Tag: Josh Staumont

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.

Chukars Notebook: Raul Mondesi highlights Royals’ prospect rankings

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Since returning from 50-game suspension, Raul Mondesi has been all over the place.

The Kansas City Royals shortstop prospect was suspended on May 10 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Mondesi returned on June 25 as a member of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Kansas City’s Advanced Single-A affiliate. On July 4, he moved up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he played prior to the suspension. And finally, Mondesi was called up to Triple-A Omaha on Friday.

That’s not quite all. Baseball America came out with its midseason top 100 prospects list the same day Mondesi moved up to Omaha. No. 55 on the list? Mondesi. He’s one of several former Idaho Falls Chukars on various prospect lists.

Mondesi is the only Royals prospect to make Baseball America’s midseason list, and he actually moved down 26 spots from the website’s preseason list (fellow Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer was No. 85 on that list).

Mondesi is still ranked No. 1 on almost every online Royals prospect rankings. Zimmer is Kansas City’s consensus No. 2 prospect, and he also played for the Chukars. The right-handed pitcher threw 4.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2014, posting a 1.93 ERA. Mondesi spent all of 2012 with the Chukars, hitting .290 with a .733 OPS in 207 at-bats.

The next highest former Chukar on MLB.com’s Royals prospect list is shortstop Marten Gasparini. The Italy native is ranked No. 8 on MLB’s list and No. 7 on Baseball America’s, although most other scouting websites are not that high on him. Gasparini is hitting .197 with a .587 OPS for Single-A Lexington this season. He batted .259 with a .752 OPS with the Chukars last summer.

Northwest Arkansas first baseman Ryan O’Hearn is No. 5 on FanGraphs.com’s Royals list, which is also high compared to most rankings. Unlike Gasparini, O’Hearn has produced at just about every level. His career minor league batting average is .300 and his OPS is .898. O’Hearn was named the Pioneer League Player of the Year with the Chukars in 2014, thanks to a .361 average and a 1.034 OPS.

MLB.com ranks Northwest Arkansas lefty Matt Strahm No. 10 in the Royals’ system. Strahm pitched 30.1 innings for I.F. in 2012 and 19.2 in 2014, posting 5.64 and 2.29 ERAs, respectively.

One current Chukar made the top 30 of MLB.com’s rankings. Shortstop Ricky Aracena is No. 25.

Some other notable former Chukars:

Omaha third baseman Hunter Dozier (played for I.F. in 2013) is ranked N0. 10 on Baseball Prospectus’ Kansas City rankings.

Omaha righty Alec Mills (I.F. 2014) is No. 13 on MLB.com’s list.

Wilmington righty Josh Staumont (I.F. 2015) is No. 17 on MLB.com’s list.

Lexington outfielder Amalani Fukofuka (I.F. 2015) is No. 19 on MLB.com’s list.

Righty Brooks Pounders (I.F. 2014 and 2015) is No. 28 on MLB.com’s list. Pounders made his MLB debut on Tuesday at Toronto. He’s allowed one earned run in three relief innings for Kansas City so far.

Roster move

July 5: Chukars first baseman/catcher Colton Frabasilio moves up to Advanced Single-A Wilmington. Frabasilio’s call-up stemmed from an injury to Zane Evans of the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, according to the Chukars. Evans was placed on the disabled list, which led to a promotion for Wilmington catcher Luis Villegas. Frabasilio filled Villegas’ vacant roster spot.

Frabasilio hit .348 (16 for 48) with a .936 OPS in 12 games for I.F. this summer.

Standings update

The Chukars improved to 12-10 with their 10-8 win over Orem on Saturday. I.F. now sits two games behind the Owlz (14-8) with 16 games left in the first half.

Who’s hot?

3B Manny Olloque

Olloque was named the Pioneer League Player of the Week for his performance from June 27 through July 3. He hit .429 (12 for 28) with three doubles and two home runs during the week.

Olloque was a bit quieter this week. Then came Saturday, when he went 4 for 5 against Orem to extend his hitting streak to eight games. Olloque is now hitting .350 on the season with an OPS over .900.

