Tag: Alex Luna

Chukars Notebook: Meibrys Viloria reflects on MVP season

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Barring a major slump, the Pioneer League MVP was Meibrys Viloria’s to lose at the end of the first half.

Viloria, 19, tailed off a bit in the second half, but it didn’t cost him. The catcher became the third Idaho Falls Chukar since 2007 to win the Ralph Nelles Award. The league announced his MVP honor on Tuesday.

“I was working hard since spring training to right now, so I’m very excited,” Viloria said Thursday through I.F. bench coach Ramon Castro.

In the first 38 games, Viloria led the league in almost every major category: batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.793), hits (53), RBIs (36), doubles (15) and total bases (92). Most of those leads evaporated in the second half, but he still remained near the top.

His numbers look especially impressive compared to 2015. In 150 at-bats with Burlington last season, Viloria did not record single extra-base hit. He had 37 in 226 at-bats this season (28 doubles, three triples and six home runs).

“I’ve been working hard, working with Andre (David) in the cage every day, Viloria said. “That’s part of why I had a great season.”

Viloria still saw parts of his game that need improvement. Defense was his biggest weakness, he said, especially throwing outbase stealers. Viloria did, however, throw out 34 percent of all runners who tried to steal on him this season. That number would land him well within the top 10 of MLB catchers, and it was near the middle among regular Pioneer League catchers this season.

David, the Chukars’ hitting coach, said Viloria is mechanically sound as a hitter. One of the big things David worked on with Viloria was improving the position of his back elbow. That area has improved, David said, but there’s still room to grow.

David also praised Viloria’s hitting approach.

“When there were days that weren’t going well, which weren’t very many, he seemed to maintain a positive approach and knew that his plan and daily routine would carry him over into good things,” David said. “He understands what it takes on daily basis.”

DINI’S BUMPY ROAD TO I.F.

Nick Dini played 42 games for the Chukars last season. The catcher returned to I.F. for nine more this summer.

Dini, 23, began the 2016 season with Single-A Lexington, where he played one game. He moved up to Class A Advanced Wilmington for seven games, then returned to Lexington on June 30. In his first at-bat back on July 2, a pitch hit Dini in the hand, forcing him to exit the game. He later found out that his hand was broken, and he was placed on the 7-day disabled list.

Dini returned to action in the Arizona League on Aug. 16 and was moved up to I.F. on Aug. 22. He hit .378 with an .843 OPS in 39 plate appearances for the Chukars.

The constant shuffling and limited playing time this summer has frustrated Dini. But he put his struggles into perspective after seeing so many of his former teammates get released.

“Every opportunity you get, you’ve gotta take advantage of it,” Dini said. “The harsh reality is, if you don’t, you’ll be out of job. It sucks seeing guys go, but you understand that that’s part of it.”

STRAHM’S STRONG SEASON

Former Chukar Matt Strahm has thrived during his brief action with the Kansas City Royals this season. The left-handed pitcher owns a 0.54 ERA, 22 strikeouts and six walks in 16.2 innings pitched for the big league club this year.

Strahm, 24, was called up on July 31. He made his MLB debut that day and allowed one earned run in 0.1 inning against the Texas Rangers. He hasn’t allowed a run since.

Strahm made his professional debut with the Chukars in 2012. He returned to I.F. in 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery the year before, according to the Kansas City Star.

MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings has Strahm at No. 4 in Kansas City’s system.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS

Multiple Chukars led the Pioneer League in various statistical categories this season. Here they are:

Batting average Meibrys Viloria (.376)

Doubles Viloria (28)

RBIs Viloria (55)

Stolen bases Nick Heath (36)

Errors Ricky Aracena (38)

Hits allowed Arnaldo Hernandez (99)

Walks issued Matt Portland (37)

THE “WHO’S HOT?” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

C Meibrys Viloria

Apologies to Joe Dudek, Nick Heath, Alex Luna, Yeison Melo, Manny Olloque and Luke Willis, but this honor clearly belongs to the MVP.

