handle a variety of tasks. This past Friday they soothed a flustered customer, upset over the team’s recent jersey giveaway, and talked to promoters during waves of phone calls.

“Gameday staff”, a collective unit hired by Greene to work part-time, have their own roles.

Rikki Gant ushers, trying to keep stadium-goers positive, with a towel in hand and a smile. Jayda Andrews works concessions (on a night which saw fans galvanize over half-off burgers, causing strenuous lines). Sammee Madero serves beer and drinks for the third base-side suites. All do it despite the relatively low pay and long hours.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we have to do that might not be the funnest thing,” said Andrews, stacking napkins at one of the ballpark’s food stands. “But there’s also a lot of things that are really fun and, yeah, I love this job.”

From around noon to 4 p.m., the Chukars’ office, a cozy room littered with bobble heads, paper and a colossal white board with promotion ideas, is casual and jovial.

“It’s like musical chairs in here,” says Logan Ratick, as he paces in-and-out of the office. The tan office phone alarms interns reading ESPN headlines and catching up on national sports. A candle burns at one of the desks.

“Yeah, we’ll get that, don’t worry,” Prigmore says regarding the candle.

By 4:30 p.m. the pace inside the office quickens noticeably.

Greene, barefoot, coordinates his paid interns — who to call, what resources are needed for the nightly promotions. Assistant general manager Josh Michalsen answers a call, the phone in his left ear and an ear bud listening to a conference call in the other.

The staff is meticulously preparing to have every detail of Friday night perfect.

“Hey Jake,” Ratick says to Anderson.

“Hey Logan,” Anderson responds.

“You look a little pooped,” says Ratick, printing game notes and lineups for both teams.

The game day staff begins to roll into the corner office around 5 p.m.

By 6 p.m., Melaleuca Field is in full throttle. The aura of beef patties swallows the main entrance.

Javier Hernandez walks into the Chukars’ press box.

“What’s up, bro?” he says lively to his co-workers.

Trace Laird takes Johnnie Sue Elliott’s ticket at Melaleuca Field on Friday night.

The Chukars’ public address announcer uses the side gig in order to help his kids attend Watersprings Christian School.

“Can you keep a secret?” Hernandez says. “Don’t tell Kevin Greene, but I would probably do this for nothin’. This is something awesome.”

No one at Melaleuca Field will be finished with their specific task until about 11 p.m. — long after fans have left and kids have ran the bases.

Long after the Chukars head to the clubhouse, beating the Raptors 7-4, there’s still some trash to be picked up in the stands and the infield needs to be maintained.

“It’s rewarding and humbling,” intern Todd Zollinger said. “Casual fans may not always see everything we do. I certainly didn’t until I worked here.”

For road games, the interns work a more traditional 9-to-5 in the office. There’s always “something to take care of,” per Zollinger.

But even when on the road, Ratick, Idaho Falls’ color commentator alongside John Balginy, doesn’t stop.

“Eat. Sleep. Baseball.” is a lifestyle.

The recent Syracuse grad said he wakes up around 8:45 a.m. to read local news.

After a quick workout, he then heads to the park to handle the Chukars game notes and update the Chukars’ stats. Ratick is the team’s middleman: handling information between the managers, local media outlets and the public.

He spends most of Friday adding details to his game notes, interviewing Chukars’ hitting coach Damon Hollins and updating the team’s ever-changing lineups.

Per Ratick, his day laxes only when the Chukars’ broadcast begins.

“To see these guys come in with their eyes wide open, and like the players, they’re looking for a shot at the bigs,” said Balginy, who calls MiLB offices in New York after every half inning to give a quick rundown of the game.

Logan Ratick talks on air during the Chukars game against the Raptors at Melaleuca Field on Friday night.

Like the rest of the staff, Ratick doesn’t get finished until way past Idaho Falls’ final frame. He still has to write his game recap from home, even after he and Balginy sign off.

And on this Friday, he doesn’t leave the press box until about 11 p.m, close to 11 hours after he first walked into the ballpark.

The next day, it’s back on the grind. Ratick said he has to wake up around 7 a.m. to do some laundry and catch Idaho Falls’ bus ride to Orem at 8 a.m.

Eat. Sleep. Baseball.

“I’d rather be doing this than working any other type of job,” Ratick said.