Who’s not?

LHP Sam Selman

Selman joined the Chukars on a rehab assignment. He started the season with Northwest Arkansas and has reached as high as Omaha (in 2014). With the Chukars in 2012, he earned the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year thanks to a 2.09 ERA in 60.1 innings.

Selman has not improved that resume with I.F. this summer.

Selman’s ERA with the Chukars dropped to 9.35 after 1.2 innings pitched on Friday at Orem. But he still allowed two unearned run on two hits.

The lefty allowed three earned runs in each of his first two outings with the Chukars, and his opponents’ batting average is .356. Selman has, however, struck out eight batters and walked only two.

MLB draft provides glimpse of future Chukars

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The MLB draft concluded Saturday, and several of the Kansas City Royals selections will appear at Melaleuca Field this summer.

The Royals have sent about 11 freshly drafted players per season to the Chukars since 2012, when teams saw their picks reduced from 50 to 40. Most of those players joined Idaho Falls on opening day, and some turned into future stars.

The Chukars’ rookie crop last season was relatively small compared to recent years. Kansas City’s highest 2015 pick on I.F.’s opening day roster was outfielder Roman Collins (fifth round). Five more 2015 selections made the Chukars’ initial roster, and they were all selected in the 14th round or later.

But other draftees started to roll in. Flame-throwing right-handed pitcher Josh Staumont (second round) joined the Chukars in July, as did outfielder Cody Jones (sixth round). Right-handers Daniel Concepcion (12th round), Matt Ditman (16th round) and Jacob Bodner (27th round) also came to I.F. later in the season.

The Chukars received 14 of Kansas City’s 2014 draftees that summer, and they all made the opening day roster. Two of those players were left-hander Eric Skoglund (third round) and first-baseman Ryan O’Hearn (eighth round) both of whom are top-30 prospects in Kansas City’s system, per multiple baseball scouting websites. O’Hearn, who currently plays for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, was the Pioneer League MVP in 2014.

Triple-A Omaha shortstop Hunter Dozier was selected eighth overall in 2013 and played 54 games for the Chukars that year. Dozier is currently Kansas City’s 11th-best prospect, according to FanGraphs.com (O’Hearn is fifth).

Kansas City forfeited its first-round pick this year after signing free-agent pitcher Ian Kennedy last offseason, per the Kansas City Star. But the Royals had a pick in each of the final 39 rounds, and they used their first to select Pepperdine right-hander AJ Puckett (No. 67 in round two).

The Chukars will announce their full opening day roster in the next few days. Their season starts Friday at Melaleuca Field versus Ogden. They also face the Idaho Falls Bandits in an exhibition Thursday.

Kansas City Royals’ 2016 draft class
AJ Puckett / second round / RHP / Pepperdine
Khalil Lee / third round / CF / Flint Hill School (Va.)
Jace Vines / fourth round / RHP / Texas A&M
Nicholas Lopez / fifth round / SS / Creighton
Cal Jones / sixth round / CF / Dadeville (Ala.) HS
Travis Eckert / seventh round / RHP / Oregon State
Chris DeVito / eighth round / 1B / New Mexico
Walker Sheller / ninth round / RHP / Stetson
Richard Lovelady / 10th round / LHP / Kennesaw State
Vance Vizcaino / 11th round / CF / Stetson
Jeremy Gwinn / 12th round / RHP / Colby CC
Logan Gray / 13th round / 2B / Austin Peay
David McKay / 14th round / RHP / Florida Atlantic
Mike Messier / 15h round / LHP / Bellarmine
Nick Heath / 16th round / CF / Northwestern State
Dillon Drabble / 17th round / RHP / Seminole State
Vance Tatum / 18th round / LHP / Mississippi State
Tyler Fallwell / 19th round / RHP / Cochise
Anthony Bender / 20th round / RHP / Santa Rosa JC
Dalton Griffin / 21st round / CF / South Effingham HS (Ga.)
Cody Nesbit / 22nd round / RHP / San Jacinto North
Kort Peterson / 23rd round / OF / UC Los Angeles
Mike McCann / 24th round / C / Seattle
Robby Rinn / 25th round / 1B / Bryant
John Brontsema / 26th round / 3B / UC Irvine
Rex Hill / 27th round / LHP / TCU
Yordany Salva / 28th round / C / Broward
Grant Gavin / 29th round / RHP / Central Missouri
Geoffrey Bramblett / 30th round / RHP / Alabama
Malcolm Van Buren / 31st round / RHP / Hanahan (S.C.) HS
Luke Bandy / 32nd round / CF / Providence Classical Christian Academy
Kameron Misner / 33rd round / OF / Poplar Bluff (Mo.) HS
Nathan Webb / 34th round / RHP / Lee’s Summit (Mo.) North HS
M.J. Sanchez / 35th round / C / California Baptist
Alex Massey / 36th round / RHP / Tulane
Justin Camp / 37th round / RHP / Auburn
Joey Fregosi / 38th round / SS / Murrieta Valley HS (Calif.)
Chase Livingston / 39th round / C / Rhode Island
Taylor Kaczmarek / 40th round / RHP / San Diego

