Tag: Leland Clemmons

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’ home prosperity continues with 8-2 win

Luna
Luna

After a week away from Melaleuca Field, the Idaho Falls Chukars looked revitalized Wednesday.

The offense was its usual destructive self, the defense was crisp and the pitching was stingy. It was the team road crowds have rarely seen and I.F. crowds have grown accustomed to.

In the end, the Chukars beat the Helena Brewers 8-2.

Home cooking

A team succeeding at home isn’t news, but the Chukars have been especially potent at Melaleuca Field and lackluster on the road.

Wednesday’s win improved I.F.’s home record to 10-3, compared to 4-8 on the road. The Chukars have a 32-run differential at home, while their road differential is minus-1.

I.F.’s success this season has sprung from its bats, which delivered again on Wednesday.

The Chukars drew four walks and piled up 15 hits, including three that went for extra bases. Designated hitter Yeison Melo went 3 for 5 with a triple, while left fielder Luke Willis, catcher Meibrys Viloria, center fielder Rudy Martin and second baseman Jordan Ebert each added two hits.

The defense only committed one error and made multiple highlight plays, such as Ebert’s leaping catch that prevented a run and began an inning-ending double play in the fifth inning.

Alex Luna, Sam Selman and Christian Flecha fell into some holes but clamped down whenever Helena smelled a rally.

Olloque’s scare

Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque was absent from the lineup Wednesday because he was involved in a car accident before the game.

One of I.F.’s bat boys was driving the car, and Olloque said the other driver was at fault. The front of the bat boy’s car was smashed and the airbags inflated on impact, but none of the passengers were seriously hurt.

“Luckily, we were wearing our seat belts,” Olloque said.

The airbags left lingering pain in Olloque’s chest, which led the Chukars’ coaching staff to hold him out of Wednesday’s game. Olloque believed he could have played, and he said he’ll be ready for Thursday’s game.

Roster moves

The Chukars made several roster changes on Wednesday.

Tanner Stanley (.337 average, .883 OPS in 89 at-bats for I.F.) moved up to Single-A Lexington. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons (5 for 10 with a home run for I.F.) was released.

The Chukars also added three players from the Arizona League: Ebert, Martin and right-handed pitcher Paul Young. Martin played two games for the Chukars last season.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Alex Luna

Luna got into some hairy jams thanks to nine hits allowed, but he escaped them all. Throwing strikes was a main key to his success. He struck out five and walked none on 55 strikes against 25 balls.

Luna has allowed two earned runs in his last three starts (17.2 total innings). His season ERA is now 2.08, and he’s struck out 29 while walking six.

Up next

Jace Vines will start for the Chukars (14-11) against fellow righty Rodrigo Benoit. First pitch against the Brewers (10-15) is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Chukars walk off unlikely winners over Ogden

Idaho Falls right fielder Yeison Melo leaps high to make a catch just in front of the wall during the third inning of Monday’s game against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls right fielder Yeison Melo leaps high to make a catch just in front of the wall during the third inning of Monday’s game against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

A game that deserved a wild ending got just that when Meibrys Viloria crushed a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to hand the Idaho Falls Chukars a 16-12 victory over the Ogden Raptors in front of a season-best crowd of 3,678 fans Monday night at Melaleuca Field.

Viloria’s 458-foot blast high over the wall in right field sent the fans scurrying to catch the fireworks show 10 minutes before the scheduled 10 p.m. start time, and sent the Chukars to an unlikely win.

Overcoming the odds

Idaho Falls did everything it could to hand the game to Ogden, falling behind 7-0 in the second inning, committing seven errors and walking 12 Raptors hitters. Fittingly, the Chukars were a strike away from a win in the top of the ninth when a close pitch went against Idaho Falls lefty Reinaldo Cepin. DJ Peters made the Chukars pay, sending the next pitch into left field to score the tying run.

Viloria
Viloria

But Brian Bayliss got the final out of the ninth and then worked a scoreless 10th before Idaho Falls loaded the bases on single, a sac bunt, an intentional walk and another walk. Yeison Melo had the first chance to end it, but he struck out after getting ahead in the count. That left it up to Viloria, the Chukars’ leading hitter this summer. Viloria worked the count into his favor before launching a no-doubter to right for this team-high third home run and setting off a celebration at home plate.

As they have done for much of the season, the Chukars were able to overcome bad defense (they lead the Pioneer League in errors) and inconsistent pitching with dominating offense. One day after collecting 18 hits, Idaho Falls finished with 19 in Monday’s win. Everyone in the lineup had at least one hit, four had two hits and Tanner Stanley (3 for 5, three runs, two RBIs), Colton Frabasilio (3 for 5, two runs, RBI) and Viloria (3 for 5, three runs, six RBIs) had three.

