Chukars’ notebook: Chukars, Royals looking for speed

Chukars’ Angel Medina rounds third on his way to home after a hit by Nathan Eaton in the third inning as the Chukars take on the Helena Brewers at Melaleuca Field on Tuesday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | @Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

In sports, speed wins. Or, it certainly helps win.

Ask Al Davis (I mean, if you can talk to the dead).

Ask Usain Bolt or any sprinter. Ask any dude who’s ever tried to tackle running backs Barry Sanders or Chris Johnson.

Heck, even ask the Kansas City Royals — who, despite being amidst a rebuild, are looking for speed, Chukars field manager Omar Ramirez said.

“That is the Kansas City Royal’s identity. Run, run, run, run, run,” Ramirez said July 4. “I like to run (the bases, put pressure on defenses). That’s the Royals’ identity. And personally, I’m that type of manager.”

The Chukars certainly embody that “speed-first” idea from the Royals’ higher management.

Idaho Falls leads the Pioneer League in stolen bases this summer with 69. The second-most? Grand Junction at …. 52.

With speedster Tyler James — who overwhelmingly leads the league in stolen bases with 26 — and Offerman Collado batting second, the Chukars are trying to put as much speed as possible on the bags. Even Nate Eaton, who bats third, has 10 stolen bases, tied for the fourth-most in the league.

Chukars’ Nick Hutchins heads to third on a ground hit as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

On paper, it’s worked. The Chukars host one of the most prominent offenses in the Pioneer League — scoring the second most runs (295) with a league-leading on-base percentage of .390. Simply put, the Chukars get on base often (they’re first in hits with 452; hit the most doubles and triples; walk the second-most out of any team), steal, and can play relatively smart small ball.

“That is my game: get on base anyway I can whether it’s a walk, hit, error, bunt. And just try to score runs,” James said previously. “Try to get in scoring position for the guys that knock me in.”

While in the big leagues, the correlation with speed and winning has yet to field results for the Royals — at least not yet. The Royals are tied for 12th in stolen bases (49) — Whit Merrifield is tied for fourth with 22 stolen bases — and have nine of the fastest 150 players in the MLB, per the MLB’s Statcast Sprint Speed Leaderboard metrics.

They’re at the bottom of the AL Central with a 32-71 record.

Standings (as of Saturday morning and in order by second half records)

Pioneer League North

Helena Brewers (MIL) 19-21, 2-0

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 16-23, 1-0

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 19-20, 0-1

* Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 22-18, 0-2

Pioneer League South

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 22-19, 2-1

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 22-18, 1-1

Orem Owlz (LAA) 13-27, 1-1

* Ogden Raptors (LAD) 27-14, 1-2

* – Denotes first-half division winner

Increasing stock

Catcher Chase Vallot.

On rehab assignment, Vallot joined the Chukars in mid-July and brought a heavy bat late in the Chukars’ lineup. After batting an abysmal .101 in Wilmington, he’s now batting .263 for the Chukars including a 3 for 5 night Friday against Orem. He had three RBIs and a home run in the sixth inning. He also hit two doubles.

Decreasing stock

Third baseman Angel Medina.

While batting .246/.281/.361 for the Chukars in 14 games, Medina committed three errors during Friday’s loss (two fielding, one throwing). His nine errors is second-most on the team (shortstop Offerman Collado has 11) but Medina has committed more in a half the amount of games (Medina’s played 14 games; Collado’s played 28).

Recent transactions (from July 21 to July 28)

– None, though Kansas City Royals’ third baseman Mike Moustakas was recently traded from Kansas City to the Milwaukee Brewers for Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez. Moustakas played for the Chukars in 2007 and was a pivotal piece for the Royals’ World Series team in 2015.

First half MVPs

Nate Eaton, Reed Rohlman and JC Cloney.

While names like Manny Olloque, Carlos Diaz and Kyle Isbel provided more offensive firepower in a shorter span, and eventually moved up in the Royals’ farming system, Eaton and Rohlman have been the most statistically consistent offensive batters for the Chukars.

Eaton — who’s played a variety of infield positions — has batted .355 and knocked in 24 RBIs (second most), two home runs (tied for third), eight triples (first) and 10 doubles (third) in 124 at-bats. He’s also shown promise fielding, showcasing solid arm strength.

Rohlman, who exclusively plays first base, has batted .348 from mostly the cleanup spot. He leads the team in hits (48), RBIs (38) and home runs (4), displaying solid power and contact at the plate. He’s done it all in 138 at-bats.

Finally, Cloney. The southpaw ace selected out of Arizona in the ninth round of last year’s draft has been the Chukars’ most consistent arm. He’s a perfect 7-0 on the season, allowing 40 hits in 43.1 innings pitched. His 2.28 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 1.06 WHIP are some of the team’s best.

Upcoming

Idaho Falls is on the road until Thursday, playing two games in Ogden and three games in Orem. The Chukars return home Thursday for a crucial four-game homestand with Grand Junction, which may have some Pioneer League playoff implications down the line.

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