Chukars announce five opening-day players

On Saturday, the Chukars announced the first five players assigned to Idaho Falls. They are Igol Feliz, Arnaldo Hernandez, Drew Milligan, Tanner Stanley and Miebrys Viloria.

Milligan is a left-handed pitcher who made 17 relief appearances for I.F. last season, amassing a 4.07 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 13 walks.

Feliz and Hernandez are both right-handed pitchers. Feliz signed with the Royals in 2011 and played for Rookie-level Burlington last season. Hernandez made one appearance (a start) for the Chukars in 2015, allowing six runs (two earned) in four innings.

Stanley, the son of former MLB catcher and first baseman Mike Stanley, is an outfielder in his second minor league season with the Royals.

Viloria is a catcher who spent part of 2014 and all of 2015 in Burlington.

Chukars beat Missoula 5-3, force winner-take-all title game

By BILL SPELTZ
The Missoulian

MISSOULA, Mont. — One fateful swing changed everything.

The Missoula Osprey appeared well on their way to a series-clinching win Tuesday night, leading Idaho Falls by three runs after four innings.

Then an error by Osprey third baseman Kal Simmons cracked the door in the fifth and Amalani Fukofuka pushed it open with a go-ahead, three-run blast.

The Osprey never recovered, dropping a 5-3 decision in Game 2 of their best-of-3 Pioneer League championship series in front of 1,568 fans at Ogren-Allegiance Park. The teams will battle tonight in a winner-take-all game at 7:05 p.m. in Missoula.

For nine innings this season, including four Tuesday, Osprey starting pitcher Cameron Smith owned the Chukars, refusing to allow a run. That all changed with two outs and two on in the fifth on an 0-2 pitch to Fukofuka.

“He battled off enough pitches and got enough of one to get it out of here and obviously that really ended up being the difference in the game,” Osprey manager Joe Mather said. “That’s their 3-hole hitter and it was against our best pitcher and he made a good swing on a pitch.”

From there the momentum stayed on the Chukars’ side. Missoula finally got something going offensively in the ninth when Jason Morozowski hit a leadoff single and Luke Lowery was hit by a Josh Staumont pitch. But Staumont responded by striking out Matt Railey and retiring Joey Armstrong on a fly ball to center.

“Fuko got us out in front, but I thought our pitchers did an outstanding job,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Starter Derek) Gordon, they got some runs off him early. It’s a really good baseball team here in Missoula, really good hitters. But I thought he bounced back well.”

Gordon was a warrior, allowing three runs on three hits in 62/3 innings. He also recorded 10 strikeouts, the most by a Chukars pitcher in a game all season.

From there Drew Milligan and Staumont shut down the hosts in relief.

“I actually thought (Gordon) pitched a pretty good game,” Mather said. “He was one of the better pitchers in the league. Maybe not win-loss wise but his ERA was good, he throws strikes.

“That was it. I don’t think our guys were necessarily pressing. We had 17 (runs) the game before and it’s hard to repeat that.”

