By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
You better get to Melalueca Field quick: some of the Chukars’ best are moving up rather quickly.
After Manny Olloque blasted two home runs against Ogden, he was recently bumped up to Lexington.
At Chukars media day earlier in the month, he mentioned the difficulty of moving up and down and around the country for minor league ball.
“You definitely have to have to have faith that’s for sure,” Olloque said on June 13. “You just gotta trust the process and can’t look to far ahead of that. Just play everyday and try not to worry too much about the other little things. … I got caught up with it this year, you know, but I’ve been staying strong with it and just having fun.”
Despite playing in triple-A Omaha for nine games earlier in the year, Olloque came back down to the rookie-A level, bring some experience and early season offense to Melaleuca Field. Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said Olloque wasn’t going to be held up in triple-A for too long — he was called up as an emergency call, per Ramirez — but it was clear from Chukars’ opening day that Olloque wouldn’t be in Idaho Falls for too long either.
He batted .474 in 19 at-bats, knocking in nine RBIs, two home runs, a triple and two doubles. One of his two home runs was a grand slam.
“I’ve learned to humble myself,” Olloque said. “I know this game isn’t going to last forever, and I know there’s more to (life) than baseball. Just having a closer relationship with God lets me stuff in different perspective. Just try to be not too high, not too low, just even keel.”
“Manny is a good hitter,” said Ramirez after the Chukars’ opening day win. “Manny has always been a good hitter and he’s going to be a good help for the team.”
Even with Olloque gone, though, the Chukars still have a plethora of solid contact hitters. They’re batting .332 through eight games — the highest in the Pioneer League — as of June 23.
Kansas City Royals’ third-round pick Kyle Isbel has been sharp his first few games with the rookie-A affiliate. He’s batting .500. Offerman Collado, Julio Gonzalez, Nick Hutchins and Andres Martin should be steady hands at the plate this summer.
Collado and Gonzalez, in their second stints in Idaho Falls, are batting .368 and .364, respectively. Hutchins has batted .321 in a team-high 28 at-bats. He is tied for first in doubles (3) alongside Isbel and first baseman Reed Rohlman.
While only suiting up for three games thus far, Martin’s small sample size is promising. He’s gone 5 for 11 and knocked in two RBIs. He’s truck out once and walked once.
In terms of pitching, the Chukars’ have vastly improved from a year ago. A year ago, the Chukars were one of the worst — if not, the worst — pitching club in the Pioneer League. Now, they’re among the top.
Of course, minor league teams change rapidly and it’s early in the season, but the Chukars currently rank one of the better rotations and bullpens in the league.
The team’s ERA is 4.43 (second-best in the Pioneer) with their WHIP at 1.35 (tied for second best).
JC Cloney (2-0) is molding into a reliable ace, giving up just 10 hits and three earned runs in 13 innings pitched. He’s struck out 16 and has a WHIP of 0.77. Domingo Pena (1-0) looked sharp in his one appearance thus far. He holds a 1.80 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP.
Again, it’s early. But the Chukars have solid pieces to be excited about if you follow the Royals’ farming system.
“I think it will be a strong group of pitchers and I think that they’re going to be learning just like everybody else will be learning,” Chukars’ pitching coach Jeff Suppan said prior to the season starting.
Pioneer League North
Helena Brewers (MIL) 4-2
Missoula Osprey (ARI) 3-2
Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 3-4
Billings Mustangs (CIN) 2-4
Pioneer League South
Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 6-2
Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 4-4
Ogden Raptors (LAD) 3-5
Orem Owlz (LAA) 3-5
Kyle Isbel. Since joining the Chukars on June 18, Isbel has proved to be a reliable at-bat for Idaho Falls. In the past five games, the third-round pick has batted 10 for 20 (.500) with seven RBIs, three doubles and seven runs. He’s struck oout twice.
Jose Caraballo. Since June 15, Caraballo went 6 for 27 (.222) at the plate including a four-game stretch where the 21-year-old went 0 for 14. His slump could be ending shortly, though, as he’s registered back-t0-back two-hit games at Grand Junction.
Recent transactions (from June 18 to June 23)
– Right-handed pitcher Joe Ramirez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.
– Left-handed pitcher Marcelo Martinez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.
– Catcher Jesus Atencio assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.
– Catcher Nathan Easton assigned to Idaho Falls.
– Right-handed pitcher Dillon Drabble assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.
– Shortstop Kyle Krasser assigned to Idaho Falls.
– Right-handed pitcher Jon Heasley assigned to Idaho Fals.
– Right-handed pitcher Tyler Gray assigned to Idaho Falls
– Right-handed pitcher Jonathan Bowlan assistned to Idaho Falls Chukars.
– Centerfielder Isaiah Smith assigned to Idaho Falls from AZL Royals.
The Chukars play at Orem until Monday before hosting Grand Junction for a four-game homestand starting Tuesday. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.