Tag: Alexis Rivera

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 gear up for brand new Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Tonight, the Pioneer League will play in its first all-star game in over half a century.

Three Idaho Falls Chukars will represent the league, which will compete against an all-star team of players from the Single-A short-season Northwest League. The eight Pioneer League Rookie-level teams hope tonight’s game — at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Wash. — will be the first of many.

Banuelos.
Banuelos.

“Everyone in the league is very excited about it,” Chukars’ general manager Kevin Greene said. “It puts us on par with the Northwest League.”

The Pioneer League has not participated in an all-star game since 1964, according to league president Jim McCurdy citing league records. The Pioneer League played all-star games up to 1964, when it switched from long-season to short-season.

McCurdy and Northwest League president Mike Ellis got the ball rolling on an all-star game this season. Ellis is the owner of the Pioneer League’s Missoula Osprey. He and McCurdy gained support from every team in their respective leagues, and they proposed the interleague all-star game to Minor League Baseball. The MiLB approved the all-star game for one year.

This is the first interleague all-star game between short-season leagues in MiLB history, according to McCurdy. Tonight’s game will have to run smoothly in order for the MiLB to approve another one.

“We anticipate that our 2015 game will go very well,” McCurdy said in a phone interview.

Fukofuka.
Fukofuka.

If the MiLB approves of a game next year, a Pioneer League city will host (the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians are hosting tonight’s game). Greene said he would not propose an all-star game in Idaho Falls next year, at least not at this juncture.

The main reason for Greene’s hesitation is ballpark size. Avista Stadium seats approximately 9,000 people. The Orem Owlz and the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League both have stadium capacities over 6,000.

Melaleuca Field’s capacity is 3,400.

“I think you have to have a bigger ballpark to be profitable for something like this,” Greene said.

Orem and Ogden have another advantage: travel. Salt Lake City neighbors both towns, and it has an international airport where Northwest League teams could directly fly to. Cities like Idaho Falls and Missoula would require either a connecting flight or a long drive for the Northwest League teams.

Until tonight’s game ends, no one knows if a second all-star game is likely or not. So McCurdy, Greene and Idaho Falls’ three all-stars (all reserves) are solely focused on Spokane.

First baseman Josh Banuelos is making the first all-star appearance in his baseball career, he said, from little league to professional baseball. Banuelos is hitting .338 with a .405 on-base percentage and a .461 slugging percentage in 173 plate appearances this season. His parents, Luis and Silvia Banuelos, will be in attendance.

Banuelos missed four straight games last week due to a bone bruise in his hand, and the pain likely won’t dissipate until the season ends. But the 23-year-old would always take an all-star game appearance instead of three days of rest.

“We have six months to rest after the season,” Banuelos said.

Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka said the all-star game validates his hard work and last season, when he hit .183/.266/.289 in 204 plate appearances for Burlington.

“Coming into this season, I had a chip on my shoulder,” the 19-year-old Fukofuka said. “This year is important for me, and my hard work is kind of paying off.”

Fukofuka is hitting .343/.395/.483 in 191 plate appearances this season.

Davis.
Davis.

Idaho Falls’ third all-star is reliever Tripp Davis. After a poor season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the left-hander felt great this spring. That’s when the Kansas City Royals’ front office asked Davis to consider switching to a sidearm delivery. The Royals told Davis he’d provide more value as a side-armer.

Davis, 24, debated, but he decided to make the change. His 3.24 ERA (inflated by a six-run outing against Orem on July 24) and all-star selection this season have helped him justify the decision, he said.

Former Chukar Alexis Rivera was also named to the all-star team. The outfielder and first baseman moved up to Lexington on July 5 after hitting .362/.494/.739 and leading the Pioneer League at the time in home runs (seven) and walks (17).

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Rivera said in a phone interview. “It would’ve been cool to go to it, but I’m glad I got promoted.”

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 8:05 Mountain Time following a home run derby.