The Osprey jumped on Gordon in the first inning, scoring two runs. Leadoff hitter Raymel Flores drew a walk and Morozowski drove him home on a one-out double to right center field.

The Osprey’s second run came as a result of an error by Idaho Falls first baseman Josh Banuelos. Byler hit a bouncer to first that Banuelos misplayed then threw away in haste, allowing Morozowski to score from second.

Banuelos hit a bloop single and moved to second in the Idaho Falls second inning. But Smith buckled down, striking out Marten Gasparini and Xavier Fernandez to end the threat.

Osprey catcher Francis Christy blasted a one-out solo home run to stretch his team’s lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the second. Idaho Falls had a baserunner in the fourth but again Smith slammed the door, striking out Gasparini.

The Chukars’ fifth-inning rally started when a Fernandez grounder scooted under Simmons’ glove at third and rolled into left field. Two outs later, DJ Burt lined a single up the middle to set the stage for Fukofuka’s three-run blast.

Idaho Falls added an insurance run in the eighth and will take momentum into Game 3 tonight after being humbled by the Osprey at home on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“The key (Wednesday) is going to be pitching and defense, that’s playoff baseball,” Mather said. “Hopefully we come out and score a bunch of runs early. We did that today but we couldn’t add on to it.

“These guys have a ton of fight in them left. I know they’re going to be itching to go.”

The Post Register contributed to this report

Chukars roll over Orem 6-2 in playoff opener

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman DJ Burt dives on an infield grounder during the first game of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman DJ Burt dives on an infield grounder during the first game of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Wednesday might have marked the Idaho Falls Chukars’ final home game of 2015.

But they seem on track to play at Melaleuca Field one more time.

I.F. hosted the Orem Owlz on Wednesday night for the first game of the Pioneer League South Division championship series. The game played out like so many in the second half. The Chukars won 6-2.

“They have fun together, and it seems like a different guy is stepping up every night,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Derek Gordon throws for a strike against the Orem Owlz during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs Game one Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.  (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Derek Gordon throws for a strike against the Orem Owlz during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs Game one Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

After a 13-25 first half, the Chukars won the second-half division title with a 25-13 record. The turnaround was incredible by itself, but the second half was also historic. Before this season, I.F.’s best half since becoming a Kansas City Royals’ Rookie affiliate in 2004 came in 2009, when it went 23-14 in the second half.

If anyone expected playoff jitters from the Chukars, they didn’t appear during the first few innings of Wednesday’s game.

I.F. starting pitcher Derek Gordon retired Orem’s first six batters on 13 pitches. The Chukars scored once in the first inning and four times in the second inning, although Orem should have limited the damage to one run in the second.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning, second baseman D.J. Burt grounded back to pitcher Jeff Malm. The left-hander got a forceout at home, and catcher Tanner Lubach tried to double up Burt at first. But first baseman Jeff Boehm couldn’t corral the throw, and the inning went on.

Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka came up next and smoked the first pitch down the right-field line. Ten seconds later, Fukofuka was standing at third base and the Chukars led 5-0.

Fukofuka (1 for 4) has continued to rake since last week, when he missed two games to attend the funeral for his cousin, Medina.

“I think about her before every game, and it keeps me going,” Fukofuka said. “I know she’s up there looking after me.”

Gordon never looked in trouble during his seven innings of work. He gave up two earned runs on five hits, a walk and five strikeouts. Gemoll lauded the righty’s fastball command and aggression.

“I just treated it like any other start,” Gordon said. “I went out there and tried to compete.”

Flame-throwing right-hander Josh Staumont threw two scoreless innings to preserve the 6-2 win.

Idaho Falls Chukars center fielder Cody Jones runs to first base after a line drive to left field during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs game one against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars center fielder Cody Jones runs to first base after a line drive to left field during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs game one against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Shortstop Marten Gasparini went 3 for 4 with two stolen bases in his third game back from Japan, where he represented Team Italy in the World Baseball and Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“My head was with the (Chukars) the whole time I was over there,” Gasparini said. “I was ready to play in the playoffs. I was looking forward to this moment since the start of the second half.”

