Category: Players of the Week

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 Notebook: Q&A with recently released Josh Banuelos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is your baseball career over?

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

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

Have you talked to any MLB clubs since being released?

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

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

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

Who broke the news to you about your release?

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

What else did he and the Royals tell you?

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

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

So you were expecting to get released?

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

Did the Royals give you specific reasons for releasing you?

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

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

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

FORMER CHUKARS HONORED

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

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

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

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

WHO’S HOT?

2B Jordan Ebert

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

WHO’S NOT?

OF Rudy Martin

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

Chukars Notebook: A heartbreaking end to a strong first half

Bayliss
Bayliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNA’S STATUS

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

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

MONDESI CALLED UP

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

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

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

FORMER CHUKARS LITTER TOP 30 LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO’S HOT (FIRST HALF)?

C Meibrys Viloria

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

WHO’S NOT (FIRST HALF)?

LHP Nick Andros

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

Chukars Notebook: Divergent first-half records

Viloria
Viloria

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

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

Deep lineup 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improved pitching 

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

The biggest difference between these two staffs: strikes.

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

Home comfort

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

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

CC RAKING IN KC 

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

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

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

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

ROSTER MOVES 

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

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

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

WHO’S HOT? 

RHP Andres Machado 

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

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

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

WHO’S NOT? 

INF Angelo Castellano

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

Chukars turn on the power late, beat Osprey 6-5

Chukars infielders David Edwards (left) and Manny Olloque (right) high-five their teammates after Idaho Falls’ 6-5 win over Missoula on Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Chukars infielders David Edwards (left) and Manny Olloque (right) high-five their teammates after Idaho Falls’ 6-5 win over Missoula on Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ lineup might take a while to wake up, but it never sleepwalks through a game.

That was the case again Tuesday. The Chukars didn’t record a baserunner through three innings, and they were hitless through four. No matter. They finished with 10 hits and a 6-5 win over the Missoula Osprey Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. I.F. now occupies first place in the Pioneer League South by itself.

Power out, power in

First pitch of Tuesday’s game was delayed 15 minutes due to a power outage that affected the entire region. Everything returned back to normal at Melaleuca Field around 6:45 p.m., except for the Chukars’ offense.

The team that averaged 8.3 runs on 10.9 hits per game heading into Tuesday was shut down the first four innings by right-hander Chester Pimentel. Not only did he hold I.F. hitless for four innings, he struck out six batters over that span.

Then the Chukars’ lights turned on.

Five singles led to three runs in the bottom of the fifth, and the Chukars suddenly had a two-run lead. Before that inning, it was easy to forget that Alex Luna I.F.’s best starting pitcher was also pitching a gem. He finished with three earned runs in 5.2 innings, but he only allowed five hits and one walk while striking out eight.

The Osprey regained the lead against Luna and Brian Bayliss in the top of the sixth, but a 5-3 deficit to the Chukars is like a summit reachable by wheelchair.

Sure enough, the Chukars scored once in the bottom of the sixth to inch closer. Meibrys Viloria led off the bottom of the eighth, and the outcome of his at-bat felt comically predicable. Viloria skied a 400-plus-foot home run to right field. The next batter, David Edwards, launched a pitch the opposite way over the left field wall to give I.F. the lead for good.

“You play to the last out of the ballgame, and that’s kind of the attitude these guys have taken,” Chukars pitching coach Andre David said. “That’s a good learning experience for them as they move up, to understand that you’re competing every pitch. That’s how you get better, is to be able to compete through the tough times as well as the good times.”

The Chukars have now won five games this season in which they trailed in the seventh inning or later. They’re also 15-4 at home.

Alone at the top

I.F.’s win, coupled with Orem’s 5-3 loss to Billings, vaulted the Chukars into first place alone in the South Division. I.F. has a 19-12 record with seven games left in the first half.

The Chukars were also at home on July 19 last year for their 31st game. They beat Billings 4-2 in 11 innings that night to improve to 11-20, and they finished the first half 13-25.