Overlooked

Lanky left-hander Cole Way didn’t have his best stuff, but his three innings of shutout relief allowed the Chukars to rally from the early 7-0 deficit. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound punter-turned-pitcher from Tulsa, Okla., allowed just one hit and walked three while striking out four. His ERA dropped to 2.08.

Player of the game

Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria

The sweet-swinging lefty has been a nightmare for pitchers this summer. He entered Monday second in the league with .467 average, going 21 of 45 with nine doubles, a triple and two home runs. He increased his average to .480 on Monday, adding his 10th double and third home run while pushing his RBI total to 19 (tied for the team lead).

Up next

The Chukars wrap up their six-game homestand with a game against the Ogden Raptors tonight. First pitch is set for 7:15 p.m. Idaho Falls then hits the road for three games at Ogden and three more at Orem before taking a day off July 12.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 18, ROCKIES 7: Idaho Falls blasted five homers on a breezy Sunday afternoon and cruised to a win over the Rockies, giving the Chukars three wins in the four-game series.

Luke Willis, Leland Clemmons, Ryan Dale, David Edwards and Manny Olloque went deep for the Chukars, who finished with 18 hits. Olloque led the hit parade, going 3 for 5 with two runs scored and five RBIs. Willis was 3 for 5 with four runs and two RBIs, Ricky Aracena was 3 for 6 with two runs and two RBIs and Angelo Castellano went 2 for 4 with a double, a run and two RBIs.

Arnaldo Hernandez earned the win, allowing two runs (one earned) on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in 5.2 innings.

Chukars notebook: Controversy surrounds minor-league wages

chukars-extra-125x125

A 300 percent pay raise how’s that for an incentive?

Three-hundred percent is the approximate raise a Triple-A baseball player would receive if he was called up to the MLB team’s 40-man roster, according to sports law attorney Jeff Blank. The wage gap is larger for players in the minor leagues’ lower levels; large enough to inspire a lawsuit.

Salaries for first-year players on the 40-man roster equalled $41,400 in 2015, according to Blank. First-year AAA players, meanwhile, made $2,150 a month. That rose to $2,400 for their second year and $2,700 for their third year.

First-year Double-A salaries are $1,700 a month with an additional $100 per month for subsequent seasons. Advanced Single-A salaries are $1,500 a month and low A’s are $1,300.

The seasons from Low A to AAA span seven months. Short-season teams like the Idaho Falls Chukars play from June to September, and their players make $1,150 per month.

All minor-leaguers get $25 in meal money per road day.

The federal poverty level for individuals is $11,880 in yearly income, which is higher than every minor-league salary below AAA.

The minor-league salaries listed above do not account for post-draft signing bonuses, and players often negotiate for higher salaries after their initial seven-year contract is up.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed against the MLB on behalf of 20 former minor-leaguers. The lawsuit, as Baseball America reported, “claims that major league teams have suppressed minor league player salaries in violation of federal and state labor laws, and calls for minor leaguers to be paid a salary that meets minimum wage requirements.” A judge ruled that the suit could be expanded to a class action, as Baseball America reported last year.

Congress recently proposed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that would prevent guaranteed minimum wage and overtime pay for minor-leaguers. The MLB released a statement in response to the legislation, which compared minor-leaguers to artists or musicians.

“For the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career,” the statement read.

The MLB also argued that minor league clubs could not afford increased player costs. If the 2014 lawsuit succeeds, the MLB would likely share a chunk of its multi-billion dollar revenue with the minors. Retraction is another reality the MiLB would face.

For now, players have to reach Triple-A or the major leagues if they want to earn a living playing baseball.

Dozier makes Futures Game roster

This week, former Chukar Hunter Dozier was named to the 2016 MLB Futures Game roster.

Dozier, a shortstop for Triple-A Omaha, is one of two Kansas City Royals prospects on the Futures roster. The other is outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who also plays for Omaha.

The Futures Game features 25 of the world’s best prospects against 25 of the U.S.’ best. It will be played at 5 p.m. July 10.

Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft. He spent 54 games with the Chukars in 2013, hitting .303 with .912 OPS and seven home runs.

Roster moves

Here are all of the roster moves the Chukars have made since the beginning of the season:

June 17: Outfielder Nick Heath and catcher MJ Sanchez join I.F. Heath was a 16th-round pick in last month’s MLB draft, and Sanchez was selected in the 35th round.

June 22: Chukars first baseman Brandon Dulin is promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he had played until suffering an injury on April 12.

June 25: I.F. adds right-handed pitcher Jace Vines, who was selected in the fourth round of June’s draft. He is the highest 2016 pick on the Chukars roster as of July 2.