Center fielder Cody Jones went 2 for 3 with a walk and third baseman Jose Martinez went 1 for 2 with a walk.

I.F. hopes to clinch the series tonight at Orem, Utah. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15, and Bryan Brickhouse will start on the mound for the Chukars.

If the Owlz win tonight, both teams will play at Orem again Friday to determine who will go to the Pioneer League championship. I.F. would host the first championship game on Sunday if it gets past Orem. In the North Division series, Billings took a 1-0 series lead with a 5-2 win over Missoula.

Chukars on verge of playoff berth after 9-4 win over Ogden

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars haven’t played perfect baseball in their amazing second-half turnaround. They’ve just overcome their mistakes much better than they did in the first half.

Saturday’s game was a perfect example.

The Chukars got off a rough start, falling behind 2-0 in the top of the second inning. But dominant relief pitching,

execution and plenty of offense more than made up for it in a 9-4 victory over the Orem Owlz in front of 2,142 fans at a chilly Melaleuca Field. The victory reduced Idaho Falls’ magic number to clinch the Pioneer League South Division second-half title to one. Any Chukars’ win or Ogden Raptors’ loss over the next three days will send Idaho Falls to the playoffs.

“This is why you play baseball,” Idaho Falls reliever Matt Ditman told Chukars’ fans in his on-field post-game interview with Chukars’ radio announce Alex Cohen. “You play to win championships.”

A championship appeared to be a long shot after a dismal first half that saw the Chukars go a league-worst 13-25 to finish 11 games behind the first-half champion Owlz. The Chukars have gone a league-best 24-11 since, building a two-game lead over Ogden and a nine-game lead over Orem with three games to play (all vs. Orem, one at home, two on the road).

And they’ve done it with wins like Saturday’s when they didn’t always play their best baseball.

Idaho Falls starter Carter Hope was shaky over the first four innings, allowing a two-run homer to catcher Tanner Lubach in the second and giving up two more runs on an RBI double by Sam Koenig and a wild-pitch strikeout. But Hope left with 5-4 lead thanks to a relentless offense.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second, sparked by a leadoff double by cleanup hitter Josh Banuelos. Newcomer Brandon Dulin followed with a single and Banuelos later scored when second baseman Franklin Torres booted a perfect double-play ball off the bat of Nick Dini.

Roman Collins made the Owlz pay for the mistake with an opposite-field double to left that scored Dulin. Logan Nottebrok and Jose Martinez followed with productive outs that each scored a run. After the Owlz tied things in the third, Banuelos started another rally with a leadoff triple to center. He scored on Dulin’s RBI groundout.

Josh Staumont replaced Hope to start the fifth, and he began a stretch of five dominant innings from the bullpen. Staumont pitched 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings, allowing two walks while striking out four. The performance dropped his ERA to 3.16 in 31.1 innings.

Ditman was even better in his Chukars debut, getting the final seven outs, three of them on strikeouts, without allowing a hit or a walk.

“They were outstanding,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “They came in and attacked the zone and threw strikes, and that’s what you want.”

Dulin, playing just his third game with Idaho Falls after starting the season with Burlington, gave the Chukars some breathing room in the sixth belted a two-out, two run double to the wall in left.

Idaho Falls second baseman D.J. Burt then capped off the offensive showing by executing a perfect bunt to second to extend his on-base streak to 52 games. Burt and Cody Jones then came around on a single by Banuelos, who increased his league-leading RBI total to 60.

The Chukars (37-36 overall) can clinch a playoff spot in their final regular season home game today against Orem (39-34, 15-20) at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Chukars tie Ogden for division lead with 10-5 win

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Tuesday’s game wasn’t a must-win for the Idaho Fall Chukars, but it was close.

Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen's Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen’s Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. went in trailing the Ogden Raptors by one game in the Pioneer League South Division, and the Chukars hosted the Raptors for a two-game series starting Tuesday.

The Chukars are now tied for the second-half division lead after handling the Raptors 10-5 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. manager Justin Gemoll said his team has a one-game-at-a-time mindset, but the Chukars know the stakes. Seven games remain in the regular season.