THE “WHO’S NOT” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LHP Nick Andros

Andros finished the season with a 9.20 ERA, 48 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, 14 walks issued and seven home runs given up. On Monday at Orem, the Chukars had a 9-8 lead in the 10th inning when Andros entered the game. The Owlz scored two runs off Andros to walk off and eliminate I.F. from playoff contention.

Meibrys Viloria named Pioneer League MVP

Viloria
Viloria

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria, who batted over .400 for most of the season, won the Pioneer League’s 2016 Ralph Nelles Award as the league’s most valuable player.

Viloria, a 19-year-old catcher from Cartagena, Colombia, through Monday led the Pioneer League in batting average (.381), doubles (28) and RBIs (54). And one season after not having an extra-base hit for the Burlington Royals, Viloria is second in the league with 37 extra-base hits. He is also second with 53 runs and third in on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.619).

The international free agent owns the Pioneer League’s longest hitting streak of 2016 at 20 games from July 7 to Aug. 7.

“It’s a great credit to him and the year he’s had,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said in a news release. “He does a lot of good things blocking balls, controlling the running game and leading the pitching staff, and offensively he’s had a great approach and been consistent all year long. He’s one of those kids who comes ready to play and wants to play every day. His energy is infectious for our team and he got after it all season long.”

Viloria is the third Chukar to win the award since Idaho Falls became affiliated with the Royals. Clint Robinson, currently with the Washington Nationals, won the award in 2007, while Ryan O’Hearn, now at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, was honored in 2014.

Viloria, Olloque honored

Idaho Falls teammates Meibrys Viloria and Manny Olloque were named to the 2016 Pioneer League end of season All-Star team, the league announced late Monday. The award is voted on by the league’s managers and honors the best players at each position.

Viloria, who was named the league MVP Tuesday, leads the league in batting average, doubles and RBIs through Monday.

Olloque, in his third minor league season, was hitting .319 through Monday with 15 doubles, seven homers, 49 RBIs and 50 runs scored.

Tuesday’s game

CHUKARS 6, OWLZ 5: At Orem, Utah, Idaho Falls built a 5-1 lead and then held on late to beat Orem the day after it was eliminated from the Pioneer League playoffs.

Idaho Falls starter Alex Luna was solid again, allowing two runs on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts over six innings. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-hander improved to 5-1 and saw his ERA drop to 3.90.

The Chukars scored single runs in the first and third innings and plated two in the fourth to go up 4-1. I.F.’s lead went to 6-2 after single runs in the sixth and seventh. Orem, which rallied in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings Monday to win, scored three times in the eighth to cut the lead to one. But Christian Flecha worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth to close it out.

Idaho Falls shortstop Ricky Aracena had one of his best offensive games of the season, going 3 for 3 with two walks, a double and three RBIs. He also stole a base and was error-free in the field. Rudy Martin was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Luke Willis was 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI.

The Chukars (38-36 overall, 16-21 second half) return to Melaleuca Field for the final two games of the season. Idaho Falls and Orem will play Wednesday and Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. both nights.

Alex Luna struggles in the Chukars’ 9-5 loss to Ogden

Luna
Luna

The Ogden Raptors entered Wednesday night in need of a win. The only problem: they were 0-7 at Melaleuca Field on the season.

But Ogden proved that Melaleuca Field was not a complete death trap by beating the Chukars 9-5 Wednesday night. The Raptors avoided a four-game sweep and remained a half game back of Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

The Chukars, meanwhile, fell 3.5 games behind the Rockies. Eight games remain.

Luna’s rocky return

Chukars right-hander Alex Luna owned a league-leading 2.48 ERA in the first half. That number didn’t change for nearly a month due to an oblique injury he suffered on July 26.

Luna made relief appearances on Aug. 22 and on Friday, and he finally earned a start on Wednesday. The outing, however, was his worst of the year.

Luna allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings against the Raptors (he walked one and struck out three). He hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous six starts.

“I felt alright, like I was back from my injury. I wasn’t thinking about that, and it didn’t hurt at all,” Luna said. “Sometimes you just don’t have your best stuff, and tonight was one of those nights. I was leaving the ball up, wasn’t putting it where I wanted to and kinda placing it rather than throwing it.”