Melo named player of the week

Chukars outfielder Yeison Melo hit .520 last week, making him an easy choice for the Pioneer League player of the week.

From July 11 to 17, Melo went 13 for 25 with a double, triple and his first two home runs of the season.

Player of the game

Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria

Viloria might cool down this season, but don’t hold your breath. The catcher went 3 for 4 with key hits: the game-tying home run and an RBI single in the sixth to cut Missoula’s lead to 5-4.

Viloria is now batting .472 in 89 at-bats this season.

Up next

The Chukars get Wednesday off and begin an eight-day road trip on Thursday at Helena (11-20). Jace Vines is scheduled to take on fellow right-hander Jordan Desguin in game one of the four-game series.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Meibrys Viloria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you done anything differently at the plate this year?

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

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

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

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

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

First walk-off home run in your career?

“The first walk-off in my life.”

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

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

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

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

What was your reaction to getting hit?

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

What can you improve on as a player?

“On defense, the throws to second base.”

Describe your life growing up in Cartagena.

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

FROM CHUKARS TO ALL-STARS

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

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

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

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

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

BUTLER BACK

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

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

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

STANDINGS UPDATE

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

WHO’S HOT?

OF Yeison Melo

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

WHO’S NOT?

RHP Igol Feliz

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

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

Chukars Notebook: Raul Mondesi highlights Royals’ prospect rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other notable former Chukars:

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

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

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

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

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

Roster move

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

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

Standings update

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

Who’s hot?

3B Manny Olloque

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

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

Who’s not?

LHP Sam Selman

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

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

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

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

Chukars notebook: Controversy surrounds minor-league wages

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A 300 percent pay raise how’s that for an incentive?

Three-hundred percent is the approximate raise a Triple-A baseball player would receive if he was called up to the MLB team’s 40-man roster, according to sports law attorney Jeff Blank. The wage gap is larger for players in the minor leagues’ lower levels; large enough to inspire a lawsuit.

Salaries for first-year players on the 40-man roster equalled $41,400 in 2015, according to Blank. First-year AAA players, meanwhile, made $2,150 a month. That rose to $2,400 for their second year and $2,700 for their third year.

First-year Double-A salaries are $1,700 a month with an additional $100 per month for subsequent seasons. Advanced Single-A salaries are $1,500 a month and low A’s are $1,300.

The seasons from Low A to AAA span seven months. Short-season teams like the Idaho Falls Chukars play from June to September, and their players make $1,150 per month.

All minor-leaguers get $25 in meal money per road day.

The federal poverty level for individuals is $11,880 in yearly income, which is higher than every minor-league salary below AAA.

The minor-league salaries listed above do not account for post-draft signing bonuses, and players often negotiate for higher salaries after their initial seven-year contract is up.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed against the MLB on behalf of 20 former minor-leaguers. The lawsuit, as Baseball America reported, “claims that major league teams have suppressed minor league player salaries in violation of federal and state labor laws, and calls for minor leaguers to be paid a salary that meets minimum wage requirements.” A judge ruled that the suit could be expanded to a class action, as Baseball America reported last year.

Congress recently proposed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that would prevent guaranteed minimum wage and overtime pay for minor-leaguers. The MLB released a statement in response to the legislation, which compared minor-leaguers to artists or musicians.

“For the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career,” the statement read.

The MLB also argued that minor league clubs could not afford increased player costs. If the 2014 lawsuit succeeds, the MLB would likely share a chunk of its multi-billion dollar revenue with the minors. Retraction is another reality the MiLB would face.

For now, players have to reach Triple-A or the major leagues if they want to earn a living playing baseball.

Dozier makes Futures Game roster

This week, former Chukar Hunter Dozier was named to the 2016 MLB Futures Game roster.

Dozier, a shortstop for Triple-A Omaha, is one of two Kansas City Royals prospects on the Futures roster. The other is outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who also plays for Omaha.

