By VICTOR FLORES
The Idaho Falls Chukars don’t concern themselves with wins and losses.
They prefer to win, of course, but the coaches and players value one thing more than anything else — development.
So when the coaches discuss the first half of the season, they don’t focus on the 13-25 first half record and last place finish in the Pioneer League South Division, nor do they prioritize some of the poor individual statistics. They want the players to take steps toward Major League Baseball. So far, the coaches — all in their first seasons with the Chukars — are pleased with their players’ progression.
“Obviously, we can improve on our execution offensively and defensively and make pitches when we have to,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “But that’s all part of the learning process of rookie ball.”
In the Pioneer League, Idaho Falls was middle of the pack to below-average in most pitching categories in the first half, and they were middle of the road to above average in batting.
A team doesn’t go 13-25 without a multitude of struggles.
But those stats mask some key factors, like the Chukars’ roster.
Idaho Falls has gained two batters and lost three, including Alexis Rivera, who was named a Pioneer League all-star despite playing for Single-A Lexington since July 5. The Chukars have welcomed in five pitchers and lost four, including two who joined Idaho Falls after opening day.
Hitting coach Andre David and pitching coach Jeff Suppan also live by the adage, “process over results.” It’s a phrase major league coaches use, too, because players only have so much control over the results once they complete a swing or throw a pitch.
David utlilizes this phrase especially when dealing with slumping hitters, like second baseman DJ Burt (.203 first half batting average) and shortstop Marten Gasparini (.205 first half).
“I don’t want guys like Burt and Gaspy to get result-oriented. It’s not the purpose of this,” David said. “You have to give yourself a little bit of breathing room and credit and spend a lot of time thinking about what will come of this experience.”
That’s why David, like the other coaches, works so hard on the mental side of the game.
“The swing follows the mind,” David said.
Suppan operates under a similar line of thinking. If Idaho Falls’ pitchers, especially the young ones, are improving their mechanics and decreasing mental mistakes, he’s encouraged. The pitching has struggled, but he’s seen progress.
“I’ve been happy with how starters have been able to go deeper into games,” Suppan said. “The relievers have been a little more efficient.”
All of these coaches, including bench coach Ramon Castro, hope they capture the second half division crown. So do the players.
But their main concern in the second half is further player development. A winning record would be gravy.
“We want them to win in Kansas City,” Gemoll said.
Post Register’s First Half Awards
Most Outstanding Position Player: OF Amalani Fukofuka
– Key first half stats: .342 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .479 slugging percentage, 12 doubles, four triples, five stolen bases.
Most Outstanding Pitcher: RHP Derek Gordon
– Key first half stats: 3.94 ERA, 29.2 innings pitched, 34 strikeouts, 10 walks, 33 hits, three home runs, zero hit batters
On Friday night, the Chukars erased an 8-2 ninth inning deficit to walkoff against Ogden 9-8.
This was the first time in four years that Idaho Falls came back from a deficit that large.
The last time the Chukars won a game after trailing by six or more runs was Aug. 4, 2011 at Orem. The Owlz held a 7-1 lead going into the eighth inning. Idaho Falls scored four in the eighth, two in the ninth and one in the 10th to win.
Friday’s win was also the largest home comeback since July 5, 2011. The Chukars trailed the Casper Ghosts (now the Grand Junction Rockies) 8-1 before rattling off five runs in the seventh and three in the eighth for the victory.
Friday marked Idaho Falls’ largest ninth inning comeback since the Chukars became a Kansas City Royals’ affiliate in 2004, according to Chukars’ director of broadcasting Alex Cohen.
FORMER CHUKARS ON THE MOVE
The Royals made multiple trades before Friday’s MLB trade deadline, and two of them involved former Chukars.
Last Sunday, Kansas City traded for pitcher Johnny Cueto, sending left-handed pitchers Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and John Lamb to Cincinnati. Reed pitched 29.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2013. Lamb pitched 41.1 innings for the Chukars in 2009 and 7.1 innings for them in 2012.
On Tuesday, the Royals acquired infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist from Oakland for left-hander Sean Manaea and right-handed Aaron Brooks, who pitched 79.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2011.
SS Marten Gasparini
The cutoff between the season’s first and second halves occurred between Monday and Tuesday. Gasparini has made that (mostly arbitrary) dividing line look meaningful.
The 18-year-old Italian has gone 8 for 14 since Tuesday, with three triples (he leads the Pioneer League with seven) and three walks. His batting average has risen 36 points, his on-base percentage is up 39 points and his slugging percentage has increased 65 points since the second half began.
Gasparini’s most telling stat might be his strikeouts. He has led the league in strikeouts for a large chunk of the season, and his first half strikeout rate (strikeouts per plate appearance) was a monstrous 38.4 percent. In the second half, Gasparini’s strikeout rate is 17.6 percent, albeit in a tiny sample.
3B Ryan Dale
Dale is in the midst of his largest slump of the season. Since July 20, or 10 games, the 19-year-old Australian is hitting .188. He’s struck out 14 times and walked four times. In his 32 at-bats, Dale has hit two extra-base hits since July 20, and he’s committed two errors.