Luna allowed seven runs through four innings, but the bullpen remained mostly silent until he ran into trouble in the fifth. Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said Luna’s long leash was not really due to the 8.1 innings thrown by the bullpen on Tuesday night. Instead, Gemoll cited the predetermined number of pitches that I.F. targeted for Luna. Gemoll declined to give the specific number. Luna threw 77 pitches (52 strikes) in the game.

Playoff scenarios

I.F.’s playoff chances are slim, but there are a couple of ways they could reach the postseason.

The first, most direct scenario involves the Chukars winning most, if not all, of their remaining games and winning the South division second-half title outright.

The second scenario requires Orem to vault into first place alone. The Owlz won the first half title, so if they win the second half, the South team with the next best overall record would make the playoffs. The Chukars currently own the division’s second best overall record.

The second scenario, however, is less likely because Orem is 2.5 games out of first place in the second half standings. So winning out is the best way for I.F. to nab the second playoff spot. Otherwise, the Chukars would need Orem to win or sweep its four-game series against Grand Junction, then they would need to lose most of their final four games against the Owlz.

Player of the game

Raptors shortstop Gavin Lux

Lux had a big night in his Ogden debut Wednesday night, going 3 for 4 with an RBI.

The Dodgers selected Lux with the 20th overall pick in June’s MLB draft, and they signed the 18-year-old for a reported $2.3 million.

Up next

The Chukars (35-33 overall, 13-17 second half) and Raptors (33-35, 16-14) continue to play each other, only in Ogden. The four-game series starts Thursday at 6:30 p.m., when I.F. righty Arnaldo Hernandez will take on 6-foot-10 righty Nolan Long. The Chukars are 0-4 at Ogden this season.

Wild night: Chukars inch closer to first place with an 11-10 win over Ogden

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars and Ogden Raptors began Tuesday’s game in almost comedic fashion, peppering the first inning with errors and poorly located pitches.

The first inning ended with 11 unearned runs, a fitting start to a three-and-a-half-hour game (I.F.’s 18-7 win on Monday also lasted that long). The Chukars waded through the mess and prevailed 11-10 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. has now taken the first three games of the four-game series, and sits 2.5 games behind Grand Junction for first place in the Pioneer League South Division. Nine games remain.

Wild first inning

The the first inning began with an error from shortstop Ricky Aracena. The inning ended 45 minutes later.

The intervening minutes were filled with three additional errors, eight hits and 11 runs.

Ogden scored the first five of those runs thanks in large part to Aracena’s boot on a sharp ground ball. In fact, four of the Raptors’ runs came with two outs, and none of the runs against starter Matt Portland were earned.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game against the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

But just because Portland’s ERA went down doesn’t mean he pitched well. The left-hander fell behind seven of the eight batters he faced, and 20 of his 41 pitches were balls. Aracena’s error and a couple of bloop singles turned a rough inning into a short outing. Portland was relieved by Nick Andros with two outs in the top of the first.

Portland’s final batter was Jordan Paroubeck, who hit a bloop double that resulted in a collision between second baseman Jordan Ebert and right fielder Nick Heath. Ebert was fine, but Heath was shaken up and left the game.

The Raptors helped the Chukars get back into the game in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Meibrys Viloria and Yeison Melo each reached on fielding errors by Ogden’s middle infield. Joe Dudek and Angelo Castellano followed with RBI hits, and Dudek scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 5-4.

With two outs, Ebert doubled to drive in Castellano. Rudy Martin drove in Ebert with a single up the middle, and he nearly scored after center fielder DJ Peters allowed the ball to roll past him. Martin ended up on third base, where he was stranded to end the inning. The Chukars led 6-5.

Ogden finished the game with six errors.

Back-and-forth they go

The Raptors responded to the turbulent first with three runs in the second, and they increased the lead to 10-6 lead in the fifth. The Chukars scored two in the bottom half and had a good chance to tie it. But they couldn’t plate runners on second and third with no outs.

The Chukars promptly tied it up in the sixth inning, but they again left something on the table. With two outs and runners on first and second, Martin singled up the middle. Manny Olloque had an easy path home, but Ebert complicated matters by trying to reach third. Peters’ throw beat Ebert to the base, and the umpire ruled that he was tagged out before Olloque touched home plate. So the score remained 10-10.