Chukars transactions (as of July 8)

The Chukars assigned Robert Garcia, a left-handed pitcher from the AZL Royals on June 6.
Idaho Falls assigned Damon Olds from the Arizona League. Olds is a 22-year-old, right-handed pitcher from Indiana State.
The Chukars assigned their first left-handed pitcher of the month by acquiring Jordan Floyd from Burlington and the Arizona Royals on June 30. Floyd was drafted by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He was reassigned to Burlington on July 3.
Cody Nesbit was assigned to Lexington Legends on July 3. He pitched three games (2-0) for Idaho Falls and had an ERA of 4.66.

Around the Pioneer League (as of July 8)

The Chukars are third in the Pioneer League South Division at 9-11, ahead of Grand Junction (7-13) and behind Ogden (10-10). Orem (14-6) is in first.
Billings (12-8) leads the North Division. Missoula and Helena are tied for secod at 10-10 and Great Falls (8-12) is fourth.
Chukars’ first baseman Robby Rinn leads is second in the Pioneer League with 21 RBIs.
Great Falls’ Chris Comito (1-1) leads the Pioneer League with a 2.31 ERA.
Orem is the Pioneer League’s best offensive team: 187 runs (1st), 250 hits (1st), .333 team batting average (1st). Ogden has the most home runs of any team with 31.
Great Falls leads the league in ERA with 4.12. Idaho Falls is in last (7.50).

Chukars notebook: Chukars may face problem with pitcher shortage

By Luke O’Roark | Loroark@postregister.com | @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.

The Idaho Falls bullpen was a bit rattled.
Chukars pitchers had just given up 18 hits to Grand Junction at home and surrendered five home runs in a 14-3 loss which saw fans leave after the seventh frame.

Andres Sotillet pitches against Grand Junction. The Chukars lost 14-3. (Photo by Taylor Carpenter)

After 10-straight games, the Chukars had used up almost all 13 pitches on their roster. And they still had 12 more games before their first day off on July 11.
One pitcher, Michael Silva, was seen practicing his fastball late the night before their 14-3 thrashing.
The shortage of pitchers on this year’s Chukars roster could be a concern — at least in the first half of the season.
“We don’t really worry about that stuff,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “That’s out of our control. We just work the guys that we got here.”
To add on to the shortage, all 13 pitchers are right handed.
And there’s not much they can do about it.
“I was shocked, too,” Silva said when he saw the Chukars didn’t have any southpaws. “It is what it is, honestly. We just have to make due with what we got and what we got is pretty good.”
Because of the MLB’s minor league system, the Chukars don’t decide the makeup of their roster. They simply have to work with the players given from the Kansas City Royals’ front office.
So, if a Chukars player is doing well, they might not be wearing the maroon and grey for too long.
And while the system has given Chukars a chance to move up (Jonathan McCray was recently moved up to Triple-A), it puts Idaho Falls in a bind. The Chukars have the fewest pitchers available on any given night. Orem and Grand Junction have the most in the Pioneer League with 22. Other teams range anywhere from 16 (Missoula) to 19 (Billings).
And this shortage has affected it statistically: Idaho Falls has the second-worst team ERA in the Pioneer League (7.36) but has pitched the third-most innings (99), as of Friday.
“We have faith and trust in all the right-handed pitchers we have,” Silva said. “Because it’s all we have.”
This isn’t anything new for Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, who’s in his third year in Idaho Falls.
Suppan said last year he had to work with the opposite — mostly left handed pitchers. The 17-year MLB veteran added that the purpose of the minors is trying to get pitchers to work on certain pitches, not worrying about aligning certain pitchers against certain batters like one might see at higher levels.
“It is a part of the minors” Suppan said. “I coach who’s here and try to get each guy better.”
Robby Rinn, one of the Chukars’ best hitters this season (he leads the league with 19 RBIs), said he’s noticed how Idaho Falls only has righties in the bullpen.
But he said it hasn’t affected his at-bats during practice or games.
“We’ve been facing a lot of righty’s, actually, except for Orem, but other than that we’ve been heavy righty the whole entire season so far,” Rinn said.
Jake Wakamatsu echoed a similar sentiment for the Chukars’ short bullpen. It’s just a component of the minors Idaho Falls will have to live with.
“That’s tough, too,” Wakamatsu said. “Hopefully we’ll get some guys coming up to help the bullpen.”

Recent Chukars Acquisitions (as of June 30)

• Emmanuel Estevez was recently acquired by the Royals-Arizona League affiliate. Estevez’s departure shrinks the Chukars’ bullpen to 12.

• Jonathan McCray was assigned to triple-A (Omaha Storm Chasers) on June 28 and then returned two days later. He has batted .361 in eight games with Idaho Falls.

