Category: Players of the Week

Chukars Notebook: I.F. hitters explain walk-up songs

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos hits a fly ball to center field during the first inning of the game against the Missoula Osprey July 17 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos hits a fly ball to center field during the first inning of the game against the Missoula Osprey July 17 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

A smile was absent from Josh Banuelos’ face as he approached home plate two springs ago.

Banuelos was making his first home plate appearance of the 2014 baseball season, his redshirt junior season for Fresno Pacific University. Banuelos felt nervous that his new introduction song was “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey.

The 1995 R&B song fits awkwardly in baseball’s macho culture, so Banuelos expected some perplexed reactions. That song? Really?

So he was surprised when he returned to the dugout after his at-bat.

“All of the guys were like, ‘That song is tight,’” Banuelos said. “I was like, ‘If they like it, I know it’s a good song.’”

Banuelos has walked up to “Fantasy” ever since, including the 17 home games he’s played for the Idaho Falls Chukars this season. The first baseman’s song choice taps into the layered world of baseball hitters’ walk-up songs.

“It makes you smile, you’re relaxed and I’ve had success with it,” Banuelos said of “Fantasy.” “I don’t want to change things up.”

Walk-up songs appear in professional leagues all the way down to high school. The songs run for about 30 seconds before each hitter’s plate appearance, and they’re only played for the home team. But some players draw a line between walk-up song and results.

Banuelos had a .378 batting average, a .432 on-base percentage and a .575 slugging percentage for Fresno Pacific last season. His batting average is .343 for Idaho Falls this season.

In other words, Banuelos has excelled since he started walking up to “Fantasy,” and he doesn’t think that’s coincidental.

Banuelos mainly chose “Fantasy” because he likes it, just like DJ Burt. The Chukars second baseman walks up to “My Way” by the rapper Fetty Wap. He started using it this season, and he only chose it because it’s a song he regularly listens to.

Idaho Falls outfielder Amalani Fukofuka also walks up to a Fetty Wap song (“Again”). His reasoning is similar to Burt’s, but it also helps his performance, he said.

“When you have a catchy beat walking up to the plate, it gives you a little rhythm,” Fukofuka said. “You have to stay relaxed.”

Chukars third baseman Ryan Dale disagrees. He walked up to Darude’s “Sandstorm” for most of the season and now walks up to a different techno song, Disclosure’s “You & Me” (remixed by Flume). Other than the home ties (Dale, Darude and Flume are all Australian), Dale likes to get pumped up before each plate appearance. “Sandstorm” and “You & Me” fulfill that requirement.

The Kansas City Royals’ mental skills coach Freddy Sandoval walked up to Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in college and during his 10-year playing career in the Los Angeles Angels organization. But the song was not used to pump him up.

“That was the first song I listened to when I met my wife,” Sandoval said. “It puts me in a happy place.”

Sandoval’s agrees with Banuelos and Fukofuka about the purpose of walk-up songs — to be relaxed and positive.

“Music alone can retrieve a lot of information from your past,” Sandoval said. “If a player chooses a song that reminds him of negative thoughts or negative situations, it’s detrimental to what he’s trying to achieve.”

Banuelos still gets some negative reactions to “Fantasy.” But it brings a smile to his face, and that’s all he cares about.

“As long as I’m in baseball, I’ll probably stay with that song,” Banuelos said.

CHUKARS’ WALK-UP SONGS

  • Josh Banuelos — “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey
  • DJ Burt — “My Way” by Fetty Wap
  • Roman Collins — “Vampire” by Tribal Seeds
  • Ryan Dale — “You & Me” by Disclosure (Flume remix)
  • Nick Dini — “Epic Sax Guy” aka Sergey Stepanov (via YouTube)
  • Jeckson Flores — “Fireball” by Pitbull
  • Amalani Fukofuka — “Again” by Fetty Wap
  • Marten Gasparini — “Heart Upon My Sleeve” by Avicii
  • Pedro Gonzalez — “Farruka” by Chapi Chapi
  • Brawlun Gomez — “Aposento Alto” by Quien Vive
  • Cody Jones — “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith
  • Logan Nottebrok — “Tops Drop” by Fat Pat
  • Kyle Pollock — “Savior” by Andrew Ripp

Orem player’s connection to the Royals

The Chukars and Orem Owlz were tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning on July 6. Idaho Falls center fielder Cody Jones faced Orem’s left-handed pitcher Tyler Watson with a runner on first and one out.