Luckily for the Chukars, the lineup stayed hot in the seventh. Luke Willis singled and reached second on an error to open the inning. Aracena bunted him over, and Viloria drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left field.

Cole Way pitched 3.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and Richard Lovelady earned his fourth save with a scoreless ninth.

Player of the game

Chukars first baseman Joe Dudek

Dudek’s hot streak continued on Tuesday, when he went 3 for 5 with a double and a solo home run. Dudek is now 10 for 19 (.526) with three home runs and three doubles in his last six games.

Up next

The Chukars (35-32 overall, 13-16 second half) will try to sweep the Raptors (32-35, 15-14) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. Righty Alex Luna (2.62 ERA) will make his first start for I.F. since he strained his oblique on July 26 (he’s made two relief appearances in the last week).

Rockies’ rally makes Chukars’ playoff chase tougher

Viloria
Viloria

One swing of the bat in the bottom of the eighth inning led to a two-game swing in the Pioneer League South Division standings for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Monday night.

Moments after the Chukars rallied to take the lead with a four-run seventh inning, Colton Welker reached on a third strike passed ball and Hunter Melton followed with a two-run homer to right-center to lift the Grand Junction Rockies to a 5-4 win at Sam Suplizio Field.

The loss dropped the Chukars 4.5 games behind the Rockies in the South Division second-half standings.

Get him outta here

Idaho Falls bats were invisible over the first six innings against Grand Junction starter Bryan Baker. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound right-hander, whose ERA is hovering near 6, limited the Chukars to three hits and two walks while striking out six in six scoreless innings.

But the Chukars pounced when Baker hit the showers, scoring four runs on four hits and a walk against relievers Ryan Luna and Heath Holder in the seventh. Alex Luna did his job in the sixth and seventh, allowing just one hit while striking out three to give I.F. the lead entering the bottom of the eighth.

Idaho Falls reliever Cole Way got Vince Fernandez to line out leading off the inning, and appeared to have the second out with a strikeout of Welker. But Nick Dini, making a return to the Chukars lineup on his way back to Advanced-A Wilmington following an injury, let the pitch get by him and sending Welker to first. Melton followed with his fifth homer of the year.

Matt Dennis worked a perfect ninth inning to close out the win.

Dini, a member of Idaho Falls 2015 Pioneer League championship team, went 2 for 4 with a run to lead the Chukars. Meibrys Viloria added a two-run double for Idaho Falls.

Up next

The Chukars (30-29, 8-13 second half) and Rockies (28-30, 12-8) wrap up their four-game series tonight in Colorado. Idaho Falls then hits the road for two games in Orem beginning Wednesday.

Sunday’s game

ROCKIES 10, CHUKARS 6: At Grand Junction, Colo., Jose Gomez belted a pair of home runs and Grand Junction held off Idaho Falls in a game that featured five round-trippers.

David Edwards hit his seventh and eighth home runs of the season, but the Chukars couldn’t keep up. After taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the second, Grand Junction scored three runs in the third and three in the fourth. Idaho Falls kept chipping away, but couldn’t catch up.

Edwards finished 2 for 4 with two runs and three RBIs to lead Idaho Falls. Ricky Aracena went 2 for 4 with a triple, a run and an RBI while Rudy Martin was 2 for 5. The Chukars were hurt by four errors. Igol Feliz took the loss after giving up six earned runs on eight hits in four innings.

Gomez was 4 for 5 with three runs and four RBIs while Tyler Bugner went 2 for 4 with four runs scored for the Rockies.

Run-averse Chukars get swept out of Billings

Viloria
Viloria

The Idaho Falls Chukars will be happy to see Melaleuca Field again.

The team that has gone 18-5 at home continued to struggle on the road Wednesday night. The Chukars fell 6-1 to the Billings Mustangs at Dehler Park to end their seven-game road trip. I.F. was swept by the Mustangs, went 1-6 on the trip and fell to 8-18 on the road this season.

Hit and (no) run

The Chukars notched three hits in each of their first two games at Billings. They more than doubled that number Wednesday, tallying eight base knocks. They added three walks, and Angelo Castellano reached on an error.