2015 PIONEER LEAGUE ALL-STARS

C: Taylor Ward, Orem

1B: Austin Byler, Missoula

2B: Willie Calhoun, Ogden

SS: Isan Diaz, Missoula

3B: Michael Pierson, Orem

OF: Nick Sell, Ogden

OF: Daniel Suero, Grand Junction

OF: Kyle Survance, Orem

DH: Zach Fish, Great Falls

P: Tanner Banks, Great Falls

Reserves P : Ty Boyles, Billlings

P: Hunter Brothers, Grand Junction

P: Tripp Davis, Idaho Falls

P: Marcos Diplan, Helena

P: Evin Einhart, Great Falls

P: Joe Gatto, Orem

P: Dan Savas, Missoula

P: Cameron Smith, Missoula

P: Christian Trent, Helena

C: Luke Lowery, Missoula

1B: Josh Banuelos, Idaho Falls

SS: Nick Dean*, Ogden

SS: Blake Trahan, Billlings

3B: Brantly Bell, Billlings

OF: Amalani Fukofuka, Idaho Falls

OF: Monte Harrison*, Helena

OF: Matt Jones, Ogden

OF: Alexis Rivera*, Idaho Falls

* indicates player was selected but will not appear due to injury or promotion.

Manager: Dick Schofield, Billings

Pitching coach: Derrin Ebert, Billings

Hitting coach: Jolbert Cabrera, Billings

2015 NORTHWEST LEAGUE ALL-STARS

C: Miguel Gomez, Salem-Keizer

1B: Brian Mundell, Boise

2B: Dylan Moore, Spokane

3B: Kevin Padlo, Boise

SS: Drew Jackson, Everett

OF: LeDarious Clark, Spokane

OF: Zach Nehrir, Hillsboro

OF: Logan Taylor, Everett

DH: Jose Vizcaino Jr., Salem-Keizer

P: Jared Miller, Hillsboro

Reserves C: Hamley Marte, Boise

INF: Justin Atkinson, Vancouver

INF: Chris Shaw, Salem-Keizer

INF: Peter Van Gansen, Tri-City

INF: Yeyson Yrizarri, Spokane

OF: Sean Hurley, Vancouver

OF: Eloy Jimenez, Eugene

RHP: Pedro Araujo, Eugene

RHP: Andrew Case, Vancouver

RHP: Oscar De La Cruz, Eugene

LHP: Luis Gohara, Everett

LHP: Brandon Hinkle, Vancouver

RHP: Carlos Hernandez, Hillsboro

LHP: Elvin Liriano, Tri-City

LHP: Andrew Leenhouts, Salem-Keizer

LHP: Cody Reed, Hillsboro

Manager: Tim Hulett Sr., Spokane

Hiting coach: Rick Down, Spokane

Pitching coach: Jose Jaimes, Spokane

Three Chukars named All-Stars

First baseman Josh Banuelos, outfielder Amalani Fukofuka and relief pitcher Tripp Davis will represent the Idaho Falls Chukars as reserves at the first Pioneer League/Northwest League Midsummer Classic, scheduled for Aug. 4 in Spokane.

Banuelos has been a force at the plate, leading the Pioneer League with 34 RBIs. Banuelos, of Hanford, Calif., is hitting .338 with 47 hits.

Fukofuka’s name is sprinkled throughout the list of Pioneer League leaders. The Hayward, Calif., native is hitting a team-high .350, good for fourth in the league. He is second in the league with 70 total bases, tied for second with 50 hits, tied for third with 12 doubles and tied for fourth with four triples.

Davis has been a bright spot on the mound, leading the Chukars with two wins while posting a 4.05 ERA in eight appearances. He had an 0.71 ERA in his first 16.2 innings.