On a full count, Watson threw a changeup. Jones softly hit the pitch into right field for an RBI double. The run was the difference in Idaho Falls’ 4-2 win.

“If there was one person in this league who would throw a 3-2 changeup to me, it would be him,” Jones said. “He’ll pitch backwards, and he’s good at it.”

Jones didn’t know this purely based on scouting. He played with and against Watson since childhood. Jones, by association, has also know Watson’s father, Gene Watson. Gene currently serves as the director of professional scouting for Kansas City, Idaho Falls’ MLB affiliate.

The two played little league baseball in Austin, Texas, from about 7 years old until high school. Jones played for Stony Point and Watson played for Georgetown (both schools are in Austin suburbs).

Jones attended Texas Christian University, and Watson went to McLennan Junior College in Waco, Texas. Watson was drafted in the 38th round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Royals selected Jones in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.

Jones and Watson’s Rookie-level teams face each other 16 times this season, including a four-game series wrapping up today in Orem.

“I texted him last night — I told him if he needed anything while he was here, let me know,” Watson said on Saturday. “He said he needed a vehicle and a fishing pole. I said, ‘Alright, bud, I’m on my way.’”

Gene Watson hasn’t seen Orem play yet this season, but he plans to make a trip out in a couple of weeks to see his son play. He missed Watson throw 3.1 scoreless innings against the Chukars on Saturday.

Gene wouldn’t say who he roots for when the Chukars and Owlz play. All he said was how bizarre it feels to watch those games.

“It’s really strange to see the players we talk about every day and know that your kid is in the other dugout,” Gene said.

Roster move

On Monday, right-handed pitcher Brooks Pounders was promoted from Idaho Falls to the Advanced Single-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Pounders, who was on a rehabilitation assignment, pitched three scoreless innings for Idaho Falls in his July 16 start. He posted a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings for the Chukars last season.

Who’s hot?

LHP Brandon Thomas

Thomas has been the Chukars most consistent relief pitcher this season. He’s pitched the third most innings (27.0) of any Idaho Falls pitcher despite making only one start (on July 12, when he allowed three earned runs in five innings). Thomas has given up one home run and 12 walks against 23 strikeouts, and his season ERA is 2.00.

Who’s not?

LHP Tripp Davis

The side-armer threw 10.1 innings without an earned run to start the season. That streak ended on July 15, when he gave up a walkoff solo home run to Missoula’s Luke Lowery. Davis pitched 2.1 scoreless innings three days later against Great Falls, but he was shelled by Orem on Friday. Davis gave up seven runs (five earned) on six hits and a walk in 0.2 innings pitched against the Owlz. His season ERA is now 4.05.

Chukars notebook: Owlz’s new broadcaster has calmed the storm

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Orem Owlz were left scrambling.

Their media director and road play-by-play broadcaster Joey Zanaboni resigned June 19, in light of the Owlz’s controversial announcement of their promotion “Caucasian Heritage Night.”

Zanaboni’s resignation left the Owlz, the Los Angeles Angels’ Rookie-level affiliate, without a road play-by-play voice for their upcoming road trip, which started June 22.

Orem’s front office frantically searched for a replacement. One of them was David Winkworth, whom the Owlz knew after he (unsuccessfully) applied to be their public address announcer years earlier. Winkworth had broadcasting experience, lived in the Salt Lake City area and was available for the rest of Orem’s season.

The Owlz hired him on June 21.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from fans on social media and from the Owlz,” Winkworth said in a phone interview. “They said, ‘You’re doing a good job so far,’ and I’m really enjoying my time.”

Two days before “Caucasian Heritage Night” was announced, nine African-American people were shot and killed in a Charleston, S.C., church. Dylan Roof, a white man, has been charged with the murders.

According to Zanaboni, via Twitter, he warned the Owlz’s front office about the potential public outcry “Caucasian Heritage Night” would create. He resigned after the team went ahead with the announcement and the outcry arrived.

In a statement, the Owlz said their announcement of the event — scheduled for Aug. 10 — was ill-timed.

“We understand in light of recent tragic events that our intentions have been misconstrued,” the Owlz’s statement said, via the Salt Lake Tribune. “For that, we sincerely apologize.”

The Owlz quickly cancelled the event. Orem’s general manager Justo Vazquez declined to talk about the situation.

As Orem searched for Zanaboni’s replacement, Winkworth’s public address application put him on their radar. Lack of experience cost him the PA job. His resume has grown since.