The Futures Game features 25 of the world’s best prospects against 25 of the U.S.’ best. It will be played at 5 p.m. July 10.

Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft. He spent 54 games with the Chukars in 2013, hitting .303 with .912 OPS and seven home runs.

Roster moves

Here are all of the roster moves the Chukars have made since the beginning of the season:

June 17: Outfielder Nick Heath and catcher MJ Sanchez join I.F. Heath was a 16th-round pick in last month’s MLB draft, and Sanchez was selected in the 35th round.

June 22: Chukars first baseman Brandon Dulin is promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he had played until suffering an injury on April 12.

June 25: I.F. adds right-handed pitcher Jace Vines, who was selected in the fourth round of June’s draft. He is the highest 2016 pick on the Chukars roster as of July 2.

June 26: Right-handed pitchers Reid Redman (on a rehab assignment) and Sam Lewis are promoted to Lexington.

June 30: Left-handed pitcher Sam Selman moves up from the Arizona League to Idaho Falls, continuing his rehab assignment. Selman was named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, when he played for the Chukars. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60.1 innings (12 starts) that season.

July 1: Kansas City moves outfielder Jose Sanchez from I.F. to its other Rookie ball team, the Burlington Royals. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons moves up from the Arizona League to the Chukars.

Who’s hot?

C Meibrys Viloria

Viloria has cooled down a bit, but his batting average is still a blistering .467 (as of press time), good for second in the Pioneer League. Going into Saturday, Viloria led the league in slugging percentage (.805) and doubles (nine).

Who’s not?

RHP Arnaldo Hernandez

In Tuesday’s start against Orem, Hernandez gave up eight earned runs on nine hits in three innings pitched. That performance raised his season ERA to 9.24 and his opponents’ batting average to .393. Hernandez does, however, have eight strikeouts against two walks in his three starts.

Chukars Notebook: Behind the mic for the Chukars

Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Javier Hernandez is known for his energy, but he’s prone to falling asleep at work.

Two weeks ago, Hernandez was at Melaleuca Field for his part-time job as the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer. During the game, Hernandez didn’t announce the name of an opposing player who came up to bat.

Hernandez also failed to announce the next batter. The Chukars intern sitting next to Hernandez looked over. Hernandez’s eyes were closed. The intern tapped Hernandez, who awoke in confusion.

“It was one of those long days,” Hernandez said.

That was the only time Hernandez, 34, fell asleep while announcing a Chukars game. With the hours he works, it’s amazing Hernandez, in his second year as the PA announcer, hasn’t fallen asleep on the job more often.

“By the end of a homestand, I’m ready for it to be over,” Hernandez said. “But the flipside is, ‘Man, this is baseball. This is awesome.’ It’s short season, so enjoy it while you can.”

Earlier this summer, Hernandez was promoted to assistant store manager at Lowe’s in Idaho Falls. But with it came demanding hours.

During various weekdays, Hernandez has to be at Lowe’s by 5 a.m. He gets off around 3 or 4 p.m., which gives him about an hour to go home and say hi to his wife, Nicole. Then he heads to Melaleuca Field to start his shift as the PA announcer. If it’s a quick game, he might be home before 10 p.m.

Hernandez, who gets paid per game, works two jobs so he can afford his children’s education. Gavin, 8, and Ava, 3, Hernandez attend Watersprings Christian.

“(Nicole) supports me in knowing that this is going toward a good cause,” Hernandez said. “It’s taking care of my family’s needs.”

Hernandez admits the hours are draining, but he loves announcing baseball game. It helps that he’s good at it.

“He brings a really polished presence up there,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “He does as well as any announcers we’ve had.”

Jordan Beckstead has been the Chukars’ scoreboard operator for more than two decades, so he’s seen his share of PA announcers. Some have been good, some haven’t. Beckstead recalled one announcer throwing a chair in anger during one game.