Alexis Rivera, who started the year in Idaho Falls, also was selected to the All-Star squad but has since been promoted to Single-A Lexington and won’t play in the game. When he left the Chukars three weeks ago, Rivera led the league in home runs (7), RBIs (17) and OPS (1.233). His home run total is still tied for third in the league.

Orem placed three players on the Pioneer League starting lineup (catcher Taylor Ward, third baseman Michael Pierson and outfielder Kyle Survance) and one more reserve. Missoula led the way with five selections.

For a full list of the All-Stars, visit http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20150727&content_id=139048830&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_l128&sid=l128.

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.

Strong pitching lifts Chukars 4-2 over Orem

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

A win’s a win, especially for the struggling Idaho Falls Chukars. But no one in pinstripes wanted to see another poor pitching performance, even in victory.

They didn’t.

Led by starting pitcher Derek Gordon, the Chukars (6-13) got a 4-2 win over the first-place Orem Owlz (13-6) on Monday at Melaleuca Field, preventing an Owlz sweep.

Gordon.
Gordon.

“You could tell pre-game, there was a different feeling in the clubhouse,” said Gordon, the younger brother of Kansas City Royals’ All-Star Alex Gordon. “When you go out with the feeling that you’re going to win, it’s tough to lose.”

Before Monday, a Chukars pitcher had gone 5.2 innings or more only three times this season.

Gordon made that four.

Gordon, who lasted

5.2 innings on June 26 against Grand Junction, gave up two hits Monday in his fourth start of the season. The right-hander gave up two runs (one earned) on three walks and seven strikeouts. That’s the most strikeouts by any Idaho Falls pitcher in a single game this season.

“I felt more comfortable on the mound tonight than I have this season,” Gordon said. “I was locating my pitches all night.”

Milligan
Milligan

Stephen Milligan arguably pitched better than Gordon in his 3.1 relief innings. The left-hander gave up zero runs on two hits, a walk and three strikeouts.

At the plate, center fielder Cody Jones continued his hot start. Jones, who joined Idaho Falls on Saturday after a week in Arizona, went 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs on Monday. He’s now 7 for 13 in three games.

Catcher Pedro Gonzalez went 3 for 4 with a double, and Jeckson Flores went 2 for 3.

Other than their 2-0 loss to Grand Junction on June 26, this was the Chukars’ lowest-scoring game of the season.

“They’re going to need to learn to play in these types of games,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “So, it’s good for us to have a close game every once in a while.”

The Chukars travel to Great Falls for a three-game series starting tonight at 7.

Sunday’s loss

On Sunday, the Chukars fell behind 5-0 after four innings and never recovered in an 8-5 loss to Orem.

Starting pitcher Dylan Sons went 5 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits, two walks and five strikeouts.

1-2-3 hitters Cody Jones, DJ Burt and Josh Banuelos each went 2 for 4 with a walk, with Banuelos adding three RBIs.

Roster shakeup

Three Chukars were promoted to Single-A Lexington after Sunday’s 8-5 loss to Orem — outfielder/first baseman Alexis Rivera and left-handed pitchers Brennan Henry and Eric Stout.

Rivera played for Idaho Falls for parts of each of the last three seasons. He exited Idaho Falls with a .362 batting average and Pioneer League-highs in home runs (seven) and walks (17) in 69 at-bats.

Henry transferred from Lexington to Idaho Falls on June 22. He made four relief appearances for the Chukars, posting a 1.69 ERA in 5.1 innings.

Stout joined the Chukars on June 29 and made one start, giving up three runs (one earned) on five strikeouts and no walks.

“We’re trying to develop players and get them better so we can push them up the system,” Gemoll said. “For us as coaches, we’re real happy anytime that happens.”

These three players will join former Chukars’ infielder Luis Valenzuela, who moved from Idaho Falls to Lexington on July 2.

Former Chukar joins Royals

On Monday, the Kansas City Royals called former Chukar Cheslor Cuthbert. The infielder replaced fellow former Chukar Mike Moustakas, who was placed on the family emergency/bereavement list after leaving the team Sunday for a family emergency, according to the Kansas City Star.