June 26: Right-handed pitchers Reid Redman (on a rehab assignment) and Sam Lewis are promoted to Lexington.

June 30: Left-handed pitcher Sam Selman moves up from the Arizona League to Idaho Falls, continuing his rehab assignment. Selman was named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, when he played for the Chukars. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60.1 innings (12 starts) that season.

July 1: Kansas City moves outfielder Jose Sanchez from I.F. to its other Rookie ball team, the Burlington Royals. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons moves up from the Arizona League to the Chukars.

Who’s hot?

C Meibrys Viloria

Viloria has cooled down a bit, but his batting average is still a blistering .467 (as of press time), good for second in the Pioneer League. Going into Saturday, Viloria led the league in slugging percentage (.805) and doubles (nine).

Who’s not?

RHP Arnaldo Hernandez

In Tuesday’s start against Orem, Hernandez gave up eight earned runs on nine hits in three innings pitched. That performance raised his season ERA to 9.24 and his opponents’ batting average to .393. Hernandez does, however, have eight strikeouts against two walks in his three starts.

Chukars earn second straight walk-off win over Rockies

Chukars shortstop Angelo Castellano tags out Cole Anderson, of the Grand Junction Rockies, on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Chukars shortstop Angelo Castellano tags out Cole Anderson, of the Grand Junction Rockies, on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars walked off winners against the Grand Junction Rockies for the second straight night.

Friday’s walk-off wasn’t quite as odd as Thursday’s (more on that later), but it was almost as rare. Nick Heath hit a two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Chukars a 5-4 win at Melaleuca Field.

“It’s a great feeling,” Heath said.

Heath’s walk-off

The center fielder Heath came to the plate with one out and runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth. Grand Junction led 4-3. Heath fell into a 1-2 hole, but he turned on the next pitch and lined it down the left-field line.

The outcome of the play came down to a footrace, which the Chukars won easily. The ball rolled so far into the corner that Manny Olloque, who started the play at first base, scored standing up.

“I kinda knew I was gonna get an offspeed down-and-in, some type of pitch inside,” Heath said. “That’s what I was geared up for, and I was able to put a barrel on it.

Right-handed pitcher Jace Vines is the highest 2016 MLB draft selection on the Chukars roster, and the fourth-rounder made his first start for I.F. on Friday. But he was completely overshadowed by the 18-year-old who started for Grand Junction.

That 18-year-old was Riley Pint, a right-hander who was selected No. 4 overall in last month’s MLB draft.

Pint retired the final six batters he faced after a leadoff infield single by Luke Willis. He struck out two and walked none, mixing a mid-90s fastball with a big breaking curveball. He was relieved after two innings due to a pitch limit.

“I had to get all the nerves out of the way before I started pitching, but it was great,” Pint said. “I was finally glad to get on the mound.”

Thursday’s game under protest

The Chukars walked off in strange fashion Wednesday, and the Rockies were not happy with a crucial non-call.

With runners on first and second, Willis hit a ground ball to second baseman Jonathan Piron, who turned and threw to shortstop Jose Gomez. Gomez dropped the ball and got hit in the knee by a sliding Meibrys Viloria. Gomez writhed in pain as the ball rolled away, allowing Colton Frabasilio to score and give I.F. a 7-6 win in 10 innings.

Angelo Castellano, of the Idaho Falls Chukars, breaks his bat during a line drive in the second inning against the Grand Junction Rockies on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Angelo Castellano, of the Idaho Falls Chukars, breaks his bat during a line drive in the second inning against the Grand Junction Rockies on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

The Rockies are protesting the game, arguing that Viloria’s slide was outside of the basepaths. But manager Frank Gonzales doesn’t expect the result to change, he said Friday. The umpires told Gonzales that the non-call on Viloria’s slide was judgment call, which cannot be overturned by a protest.

Roster moves

The Chukars lost one outfielder and gained another on Friday. Jose Sanchez was moved to Burlington (the Kansas City Royals’ other Rookie-level team), and Leland Clemmons moved up to I.F. from the Arizona League.

Sanchez hit .438 with a .938 OPS in 16 at-bats for the Chukars this summer. Clemmons, who the Royals signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, hit .083 with a .646 OPS and one home run in 12 at-bats for the Royals last month. He has 11 home runs in his three-year career.

Player of the game

Chukars center fielder Nick Heath

Heath finished 2 for 4 including the walk-off triple.

The Chukars (8-6) will face another first-round pitcher on Saturday at Melaleuca Field. The Rockies (6-7) will start righty Mike Nikorak, the 27th overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft. I.F. will send lefty Matt Portland to the hill. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.