• The Chukars acquired the Royals’ 16th round pick in this year’s draft: catcher Chris Hudgins.

Around the Pioneer League (as of June 30)

• Orem and Billings are tied for first in the Pioneer League. The Owls (7-4) have beaten the Chukars twice (10-6 on June 23; 9-3 on June 14) and lost to them once (9-7 on Thursday) this season. Great Falls, Ogden and Idaho Falls are all tied for second in league standings at (6-5).

• The Chukars are tied for second in the South Division behind the Owlz. Both teams feature some of the best offenses in the league (Owlz are batting .342; Chukars’ team batting average is a .309).

• In the North Division, Billings tops the standings at 7-4. The Mustangs have gone 6-4 in the previous 10 games.

• Ogden’s Cristian Santana has the league’s highest batting average (.537) in 41 at-bats this season. Chukars first baseman Robby Rinn, who’s from Rhode Island, leads the league with 17 RBIs.

• Billings has the two best pitchers in the league: Tyler Mondile and Moises Nova. Mondile has a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings pitched. Nova has a 0.96 ERA in 9 and ⅓ innings pitched.

Owlz thrash Chukars 17-5

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Hardly anything went right for Idaho Falls Friday night against Orem.
After beating the Owlz with two Jake Wakamatsu home runs Thursday, the Chukars were trashed 17-5 by the Owlz Friday night at Orem Owlz Park. The loss pushes Idaho Falls to 6-6, as it splits its two-game road series at Orem 1-1. Orem advances to 8-4, atop of the Pioneer League south division.
Most of the damage Friday happened early — the third inning.

Darell Miller Jr. Provided via Idaho Falls Chukars

The Owlz compiled eight runs in the bottom of the third after Harrison Wenson home runned to left field. Leonardo Rivas then added a three RBI-triple to make it 7-0. And to add insult to injury: Manuel Guzman two RBI-doubled; Keinner Pina scored Jonah Todd; and Harrison Wenson came back and scored Manuel Guzman with a single line drive to center field.
The Chukars didn’t answer until the sixth frame. Amalani Fukofuka and Tyler Straub homered. Darrell Miller and Vance Vizcaino then notched RBIs to score five runs.
But their comeback fell way short. The Owlz answered the Chukars’ five runs with two runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth and then added three runs in the eighth to down the Chukars.
Orem has beaten Idaho Falls three of the four times the two teams have played this season.

What’s important:

After a come-from-behind win the night before, the Chukars were trashed Friday at Orem Owlz Park. It’s just the nature of baseball: some games are going to be close; others will be blow outs.

Player (s) of the game:

Darrell Miller Jr. He went 2 for 4 at-bat Friday and notched his 11th RBI this year.

Notables:

The Chukars finish the month of June 6-6.
Orem has beaten Idaho Falls three of the four times the two teams have played this season.
The Owlz have outscored the Chukars 43-21 this season.

Upnext:

The Chukars will remain on the road Saturday, as they travel to Ogden to play a three-game series against the Raptors. This is the first time Idaho Falls will play Ogden this season. Fans can listen to Chukars’ broadcaster Logan Ratick call the game on KSPZ or 980thezone.com.

Wakamatsu hits two home runs in Chukars’ road win

By Post Register | @PRPreps | @chukarsextra
Idaho Falls’ Jake Wakamatsu has played two of his best professional games in back-to-back days.
Wednesday, he went 2 for 3 at-bat to help the Chukars win. Thursday, he hit his first professional home run — a two-run blast to right field — to tie Orem in the top of the eighth. He then homered again to guide Idaho Falls to a road win.

Wakamatsu

Idaho Falls beat Orem 9-7 Thursday at Orem Owlz Park, and it can thank Wakamatsu’s two home runs late. The win pushes the Chukars to 6-5 on the season and is the first time they’ve beaten the Owlz (7-4).
Like many Pioneer League games, Thursday’s game between the two South Division teams was back-and-forth.
The Chukars took the lead first during the third inning when Amalani Fukofuka scored Wakamatsu on a sac fly to right field. Robby Rinn then cleaned up, scoring Offerman Collado and Cristhian Vasquez with a two-RBI single to left field.
The Owlz would answer, however. Jonah Todd scored two runs on a triple fly ball to center field. He then scored after Brandon Sandoval grounded out towards Chukars’ pitcher David McKay.
Tori Hunter Jr., drafted out of Notre Dame, scored another Owl with a line drive towards Fukofuka in right field.
Fukofuka would even the game at 4-4 after Vance Vizcaino doubled in the top of the fifth.
Orem answered Idaho Falls’ early offense by taking a 7-5 lead late, scoring a combined three runs in the sixth and seventh. But then, the Owlz were clipped by Wakamatsu’s two home runs, as pitcher Cody Nesbit’s (2-0) shut the door in the bottom of the ninth.