Cuthbert, 22, played one season for the Chukars as a 17-year-old in 2010. The infielder played 14 games for Idaho Falls, hitting .233 with two home runs in 64 plate appearances.

Cuthbert (.256 in 76 games for Triple-A Omaha this season) was set to make his MLB debut Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays starting at third base and batting eighth, but the game was postponed due to tornado warnings.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Royals senior coordinator for player development John Wathan

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Few people have more knowledge of the Kansas City Royals’ organization than John Wathan.

Wathan, 65, is a Royals’ senior coordinator for player development. Wathan has been in Idaho Falls this week to evaluate the Chukars, along with director of minor league operations Ronnie Richardson, fellow senior coordinator for player development Chino Cadahia and Rafael Belliard, an infield coordinator and advisor to the general manager.

Wathan has spent 39 years with Kansas City. He played all 10 of his MLB seasons with the Royals, managed them for four years and worked in the team’s front office for a quarter century.

Wathan sat down with the Post Register on Thursday to discuss his job duties this weekend and overall.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What does your role entail?

“I do a little bit of instruction. I used to do baserunning and bunting a lot, so I occasionally do that. More than that, I’m an evaluator. I go around to all seven clubs (affiliated with Kansas City) and evaluate all the pitching and the position players.”

Are you looking for anything specific this week in Idaho Falls?

“Nothing specifically. I’m just evaluating everything they do, from a hitting standpoint to defense to baserunning to pitching.”

How long do you spend watching each affiliate?

“I usually see every team five games, so I can see the whole starting rotation. Maybe I’ll see all of the bullpen, see all the guys play, position-wise. It’s enough time to make an evaluation.”

From the spring until the fall, are you traveling from team to team?

“I get home some. I live in Kansas City. I’ll be home for a few days, then head out again. I get home Monday, and I’ll leave Kansas City Thursday to Wilmington. I’ve seen (Double-A affiliate) Northwest Arkansas twice already. I usually see each team twice, with the exception of short-season clubs. This one, I’ll just see once.”

Civic Stadium

On Monday, Civic Stadium in Eugene, Ore., was engulfed in flames and declared a total loss by Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves. Four juvenile boys were charged with second degree arson.

The baseball stadium has been unused since 2009, but before that, its history was rich. It opened in 1938, and in 1969, it became the home of the short-season Class A Eugene Emeralds, a Chicago Cubs affiliate since 2014.

The Emeralds, who moved to PK Park in 2010, are owned by Dave Elmore. The owner of Elmore Sports Group owns six other minor league baseball teams, including the Chukars.

Elmore, who has owned the Emeralds for more than 30 years, remembers how much the fans would intermingle around Civic’s concessions. He heard stories of fathers and sons bonding at the stadium, and people meeting their future spouses there.

“It was kind of a magical thing, and I think it was for a lot of people for a lot of years,” Elmore said in a phone interview Saturday. “I’m hoping that out of this will come a new desire and mission on the part of the community to rebuild it.”

The nonprofit Eugene Civic Alliance, which purchased Civic Stadium in April, vowed to build a sports complex where the stadium once stood, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.

Who’s hot?

OF/1B Alexis Rivera

Rivera has gone hitless in one game this season — an 0 for 4 performance against Ogden on June 24. He’s hit .368 in his last 10 games, one of which was Idaho Falls’ 25-2 win over Grand Junction on June 28. Rivera reached base in all seven plate appearances that game. Rivera leads the Pioneer League in home runs (7), RBIs (25) and walks (16).

Who’s not?

LHP Hunter Haynes

In four starts, Haynes has given up 25 runs (19 earned) on 27 hits and 10 walks in 15.1 innings pitched. He owns a 11.15 ERA, the second-worst among Chukars pitchers (reliever Brian Bayliss has a 12.71 ERA).