Since 2012, the Utah Valley University alum has interned at ESPN 700 (a Salt Lake City sports radio station), hosted a sports podcast, helped produce a sports TV show for Salt Lake Community College and covered the Utah Grizzlies (an East Coast Hockey League team affiliated with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks) for KSL.com, among other work.

That experience, along with his local residence and summer availability, made him a clear favorite for the Owlz over the four to five other candidates.

Vazquez has been impressed with Winkworth’s performance so far.

“He learned everything from scratch — the team, the players — so I think he’s done an admirable job,” Vazquez said in a phone interview.

Winkworth said he’s enjoyed his four weeks with the Owlz.

“I love just sitting there, talking sports,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me.”

Winkworth was in Idaho Falls on Fourth of July weekend for Orem’s three-game series against the Chukars. He’ll return two more times: from July 27-29 and August 5-6.

Winkworth is only guaranteed this job through the end of the season. If a more attractive opportunity opens up after the season, he’ll take it. But if he wants to return as Orem’s road play-by-play voice next year, he’ll have an advantage over other candidates.

“If he goes through the season, keeps improving and shows us something, he obviously has the experience, so he’ll have the upper hand on anyone going into next year,” Vazquez said.

Chukars’ transactions

After Idaho Falls’ 8-5 loss to Orem on July 5, three Chukars were promoted to the Single-A Lexington Legends, most notably Alexis Rivera.

The left-handed outfielder and first baseman still leads the Pioneer League in home runs (seven) and walks (17), despite leaving Idaho Falls a week ago. He also hit .362 in his 69 at-bats with the Chukars.

Idaho Falls also lost left-handed pitchers Eric Stout (3.38 ERA in 2.2 innings for the Chukars) and Brennan Henry (1.69 in 5.1).

Those three joined former Chukar infielder Luis Valenzuela, who transferred to Lexington on July 2. Valenzuela leads the Legends with a .375 batting average and a .974 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (OPS) in 16 at-bats.

Rivera has gone 1 for 9 with a walk in his three games with Lexington. Henry, who transferred from Lexington to Idaho Falls on June 22, has a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings for the Legends. Stout’s ERA is 3.00 in 3.0 innings.

Right-handed pitcher Carter Hope moved up from the Arizona League Royals to the Chukars on July 5. He’s made one appearance (a start) for Idaho Falls, giving up two earned runs in 3.1 innings against Great Falls on Wednesday.

Former Chukars make All-Star team

Seven Kansas City Royals made this year’s American League All-Star team. Two are former Chukars — third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez.

Moustakas played 11 games for Idaho Falls as an 18-year-old in 2007, hitting .293.

Perez played 12 games for the Chukars in 2008 (at age 18) and 59 games in 2009. He hit over .300 both seasons.

Cuthbert’s short MLB stint

Former Chukar Cheslor Cuthbert made his major league debut for Kansas City on Tuesday. He lasted four games, all starts at third base, going 5 for 15 (.333) with a triple.

Cuthbert played 14 games for Idaho Falls in 2010 (at age 18), hitting .233.

Who’s hot?

The Chukars’ bullpen

Singling out one reliever would be unfair. Idaho Falls’ bullpen has not allowed an earned run in its last 25 innings pitched (it has allowed an unearned run). The starters, however, have allowed 24 earned runs in their last 23 innings.

Who’s not?

OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez posted a .327 batting average and four home runs through his first 13 games. He has gone 1 for 20 with 11 strikeouts since, dropping his batting average to .253.

Saturday’s game rained out

Idaho Falls’ scheduled game at Missoula on Saturday was rained out. Both teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader today starting at 5 p.m. Both games will go seven innings, barring extra innings, and the second game will start 30 minutes after the first concludes.

Chukars’ O’Hearn named PL Player of the Week

O'Hearn

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Ryan O’Hearn was named the Pioneer League Player of the Week after his performance last week.

The Sam Houston State product overpowered the Ogden Raptors in six games, going 14 of 25 with two home runs, four doubles, nine runs and six RBIs while hitting safely in each game. He led the league last week in average (.560), on-base percentage (.607) and slugging (.960).

At one point last week, O’Hearn had reached safely in eight straight at-bats.

O’Hearn leads the Pioneer League in batting average and slugging percentage, is second in on-base percentage and third in doubles.

The Chukars were off Monday, and return to action today with the first of four games at Billings. Idaho Falls then plays at Great Falls for three games, takes a day off for the Major League All-Star game and then starts a seven-game homestand against Billings on July 16.