“I’ve never been in a playoff before,” said Chukars catcher Xavier Fernandez, who transferred from the Burlington Royals on Monday. “I feel so excited, and I can’t even explain it.”

The Chukars scored first with a three-run bottom of the first inning. Two runs scored on an error, and Fernandez (3 for 5) hit an RBI single after a long at-bat.

Ogden scored once in the top of the second, but I.F. built on the lead in the bottom half. Center fielder Cody Jones kicked the scoring off with an RBI triple.

Next up was D.J. Burt, who hit a towering fly ball to left field. Left fielder Alex Santana froze as the ball went airborne, appearing to be camped under it. But Santana didn’t know where the ball was, and neither did most of Melaleuca Field. Even Burt thought it was an out.

Santana’s confusion didn’t matter. Burt’s fly ball landed over the wall, 410 feet away.

After 273 plate appearances, Burt had his first home run of the season.

“Finally,” said Burt, who hit two blasts in 163 plate appearances for Burlington last season. “It feels good.”

Gemoll, the third base coach, gave Burt a high five but didn’t exchange words with the 19-year-old as he rounded third.

“He was too busy smiling,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second inning, taking a 7-1 lead.

Idaho Falls' pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen's Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen’s Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. extended the lead to 8-1 on a Brawlun Gomez home run (420 feet), but Ogden cut it to 8-5 with a four-run fourth. The Chukars added some insurance with a two-run sixth.

Julio Pinto made his first start for the Chukars and struggled, despite a mid-to-high-90s fastball. Pinto, previously with Burlington, gave up three runs (all earned) on five hits, a walk, five strikeouts and two wild pitches in 3.1 innings.

Fellow Chukars flamethrower Josh Staumont pitched three scoreless, hitless innings out of the bullpen, giving up two walks with four strikeouts.

Burt went 2 for 4 with two walks and has now reached base 49 games in a row. Newcomer Gabriel Noriega (shortstop) went 3 for 4, Jones went 2 for 5 with a walk and left fielder Roman Collins went 1 for 4 with two walks.

Tonight’s series finale is enormous for the Chukars (34-35). If they win, they’ll not only take a one-game division lead, they’ll improve their season record against Ogden (40-29) to 9-7. The first playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head record.

Derek Gordon is scheduled to start for I.F. in tonight’s game, which starts at 7:15.

Roster notes

Several key I.F. position players were missing from Tuesday’s game. Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka was on the bench getting rest, and Gemoll wasn’t sure if he’d play tonight either. Shortstop Jeckson Flores (hamstring) and catcher Kyle Pollock (hand) are both day-to-day. Gemoll also said catcher Pedro Gonzalez, currently on the disabled list, will not return.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini could return as early as this weekend, Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said. Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup

Chukars Notebook: Second half resurgance

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

History is brewing at Melaleuca Field.

Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars enter today’s game against Grand Junction with a 19-9 second half record, tops in the Pioneer League. That record is even more impressive when compared to the Chukars’ first half, when they finished dead last at 13-25.

I.F. is currently tied with Ogden in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half. Even if the Chukars miss the playoffs, they might finish with the winningest half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

The Chukars joined the Royals’ organization in 2004. Since then, their best half was in 2009, when they went 23-14 to end the season. The Chukars would need to go at least 5-5 to surpass the 2009 mark.

It should be noted that the halfway point of a season is an arbitrary endpoint. In other words, the dividing line between the first 38 games and the last 38 games is essentially meaningless.

The beginning of a season is the most significant starting point for a baseball team, and I.F. has gone 32-34 since then. You can create any narrative you want by closing your eyes and randomly placing your finger on a calendar.

The Pioneer League, of course, doesn’t work like the MLB, which rewards season-long records. Teams only need one good half to be in the Pioneer League playoff hunt, as the Chukars have shown. But that doesn’t mean the Chukars went into a telephone booth on July 28 and came out a superteam.

That all said, several I.F. players and coaches said they hit a mental reset button after the first half ended. They knew July 28 marked a new season, and that mental rewiring counts for something.