While I.F. diverged from the low-hit streak, hits with runners on base remained elusive.

The Chukars left 11 runners on base Wednesday, and they went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position. They have not recorded a hit in their last 19 at-bats with RISP, and they finished the series 1 for 25 in those situations.

Viloria comes down to Earth

Not even a brief slump can make Meibrys Viloria look bad.

The Chukars catcher went 0 for 4 on Wednesday, extending his hitless streak to seven at-bats. His 0-for-3 performance Monday ended a 20-game hitting streak.

Yet even after this two-game cold streak, Viloria leads the Pioneer League with a .420 batting average. He owns the league’s top slugging percentage and OPS, as well.

Wednesday’s 0-for-4 performance marked the first time in 36 games that Viloria has gone hitless in consecutive contests. In fact, Viloria has recorded at least one hit in all but five games this season. That includes an 0-for-1 showing in a pinch-hit situation June 22 against Orem.

Player of the game

Mustangs shortstop Gabriel Ovalle

Ovalle went 3 for 4 (three singles) with two RBIs on Wednesday. He also played his 13th error-less game this season at arguably the toughest position in baseball.

Bayliss earns promotion

Right-handed pitcher Brian Bayliss was promoted from I.F. to Single-A Lexington on Wednesday, ending his two-season tenure with the Chukars.

The Legends will be Bayliss’s first professional team other than the Chukars. He pitched 25.1 innings for I.F. last year and 17 this summer.

Bayliss rebounded from a 6.39 ERA in 2015 with a 3.18 ERA this season. His 2016 first half output was even better than the 3.18 indicates, and it netted him a Pioneer League all-star selection (he replaced an injured Alex Luna in the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game).

Up next

The Chukars (26-23 overall, 4-7 second half) get Thursday off and host Great Falls (27-20, 6-3) for a three-game set starting Thursday. Lefty Matt Portland (7.50 ERA) will start on the hill for I.F.

Chukars’ bats remain quiet in a 3-1 loss to Billings

Cepin
Cepin

Three hits can be enough to win if they cluster in the right moments. Those moments eluded the Idaho Falls Chukars on Tuesday night.

The Chukars had three hits for the second consecutive night against the Billings Mustangs at Dehler Park. I.F. managed four runson Monday, which would have been enough for a win the following night. That same cluster luck didn’t show up Tuesday, and the Chukars fell 3-1.

Offense falters again

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Chukars to 1-5 on their current road trip. Run prevention hasn’t been a strong suit, but the offense has been ground zero for I.F.’s struggles.

The Chukars have managed 3.5 runs and 7.2 hits per game on the road trip. They mustered one hit in a 12-0 shutout at Great Falls on Saturday, and the most runs scored in any of their six games was eight in Sunday’s win over the Voyagers.

I.F. has scored nearly eight runs per game this season (7.4, to be exact), and has averaged 8.8 at home. The Chukars have scored 6.1 runs per game away from Melaleuca Field. Their road record is now 8-17.

Tuesday’s game was getable. For the first time all second half, I.F.’s pitching staff allowed fewer than five runs in a game. Its lineup put seven runners on base and six in scoring position. The Chukars went 0 for 6 with runners on second or third base, and they stranded all but one of their seven runners.

A first for Cepin

With Alex Luna sidelined due to an oblique strain, Reinaldo Cepin got his first start of the season for I.F. The left-hander threw 50 pitches over four complete innings and allowed two earned runs on six hits, a walk and two strikeouts.

Cepin entered the game with the most innings pitched (22.1) of any I.F. reliever, and with good reason. The 22-year-old’s ERA rose to 3.76 after Tuesday’s start, and he now has 19 strikeouts against 11 walks. Cepin still hasn’t hit a batter or allowed a home run, and he’s given up 24 hits.

Player of the game

Mustangs designated hitter Taylor Trammell

Billings had 11 hits, but third place hitter Trammell and leadoff man T.J. Friedl, Jr. accounted for the only hits of consequence.

Friedl, Jr. went 2 for 4 and scored both times, first on a Trammell single and second on a Trammell double (the Mustangs’ only extra-base hit). The single scored another run, as well, so Trammell drove in all three Billings runs. He finished 3 for 4.