“Other guys used to get really angry when they’d mess up because they were perfectionists,” Beckstead said. “(Hernandez) doesn’t do that, and that’s what I like.”

Hernandez and Beckstead’s relationship started outside the press box. They were a year apart at Bonneville High School.

“He was always really personable back then, too,” Beckstead said. “Really popular guy, friend to everyone, just like he is now.”

It doesn’t matter if Hernandez messes up a name or has a rough day at Lowe’s. He’s always friendly, his voice always booming.

Even when he dozes at the mic.

“This is a stress reliever,” Hernandez said. “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

The Chukars are still battling Ogden for the second-half crown in the Pioneer League South Division. But if they clinch, here’s how the playoffs would look.

Since Orem won the first half South title, it gets homefield advantage in the best-of-three playoff series. That means I.F. would host the first game of the series Wednesday, and Orem would host the second game Thursday and, if necessary, the third game Friday.

Whoever wins that series faces the winner of the North series in the championship. The North gets homefield advantage during odd years, so the 2015 Pioneer League champion will have to win the title in Montana.

ROSTER MOVES

Here is a timeline of the week in the Chukars’ roster moves:

Sunday, Aug. 30 — Chukars add infielder Gabriel Noriega (rehab) from Triple-A Omaha and right-handed pitchers Jacob Bonder and Matt Ditman from Rookie-league Burlington.

Monday — Chukars add righty Julio Pinto and catcher Xavier Hernandez from Burlington.

Wednesday — Chukars add outfielder Rudy Martin from the Arizona League and infielders Jose Martinez and Brandon Dulin from Burlington.

Thursday — Chukars add infielder Carlos Diaz and lefty Nicholas Andros from the Arizona League. Noriega ends his rehab stint and returns to Omaha.

Since this is the final Chukars Notebook of 2015, the weekly “Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?” feature will award the hottest and coldest Chukars of the season.

THE ‘WHO’S HOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

OF Amalani Fukofuka

This was an agonizing choice between Fukofuka and first baseman Josh Banuelos. The deciding factors were Fukofuka’s speed and defense.

Through Friday, the 19-year-old outfielder was second on the team behind Banuelos with a .340 batting average (among players with at least 100 plate appearances). But Fukofuka had a team-best .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, thanks to his 18 doubles (second behind Banuelos), nine triples (second behind Marten Gasparini), two home runs and 24 walks. Through Friday, Fukofuka had 299 plate appearances, tied for first on the Chukars with Banuelos.

Fukofuka is also sixth on the team with 10 stolen bases. He’s made several highlight catches in the outfield and has committed only six errors in 64 games.

Fukofuka and Banuelos were the lone representatives on the Pioneer League’s postseason all-star team, as well.

THE ‘WHO’S NOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

3B Ryan Dale

Left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 24 walks) narrowly avoided this dubious honor thanks to a strong second half. Dale has played poorly in the second half, although his struggles aren’t exclusive to the last 35 games.

Through Friday, Dale was batting .208 with a .628 OPS. Other than recent addition Rudy Martin, who had four plate appearances through Friday, Dale has been the Chukars’ worst batter this season. He’s also committed 10 errors.

Not everything has been negative for Dale. The Australian hit a game-winning home run at Helena on Aug. 7, and he’s shown good patience at the plate (.328 on-base percentage).

Chukars Notebook: Second half resurgance

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

History is brewing at Melaleuca Field.

Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars enter today’s game against Grand Junction with a 19-9 second half record, tops in the Pioneer League. That record is even more impressive when compared to the Chukars’ first half, when they finished dead last at 13-25.

I.F. is currently tied with Ogden in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half. Even if the Chukars miss the playoffs, they might finish with the winningest half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

The Chukars joined the Royals’ organization in 2004. Since then, their best half was in 2009, when they went 23-14 to end the season. The Chukars would need to go at least 5-5 to surpass the 2009 mark.