Plus, several players have gone from bad to elite, and their improvement started almost squarely on July 28. Second baseman D.J. Burt and shortstop Marten Gasparini are at the top of that list.

After July 28, Burt was hitting .198/.324/.215 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Through Friday, he was hitting .282/.389/.364, and his defense looks improved.

Gasparini’s slash line dropped to .205/.275/.346 through July 27. Now, it’s .262/.339/.419, although Gasparini might be done for the season because he is representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“A lot of the position players, especially, are very young, so whenever you go up a level, not everybody’s going to have immediate success,” Chukars reliever Tripp Davis told Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen on Aug. 11. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The pitching is clicking, as well. I.F.’s first half team ERA was 5.33. It’s down to 4.93 on the season, thanks to pitchers like Davis (2.84 second-half ERA) Derek Gordon (3.12) and Josh Staumont (3.48, 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

I.F. has also been good/lucky in close games during the second game. The Chukars have won five extra-inning games (7-1 on the season), eight by one run and are 13-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

The Chukars will enjoy this success even if they miss the playoffs and fizzle over these last 10 games. Their players have developed in the second half, and that is ultimately all that matters in rookie ball.

PICOLLO VISIT’S I.F.

J.J. Picollo — the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel — has watched the Chukars since Thursday in Ogden, and he’ll be in Idaho Falls through today. He makes trips to see Kansas City’s three Rookie-level teams once a year.

Picollo said he’s here for two main reasons.

“One, getting to learn our new players, guys who were drafted this year. I saw a lot of them in mini-camp but didn’t see them in games,” said Picollo, who has held his current position since 2008. “The second thing is to look at the guys we’ve had in the system, see how they’re progressing, see where they’re at.”

INTERN MIGRATION

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene has been employing college interns since he became GM in 1993, and he believes the opportunties benefit him and the interns.

But every summer, he deals with the same issue: interns going back to school.

This summer, the Chukars had six administrative interns (some receive college credit, but all of them receive stipends, Greene said). Four have begun classes — Jake Guza (College of Idaho), Matthew Donovan, Aaron Palmberg (both BYU) and Desiree Cannon (Lewis and Clark). I.F. also lost several college-age concessions workers.

Greene and the Melaleuca Field staff aren’t too worried about being understaffed, though. After all, they’ve survived the intern migration for 22 years.

ROSTER MOVE

Last Sunday, right-handed pitcher Bryan Brickhouse made a three-inning rehab start for the Chukars against Grand Junction (he allowed two earned runs). The next day, Brickhouse was added to I.F.’s active roster.

This is Brickhouse’s third stint with the Chukars. He made one start for I.F. in 2012 and nine appearances (eight starts) in 2014.

WHO’S HOT?

2B D.J. Burt

Burt’s hot second half gets two mentions in this space. Since July 28, Burt his hitting .398 with nine extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 15 walks. He’s also reached base (via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in 46 straight games.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez leads the Chukars with nine home runs, but he’s been in a major slump. In his last 11 games, Gomez is hitting 5 for 41 (.122) with two walks and 22 strikeouts. He has 79 strikeouts on the season, tied for first in the Pioneer League with Gasparini.

Chukars tied for Pioneer League South Division lead after 7-6 loss to Grand Junction

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Ten games remain, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first in the Pioneer League South Division.

The Chukars fell 7-6 to Grand Junction Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. Shortly after the game ended, with lightning streaking across the sky and a fireworks show set to start, the Ogden Raptors beat Orem in 12 innings. Both I.F. and Ogden are 19-9 in the second half.

“All these games are important,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “We just have to take care of our business.”

Collins
Collins

The Chukars scored two runs on two-out single from designated hitter Roman Collins in the bottom of the first, but Grand Junction tied it up in the top of the third. The 2-2 score lasted until the fifth, when the Rockies got their third run off I.F. starter Daniel Concepcion.