What’s important:

Thursday’s game was one of the Chukars’ best road performances this year. After surrendering the lead late, Jake Wakamatsu hit consecutive two-run home runs.

Player (s) of the game:

Jake Wakamatsu, Robby Rinn and Cody Nesbit. Wakamatsu went 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBIs. Rinn went 2 for 3 and had two RBIs Thursday, pushing his season total to a team-high 17 RBIs.
Nesbit had strong command on the mound during his second win of the season: five hits, two runs, a strikeout in three and 2.1 innings pitched.

Notables:

The Chukars are now 4-1 on the road.
Vance Vizcaino went 2 for 5 at the plate for two RBIs. Amalani Fukofuka went 2 for 4 and had an RBI in Thursday’s win.
In comparison to its first two loses to Orem earlier this season, Idaho Falls began the game with the lead.

Upnext:

The Chukars will be on the road again Friday at Orem. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. Viewers can listen to Chukars’ color commentator Logan Ratick call the game on KSPZ.

Chukars best Rockies behind late surge

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Idaho Falls was in a slump. And it seemed its offense had collapsed after a home stand which included four losses in six games.
But then, the Chukars (5-5) woke up in the bottom of the sixth against the Rockies (3-7) Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

Wakamatsu

Idaho Falls scored six unanswered runs during the sixth and seventh frames to beat Grand Junction 6-4. The win halts a two-game slide and was (partial) revenge for Grand Junction’s five home runs the night before.
Jake Wakamatsu lead the Chukars by going 2-for-3 at the plate Wednesday. And it was Wakamatsu — the son of Royals’ bench coach, Ron — and Logan Gray who ignited the Chukars in the bottom of the sixth.


Gray’s double to right field set up Wakamatsu’s second single. The duo started a hit parade.
After Wakamatsu singled, Offerman Collado (Idaho Falls’ leadoff hitter) got a hit. Then Christhian Vasquez got a hit. Then Amalani Fukofuka got a hit. All three that followed Wakamatsu’s lead notched RBIs and helped Idaho Falls overcome a four-run deficit.
“We had a couple tough games the past couple games, so it feels nice to get a win before the road trip,” said Wakamatsu, referencing the Chukars’ five-game road trip starting tonight and ending Monday.
Before Wakamatsu, though, the Chukars fell into a 4-0 hole after four errors and a Geoffrey Bramblett wild pitch scored a Rockies runner. Todd Czinege was a perfect 4-for-4 and had one RBI for Grand Junction.
The Chukars’ first hit came from Wakamatsu in the third inning with a pop-up shot behind second base. He was left on base.
But Wakamatsu and Gray revived the Chukars right when they needed it. After being outscored 23-7 in the previous two losses, Idaho Falls finishes its first home stand of the season 2-4 and a win at home.
“That was a big win for us right there,” said Chukars manager Justin Gemoll, praising Christopher Marte (1-0) closing Wednesday’s game.

What’s important:

After a bleak start Wednesday, Idaho Falls climbed back from a 4-0 Grand Junction deficit to win 6-4 and end its six-game home stand 2-4.

Player (s) of the game:

Jake Wakamatsu and Offerman Collado. Collado had two RBIs on 1-for-3 hitting. Wakamatsu, who will probably see more at-bats with Jonathan McCray being sent up to triple-A, was 2-for-3 at the plate Wednesday.

Quote of the game:

“We had a couple tough games the past couple games, so it feels nice to get a win before the road trip.” – Jake Wakamatsu

Notables:

Wednesday was the fastest game this season at two hours and 33 minutes.
The Chukars wore white jerseys with purple stripes Wednesday at Melaleuca Field to support “cancer awareness”. It was the first time they wore them this season.


Jonathan McCray was called up to the Omaha Storm Chasers before Wednesday’s game. McCray was one of the Chukars’ best hitters during his eight games. He batted a .361 and registered 13 hits.
Idaho Falls did add catcher Chris Hudgins, the Royals’ 16th round pick this season. Hudgins is the third catcher on the Chukars.

Upnext:

Idaho Falls ends its six-game home stand by traveling to Orem. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. The Owlz beat the Chukars twice earlier this season (10-6 on June 23; 9-3 on June 24).

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 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.