Roster moves

Here is a timeline of the Chukars’ roster moves so far this season:

June 21: Outfielder Riley King (a Helena, Mont., native who was selected in the 24th round of the 2013 MLB draft out of Carroll College) transfers to the Rookie-level Riley King.

June 22: Left-handed pitcher Brennan Henry (17th round, 2014 draft, Bellevue University) transfers from the Single-A Lexington Legends to Idaho Falls.

June 23: Idaho Falls adds left-handed pitcher Nick Green (10th round, 2014 draft, Utah) to its active roster.

June 29: The Chukars add left-handed pitcher Eric Stout (13th round, 2014 draft, Butler University) to their active roster.

July 2: Infielder Luis Valenzuela transfers to Lexington. Valenzuela hit .486 in 35 at-bats for the Chukars this season. The Chukars also add Arizona League infielder Logan Nottebrok (undrafted) to their active roster.

July 4: Idaho Falls adds outfielder Cody Jones (6th round, 2015 draft, TCU) to active roster from extended spring.

Alexis “Baby Panda” Rivera is having a break-out season for the Chukars

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Alexis Rivera is nicknamed the Baby Panda.

Alexis Rivera rounds the bases against the Ogden Raptors Tuesday at Melaleuca Field.  (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Alexis Rivera rounds the bases against the Ogden Raptors Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Former Idaho Falls Chukars radio broadcaster Chris Lewis and current broadcaster John Balginy gave Rivera the nickname two years ago. It was inspired by Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose nickname is the Kung Fu Panda.

“He’s a shorter, stout dude who’s pretty quick and has a big swing like Pablo,” said Lewis, now a broadcaster for Boise State. “It’s amazing he’s still there (in Idaho Falls).”

At this rate, Rivera — an outfielder and first baseman for the Chukars — won’t be around much longer.

A new approach at the plate, a mechanical adjustment and maturity have transformed the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Rivera, 21, from a struggling free-swinger into one of the Pioneer League’s best hitters.

“Last year, I chased a lot (of pitches),” Rivera said. “This year, discipline is a lot better. Try to get my pitch to hit instead of the pitcher’s pitch.”

Rivera, who moved from Puerto Rico to Florida when he was 6 years old, was drafted by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2012 MLB draft. He was 18 and fresh out of high school during his first minor league season with the Arizona League Royals, when he hit .341/.413/.477 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 206 plate appearances.

He his numbers fell off the next season — exclusively with the Chukars — at .269/.349/.363 in 240 plate appearances, and they plummeted in 2014, when he hit .198/.275/.271 in 230 plate appearances (183 with the Single-A Lexington Legends, 47 with the Chukars).

“Second year, I tried to do too much,” Rivera said. “Last year, I got moved up and instead of doing what I was doing here, I tried to do way too much.”

Over the last two seasons, he constantly chased bad pitches, another trait of Sandoval’s. Rivera tried to pull the ball, rather than focusing on making good contact.

This year, the Sandoval-esque free swinging has vanished. Rivera focuses on hitting the ball to the center of the field. At the plate, his hands are lower, now level with his shoulders, making it easier for him to start his batting windup when the pitcher starts his.

“Before this year, I was trying to get way too big, instead of just using my hands,” Rivera said. “This year, I try to use my hands, and I have five home runs already.”

Rivera said that before Wednesday’s game versus Ogden. That night, he hit a two-run home run. The following night, he hit a grand slam. Going into Friday’s game, Rivera led the Pioneer League with seven home runs, 24 RBIs and 14 walks. His slash line was .386/.514/.842.

“I can count on one hand, really, him chasing,” Chukars hitting coach Andre David said. “For the most part, he’s got a pretty good feel for the strike zone. He doesn’t panic up there.”

David discussed a Rivera at-bat from Tuesday’s series opener against Ogden. Down 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Rivera came up with two runners on. He worked a 3-2 count and fouled three pitches back. Then, he laced a single into right field, scoring both runners.