In the bottom of the fifth, Chukars center fielder Cody Jones hit a leadoff single. Second baseman D.J. Burt came up next and hit a medium depth fly ball to right fielder Sam Hilliard. Third base coach Gemoll sent Jones on the tag-up, but he was out by several feet to end the inning.

“I don’t regret it,” Gemoll said. “It’s a left-handed outfielder running toward center field, so his body’s taking him away from the play. He just did a great job of being under it, keeping body control, arm strength, accuracy, all of that.”

An inning later, the Chukars regained the lead. Left fielder Amalani Fukofuka hit a leadoff triple and scored a few pitches later on a failed pickoff attempt by Rockies catcher Campbell Wear. Collins delivered again with an RBI triple two batters later, and he scored on a Brawlun Gomez single for a 5-3 Chukars lead.

The game looked in hand with Josh Staumont on the hill, but the right-hander uncharacteristically struggled in the seventh. The rookie allowed four runs (all earned) on three walks, a wild pitch and a double in the inning.

Before Saturday, Staumont had a 1.62 ERA with six walks and 32 strikeouts in 16.2 second-half innings.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, I just think he was working up a little bit more than usual,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “Sometimes you don’t have it every night.”

I.F. got a ninth inning run but it couldn’t muster more.

The Chukars were shorthanded going into the game, and it hurt them. Prior to the top of the seventh, shortstop Jeckson Flores exited the game with a hamstring injury. Ryan Dale replaced him but went to third base, forcing third baseman Logan Nottebrok to second and Burt to shortstop.

Flores, who is day-to-day, is the only true shortstop on the team. Regular shortstop Marten Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

Gemoll said multiple Chukars can play infield, and Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said after Saturday’s game that I.F. will make several moves before today’s game.

The Chukars (32-34) host Grand Junction (27-39, 8-20 second half) today at 4 p.m. Todd Eaton will start on the mound for I.F. in the third game of the four-game series.

Ogden beats Chukars, creeps closer to South lead

The Idaho Falls Chukars can’t afford many bad performances the rest of the season, especially not in this two-game series at Ogden.

But on Wednesday night, they laid an egg.

I.F. lost 5-1 to the Raptors at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Utah. The Chukars now lead Ogden by two games in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings with 13 games to play.

Banuelos
Banuelos

I.F. starting pitcher Carter Hope didn’t pitch poorly overall, but a few mistakes increased his season ERA.

After retiring the first six Raptors, Hope gave up a single to third baseman Jimy Perez to lead off the bottom of the third inning. Perez got caught in a rundown a batter later, but he dodged a tag to remain on second base. Faustino Oguisten followed with a home run to left field, giving Ogden a 2-0 lead.

Hope exited the game with one out in the sixth inning after giving up a run on a single, two doubles and a walk. The right-hander was charged with five runs after an RBI double from Oguisten, who finished a triple shy of the cycle.

Hope gave up five earned runs on eight hits, one walk and five strikeouts in 5.1 innings.

The Chukars’ offense had chances but couldn’t deliver a run until the ninth. In the top of the third, I.F. put runners on second and third with no outs but failed to score. In the sixth and seventh, the Chukars had runners on first and second with two outs, but the rallies ended there.

Chukars second base- man D.J. Burt led off the seventh with a walk, but he was picked off. Two batters later, first baseman Josh Banuelos was called out on strikes, and the buildup of frustration reached its boiling point. Banuelos yelled at home plate umpire Luis Hernandez following the strike three call, and Hernandez ejected him. This is the first time an I.F. player has been ejected this season.

Fukofuka.
Fukofuka

Catcher Kyle Pollock hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth, but that was all I.F. could muster.

Center fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 2 for 4 with a double, shortstop Jeckson Flores went 1 for 3 with a walk and Banuelos went 1 for 4. Along with Pollock, those were the only Chukars to get hits in the game.

Burt’s walk extended his on-base streak to 43 straight games.

Drew Milligan and Josh Staumont pitched 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Staumont pitched two full innings without allowing a baserunner, and the righty struck out five of the six batters he faced.

The Chukars (31-32, 18-7) look to earn a series split against the Raptors (35-28, 16-9) tonight at 6:30.