Up next

The Chukars (26-22 overall, 4-6 second half) and Mustangs (29-18, 6-3) wrap up their three-game series at Dehler Park at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. Jace Vines (6.39 ERA) gets the start for I.F. against fellow righty Ian Kahaloa (2.36).

Chukars’ all-stars took giant leaps this season

Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on June 22 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on June 22 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Last Wednesday, the Chukars lost to Missoula on a walkoff home run. The man who served up the homer was Brian Bayliss, who discovered he was a Pioneer League All-Star hours earlier.

Bayliss’ all-star selection couldn’t fully neutralize the sting of the walkoff, but it softened the blow. The second annual Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game is a good reminder to Bayliss and the Chukars’ other four all-stars Alex Luna, Yeison Melo, Manny Olloque and Meibrys Viloria of the larger picture. They’ve taken strides toward the higher levels of affiliated baseball over the last month and a half.

“It’s an honor,” Olloque said. “Just keep going. We’ve got plenty of season left. Improve on it.”

All five of I.F.’s All-Stars have gone through some version of the same story: they’ve broken through this season afterlackluster 2015 campaigns. Viloria might be the most glaring example.

The 19-year-old catcher leads the Pioneer League in batting average (.448), slugging percentage (.776), OPS (1.269), doubles(17) and total bases (97). Viloria has drawn only 10 walks, but that does not mean he’s impatient.

“He knows what he’s looking for,” Chukars hitting coach Andre David said. “If there’s a fastball on the outer half, and hedoesn’t like it, he’d rather be 0 and 1 than 0 for 1. Taking nothing away from his aggressiveness. It’s a controlledaggressiveness.”

Why take a walk when you get a pitch you can crush?

Viloria has 20 extra-base hits, including the six home runs that landed him in Tuesday’s home run derby and in the starting lineup for the game to follow. He had 39 hits last year with Burlington. None went for extra bases.

“I was working hard last year,” Viloria said in Spanish through I.F. bench coach Ramon Castro. “I tried hitting the ball (hard)but I couldn’t do it last year. I wasn’t focused. This year, I’m more focused, relaxed, I see the ball better and I have moreconfidence.”

Olloque hit .169 with a .438 OPS in 18 games with the Arizona League Royals that summer after battling a thumb injury. Hehas been plenty healthy this summer.

Olloque’s .342 batting average and .895 OPS netted him the start at third base for Tuesday’s game.

“He recovers really well,” David said. “If the pitcher makes a good pitch or a good couple pitches, it doesn’t phase him.”

Melo had the best 2015 season of I.F.’s all-stars, hitting .318 in 43 games for the Arizona League Royals. His OPS, however, was .772. That number is .919 this season, thanks in large part to 12 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Melo leads the Pioneer League in hits (58) and RBIs (39).

“We have done some things that have allowed him to be more in a position to see the fastball,” David said. “If it’s a breaking ball that he can get to or they hang, he’s in a better position to (hit) that, but he’s also recognizing, for the most part, the ones he can’t handle.”

Luna had a 4.54 ERA in 41.2 innings with Burlington last year. In 40 innings this season, he leads the Pioneer League in ERA (2.48) and the team in strikeouts (42). He’s issued just seven walks.

“We want to fill up the strike zone, and he’s able to do that,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “It makes the hitters more aggressive. Then he can pick, he can change speeds, and he does that well.”

Luna will miss the game due to a strained oblique, and Bayliss filled his vacancy. Bayliss played for the Chukars last year and finished with a 6.39 ERA in 25.1 innings. His ERA is 3.24 in 16.2 innings this year, and he allowed only one earned run his first 10 innings. Suppan said Bayliss has been effective in throwing his changeup off his sinking fastball, and he tries to get hitters to chase his curveball.

The five all-star Chukars aren’t close to their major goal, but Tuesday’s game validates the progress they’ve made.

“I continued working hard,” Melo said. “I want to make the next level next year.”

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.

Five Chukars selected to Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game

Viloria
Viloria

Five Idaho Falls Chukars will represent the Pioneer League in next week’s Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game.