“He got the big hit, but if he didn’t, for development concerns, it was a good at-bat, ” David said. “We’re not concerned about results here. It’s the process.”

Rivera struggled with process the last two years. Those struggles are gone this season, leading to monster results. Results that will move the Baby Panda up Kansas City’s affiliate chain if he keeps them up.

“My routine’s a lot better than last year, and I’m finally 21,” Rivera said. “I’m a man now.”

Chukars provide fireworks in 16-4 win over Ogden

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The occasional firework exploded over the center field wall during Alexis Rivera’s final at-bat.

Rivera
Rivera

In the bottom of the third inning, the Idaho Falls Chukars’ first baseman launched what he thought was a home run, but the umpires ruled it just foul of the right field pole.

In the bottom of the seventh, with a chorus of fireworks lighting up Melaleuca Field, Rivera left no doubt. He crushed a grand slam to right center, giving the Chukars a 16-3 lead over the Ogden Raptors.

“I try not to go up there thinking home run, but bases loaded … just trying to find a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” Rivera said.

A day after nothing went right for the Chukars, everything broke their way Thursday night. Idaho Falls (5-10) routed the Ogden Raptors (6-9) 16-4 in the third game of their Pioneer League series, eliminating a potential sweep.

“Our approached stayed consistent,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “Like we talk about every night, they got out and played hard for nine innings. It’s good to come out on top.”

Chukar fans groaned in the top of the first, when Ogden scored two runs. But the “here we go again” symphony ended in the bottom half, when the Chukars scored three times.

Idaho Falls led the rest of the way.

In Wednesday night’s 9-2 loss, the Chukars left 13 runners on base. On Thursday, they stranded four. And of their 16 runs, 12 came with two outs.

“With runners on base, we just focused a little more,” Rivera said.

Rivera (2 for 4, five RBIs), Amalani Fukofuka (3 for 5, two RBIs), Jeckson Flores (2 for 2, three runs) and Roman Collins (2 for 5, two RBIs) led the Chukars’ charge, which isn’t a surprise to Idaho Falls’ coaching staff. All four players are hitting over .315 (Rivera and Fukofuka are hitting .386 and .394, respectively).

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Burt

But the Chukars also received an unlikely contribution from second baseman and leadoff hitter DJ Burt, who went 1 for 2 with two walks and three runs scored. Burt started the season 1 for 26 at the plate, and his batting average was .151 before Tuesday’s game.

Recently, Burt has adjusted his approach. His secret? Taking the first pitch, no matter how good it looks.

“My goal is to fight through pitches, and just have a good at-bat,” Burt said.

Pitching and defense have been the main reasons for Idaho Falls’ struggles this season, but those areas looked sharp Thursday.

The Chukars committed one error and made several leaping catches (Brawlun Gomez in the second, Rivera in the fifth, Collins in the seventh).

Starting pitcher Todd Eaton went five innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits. The key stat: no walks.

The bullpen also held down the fort.

Gemoll has consistently lauded his team’s consistent preparation for each game. On Thursday, the box score reflected his team’s approach.

“These guys play hard every night, which is all you can ask for,” he said.

The Chukars will attempt to split the four-game series tonight at 7:15.

Home woes continue for Chukars in 9-2 loss to Odgen

Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini misses an infield grounder during a game against the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.    ( Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini misses an infield grounder during a game against the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Murphy’s law invaded Melaleuca Field on Wednesday night.

The Idaho Falls Chukars left 13 runners on base. Their pitchers gifted meatballs to the Ogden Raptors’ batters. The Chukars even failed to execute a routine baserunning play.

Almost anything that could go wrong, went wrong.

The Raptors (6-8) took the second game of their Pioneer League series 9-2 over the Chukars (4-10), lowering Idaho Falls’ home record to 1-5.