It should be noted that the halfway point of a season is an arbitrary endpoint. In other words, the dividing line between the first 38 games and the last 38 games is essentially meaningless.

The beginning of a season is the most significant starting point for a baseball team, and I.F. has gone 32-34 since then. You can create any narrative you want by closing your eyes and randomly placing your finger on a calendar.

The Pioneer League, of course, doesn’t work like the MLB, which rewards season-long records. Teams only need one good half to be in the Pioneer League playoff hunt, as the Chukars have shown. But that doesn’t mean the Chukars went into a telephone booth on July 28 and came out a superteam.

That all said, several I.F. players and coaches said they hit a mental reset button after the first half ended. They knew July 28 marked a new season, and that mental rewiring counts for something.

Plus, several players have gone from bad to elite, and their improvement started almost squarely on July 28. Second baseman D.J. Burt and shortstop Marten Gasparini are at the top of that list.

After July 28, Burt was hitting .198/.324/.215 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Through Friday, he was hitting .282/.389/.364, and his defense looks improved.

Gasparini’s slash line dropped to .205/.275/.346 through July 27. Now, it’s .262/.339/.419, although Gasparini might be done for the season because he is representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“A lot of the position players, especially, are very young, so whenever you go up a level, not everybody’s going to have immediate success,” Chukars reliever Tripp Davis told Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen on Aug. 11. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The pitching is clicking, as well. I.F.’s first half team ERA was 5.33. It’s down to 4.93 on the season, thanks to pitchers like Davis (2.84 second-half ERA) Derek Gordon (3.12) and Josh Staumont (3.48, 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

I.F. has also been good/lucky in close games during the second game. The Chukars have won five extra-inning games (7-1 on the season), eight by one run and are 13-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

The Chukars will enjoy this success even if they miss the playoffs and fizzle over these last 10 games. Their players have developed in the second half, and that is ultimately all that matters in rookie ball.

PICOLLO VISIT’S I.F.

J.J. Picollo — the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel — has watched the Chukars since Thursday in Ogden, and he’ll be in Idaho Falls through today. He makes trips to see Kansas City’s three Rookie-level teams once a year.

Picollo said he’s here for two main reasons.

“One, getting to learn our new players, guys who were drafted this year. I saw a lot of them in mini-camp but didn’t see them in games,” said Picollo, who has held his current position since 2008. “The second thing is to look at the guys we’ve had in the system, see how they’re progressing, see where they’re at.”

INTERN MIGRATION

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene has been employing college interns since he became GM in 1993, and he believes the opportunties benefit him and the interns.

But every summer, he deals with the same issue: interns going back to school.

This summer, the Chukars had six administrative interns (some receive college credit, but all of them receive stipends, Greene said). Four have begun classes — Jake Guza (College of Idaho), Matthew Donovan, Aaron Palmberg (both BYU) and Desiree Cannon (Lewis and Clark). I.F. also lost several college-age concessions workers.

Greene and the Melaleuca Field staff aren’t too worried about being understaffed, though. After all, they’ve survived the intern migration for 22 years.

ROSTER MOVE

Last Sunday, right-handed pitcher Bryan Brickhouse made a three-inning rehab start for the Chukars against Grand Junction (he allowed two earned runs). The next day, Brickhouse was added to I.F.’s active roster.

This is Brickhouse’s third stint with the Chukars. He made one start for I.F. in 2012 and nine appearances (eight starts) in 2014.

WHO’S HOT?

2B D.J. Burt

Burt’s hot second half gets two mentions in this space. Since July 28, Burt his hitting .398 with nine extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 15 walks. He’s also reached base (via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in 46 straight games.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez leads the Chukars with nine home runs, but he’s been in a major slump. In his last 11 games, Gomez is hitting 5 for 41 (.122) with two walks and 22 strikeouts. He has 79 strikeouts on the season, tied for first in the Pioneer League with Gasparini.