The five Chukars are reliever Brian Bayliss, starting pitcher Alex Luna, right fielder Yeison Melo, third baseman Manny Olloque and catcher Meibrys Viloria. Infielder David Edwards was also named the first alternate for the Pioneer League team. He will join his teammates if any current position player pulls out of the game.

Bayliss was not named to the initial all-star roster, but a spot opened up due to a Luna injury. Luna strained his oblique in Tuesday’s game at Missoula, according to Chukars broadcaster and director of media relations Andrew Haynes.

Viloria and Olloque will start for the Pioneer League, and Melo will come off the bench.

Going into Wednesday, Viloria led the league in batting average (.455), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.804), doubles (15), RBIs (36) and total bases (90). He and Melo were tied for first in hits with 51, and

Olloque
Olloque

Olloque was third with 50.

Viloria’s 1.308 OPS was tops in all of Minor League Baseball, according to MiLB.com.

Olloque was hitting .355 with a .891 OPS through Tuesday, and Melo hit .345 with an .859 OPS.

Luna leads all Pioneer League starters with a 2.48 ERA (minimum 0.8 innings pitched per start). He’s also struck out 42 and walked seven in 40 innings pitched.

Through Tuesday, Bayliss had a 2.51 ERA, 10 strikeouts and five walks in 14.1 innings pitched.

First baseman Josh Banuelos, outfielder Amalani Fukofuka and reliever Tripp Davis represented I.F. in last season’s inaugural all-star game, which was played in Spokane, Wash. This year’s game will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 2 around 7 p.m. in Ogden, Utah.

Here are the full rosters (asterisk = starter):

Pioneer League
RHP Brian Bayliss, Idaho Falls
LHP Nate Bertness, Orem
SS Jasrado Chisholm, Missoula
3B Brady Conlan, Great Falls
RHP Colton Cross, Helena
RHP Jordan Desguin*, Helena
RHP Jake Elliott, Great Falls
LHP Roberth Fernandez, Ogden
RHP Connor Grey, Missoula
SS Jose Gomez*, Grand Junction
OF Mitchell Hansen* (DH), Ogden
1B Ibandel Isabel, Ogden
RHP Dean Jackson, Missoula
C Ryan January, Missoula
OF Jahmai Jones*, Orem
RHP Andrew Jordan, Billings
RHP Alex Luna, Idaho Falls
RHP Aron McRee, Great Falls
RF Yeison Melo, Idaho Falls
RHP Kenny Oakley, Grand Junction
3B Manny Olloque*, Idaho Falls
OF DJ Peters*, Ogden
2B Jonathan Piron*, Grand Junction
RHP Tony Santillan, Billings
OF Aaron Schnurbusch*, Great Falls
CF Jose Siri, Billings
2B Hector Vargas, Billings
C Meibrys Viloria*, Idaho Falls
RHP Nash Walters, Helena
INF Colton Welker, Grand Junction

Northwest League
SS Chris Baker, Tri-City
INF Cavan Biggio*, Vancouver
1B Jacob Bosiokovic*, Boise
OF Gio Brusa, Salem-Keizer
RHP Jesus Castillo, Eugene
RHP Jared Cheek, Eugene
RHP Tommy Eveld, Hillsboro
RHP Tyler Ferguson, Spokane
RHP Julian Fernandez, Boise
OF Eric Filia*, Everett
RF Ashford Fullmer, Salem-Keizer
OF Robert Garcia*, Eugene
SS Garrett Hampson*, Boise
C Javier Hernandez, Vancouver
OF Kyle Lewis, Everett
RHP Diomar Lopez, Tri-City
RHP Tyler Mark, Hillsboro
RHP Javier Medina, Boise
RHP Brandon Miller, Everett
RHP Patrick Murphy, Vancouver
RHP Liay Newsom, Everett
LHP Jose Paulino, Eugene
OF Chris Pieters* (DH), Eugene
RHP Emmanuel Ramirez, Tri-City
C John Riley, Salem-Keizer
OF Chad Smith, Spokane
C Seth Spivey*, Spokane
3B Xavier Tuner*, Spokane
SS Donnie Walton, Everett
RHP Jake Winston, Hillsboro