“These kids are learning,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said. “It’s a process. That’s why this is the lowest level and there’s a long way to go to get to the major leagues. They’re going to keep coming here, working. We’ll try to get them better, and hopefully they can reach their ceiling.”

The home woes have frustrated Chukars fans, who have voiced their displeasure with Idaho Falls’ performances in each of this series’ first two games. The Chukars have been outscored 66-53 at Melaleuca Field, 61-38 in their five losses.

Gemoll, while frustrated, knows the sample is too small to worry about his team’s home performance so far this season.

Idaho Falls caught few breaks Wednesday as well. The Chukars outhit Ogden 13-10, yet they would’ve been shut out if not for Alexis Rivera’s two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. On many nights, those hits would have led to more runs.

But Idaho Falls was far from flawless.

The Chukars have now been outscored 50-31 through the first three innings after falling behind 4-0 on Wednesday.

Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Roman Collins lines out to left fielder Deivy Castillo of the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.    (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Roman Collins lines out to left fielder Deivy Castillo of the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

“Early on, we had some hard-hit outs,” Gemoll said. “That’s just the way baseball goes sometimes.”

Chukar pitchers walked two batters, threw three wild pitches and allowed four extra-base hits. Idaho Falls shortstop Marten Gasparini failed to tag up from third on a deep lineout in the seventh inning, due to what Gemoll, who serves as the third base coach, called a miscommunication.

And while leaving runners on base isn’t solely the batters’ fault, Gemoll has noticed some flaws in his hitters’ approaches in those situations.

“As young hitters, sometimes they try to press and try to do too much in those situations,” Gemoll said. “What they have to learn to do is stay patient, stay relaxed and maintain their approach.”

The Raptors will try to win the four-game series tonight at 7:15 at Melaleuca Field.

“We’re not panicking,” Gemoll said. “There’s nothing but the utmost confidence from the coaching staff and the players.”

Chukars can’t follow up record night, drop final road game to Rockies

POST REGISTER

The Idaho Falls Chukars couldn’t maintain the momentum from Sunday’s record-breaking offensive outburst and fell 8-3 to the host Grand Junction Rockies on Monday.

The Chukars pounded out 28 hits in a 25-2 win over the Rockies on Sunday and had 16 Monday, but stranded 16 runners and fell to 2-6 against Grand Junction this season.

The Rockies grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on Ryan Stephens’ RBI double to left. The Chukars tied things up in the second when Amalani Fukofuka reached on an error, advanced to third on a single and a groundout and scored on a passed ball.

Grand Junction regained the lead and some breathing room in the fifth by scoring four runs, three of them coming on Jonathan Piro’s three-run homer to right.

The Chukars added single runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the Rockies put the game away with three runs in the eighth.

Idaho Falls threatened in the top of ninth, scoring twice to cut the lead to 8-5. With two on and two out, Joshua Banuelos drove a ball to right that was caught by a leaping Sam Hilliard at the wall.

Alexis Rivera continued his hot hitting, going 2 for 4 with a run. Jeckson Flores was 2 for 5 with a double and a run while Banuelos and Nick Dini each had two hits.

After a week on the road the Chukars return to Melaleuca Field today to begin a four-game series against the Ogden Raptors. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

SUNDAY’S RECAP: The Chukars set team records for runs (25) and hits (28) since becoming affiliated with the Kansas City Royals in 2004 in a 25-2 blowout win over Grand Junction.

Every batter in the I.F. lineup had at least two hits and all but one had at least three. The Chukars hit five home runs (two each by Pedro Gonzalez and Alexis Rivera) and nine extra-base hits overall.

Rivera had a huge game, going 4 for 4 with three walks, three runs and four RBIs. Gonzalez finished 4 for 5 with four runs and four RBIs while Joshua Banuelos was 3 for 6 with a double, four runs and three RBIs.

Carlos Herrera earned the win, allowing two runs on three hits with five walks and three strikeouts in six innings.