Selman named pitcher of the week

Chukars left-handed pitcher Sam Selman was named the Pioneer League’s Pitcher of the Week on Monday, making him the fourth Chukar to win the award in the league’s six weeks.

The Royals’ second-round pick in June struck out nine while allowing three hits during six scoreless innings at Great Falls on Wednesday.

Selman leads the league in ERA (1.67) and strikeouts (44) in 32 1/3 innings. He’s walked just eight thus far and has yet to surrender a home run.

Previous Chukars winners of the pitcher of the week award include Kyle Smith, Clayton Schulz and Ali Williams.

Williams named league’s pitcher of the week

Chukars pitcher Ali Williams throws to a Grand Junction batter on July 5 at Suplizio field in Grand Junction, Colo.

Chukars right-handed pitcher Ali Williams became the third member of the Idaho Falls squad to earn pitcher of the week honors Tuesday when the Pioneer League handed out its weekly awards.

Williams claimed the award for the week of July 9 to Sunday.

Williams dominate the Helena Brewers on Thursday, tossing six shutout innings while surrendering three hits and striking out a career-high 11 batters to earn the win. Of the seven batters he didn’t retire with a strikeout, he forced six of them into groundball outs.

The Pioneer League has handed out four pitcher of the week awards thus far this season and the Chukars own three of them. Kyle Smith, who was promoted to Low-A Kane County, won the award in the league’s first week. And left-hander Clayton Schulz took home the award last week.

Williams, a 34th-round pick in 2011, lead the league’s active pitchers in WHIP (0.94) and batting average against (.185) before Tuesday’s start. He also ranked fifth in ERA (2.42) and was tied for second strikeouts (28).

Players of the Week, July 7-14

Pitcher

Ali Williams, RHP: The combination of a 91-mph fastball and a sharp slider allowed Williams to strike out 11 in six innings against Helena on Thursday. He retired six of the seven batters he didn’t strike out by inducing a ground ball.

6 IP, 1-0, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K

Hitter

Ethan Chapman, CF: Chapman set the table for the Chukars offense this week, posting a .500 on-base percentage and then swiping a league-best five stolen bases. His legs also carried him to third twice with a pair of triples.

9 for 23, 5 BB, 6 R, 2 3B, 3 RBIs, 5 SB

Players of the Week, June 30-July 6

Pitchers

Andrew Ferguson, RHP: Ferguson repeats as pitcher of the week after one earned in 132/3 innings over two starts lowered his ERA to 1.14, second best in the league. He tossed seven shutout innings in Grand Junction on Friday.

13.2 IP, 1-0, 10 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 K

Hitters

Ysmelin Alcantara, LF/RF: The 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic was one of the few bright spots in the lineup this week with a solo home run Friday, a 3-for-3 game Sunday and seven hits in six games.

7 for 20, 3 BB, 3 R, 2B, HR, 4 RBIs

Players of the week, June 23-29

Pitcher

Andrew Ferguson, RHP: The Benton, Ark., native limited the Pioneer League’s top offense, Ogden, through six innings Monday. Through the first two weeks, Ferguson has been the Chukars’ most consistent arm. He starts today.

6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Hitter

Jin-Ho Shin, C: The 20-year-old South Korean catcher recovered from a rough first week in Idaho Falls and clubbed five extra-base hits this week, including a pair of home runs. He has a hit in six straight games.

9-22, 5 R, 3 2Bs, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs

Smith namded pitcher of the week … in two leagues

Kyle Smith during professional debut with the Chukars on Tuesday.

Former Chukars right-handed pitcher Kyle Smith earned the distinct honor Monday and winning the pitcher of the week award … in two leagues … at the same time.

Smith struck out 11 during his professional debut in Idaho Falls on June 19, earning him the Pioneer League’s award.

The Royals then promoted him to Low-A Kane County, where he tossed six no-hit innings and faced the minimum Sunday.

Through his first 11 innings as a professional, Smith has surrendered one run on three hits while striking out 17.

Not a bad way to start a career.

Players of the week, June 18-23

Pitchers

Kyle Smith, RHP: Smith showed why the Royals selected him the fourth round of the 2011 draft – and why they only planned to let him make one start with the Chukars – by striking out 11 in his professional debut.

5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K

Hitters

Ethan Chapman, CF: The 30th-round pick out of California State San Bernardino started his career with a bang, hitting .471 his first week and making a head-first diving catch on a slicing liner in center field Tuesday.

8-17, 5 R, 1 2B, 2 3B., 6 RBI, 1 SB