Tag: Omaha Storm Chasers

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Ricky Aracena

Aracena
Aracena

Perhaps no player represents the Idaho Falls Chukars’ poor second half more than Ricky Aracena.

Through Sunday, the shortstop had hit .183 since the first half ended. His on-base percentage dropped from .320 to .286, and his slugging percentage fell from .379 to .305.

Aracena’s biggest area of struggle this season has been defense, where he committed 38 errors going into Monday’s game.Missoula shortstop Jasrado Chisholm is second in the Pioneer League with 24 errors.

But errors only tell half the story. Aracena has a cannon of a right arm that’s rarely inaccurate (MLB.com ranked his arm a 65 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale). He’s also shown good range thanks to his above average speed. His biggest issue is corralling routine ground balls.

Aracena signed with the Kansas City Royals for $850,000 as a 16-year-old in 2014. He was MLB.com’s No. 24 international prospect at the time, and he’s the 29th-ranked prospect in Kansas City’s system in the website’s most recent list.

“Aracena has the quickness and range to play shortstop, and his very strong arm allows him to make all of the necessary throws,” MLB.com’s scouting report says. “He exhibits good instincts in all facets of the game and earns praise for his makeup as well.”

Aracena recently talked with the Post Register about his defense, signing with the Royals and his favorite MLB player. Chukars bench coach Ramon Castro translated.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve noticed good arm strength and accuracy from you this season. Is that something you would say, too?

“I haven’t been good with defense, but I try every time to throw perfect to the base. I think it’s becoming better.”

What has been the main reason for the errors this season?

“The errors I make are because I’m not ready, not focused. It’s a mentality.”

Do you think you’ll be able to fix your error troubles going forward?

I’ve been more focused, I’ve been more relaxed from making nice plays. I’m continuing to work.”

Do you feel like you’ve improved as a defender this season?

“I try to work hard all the time, whether I make an error or not. There are a lot of things I can do better.”

How did you get noticed by MLB scouts as a teenager?

“I was training in the Dominican Republic. Some friend told a scout with the Kansas City Royals, ‘I’ve got this guy here, so come down here and watch him.’ I was good when I signed. I was running good, threw good to the base and hit good. That’s why the Kansas City Royals signed me.”

How did you react when you signed?

“I was excited to sign with the Kansas City Royals. I was very happy coming to the states. I’m working hard and trying to go to the big leagues.”

Did earning that much money surprise you?

“I was looking for more money. Another team wanted to give me less money. I wanted to stay in Kansas City because I knew the Royals give a lot of opportunities.”

Who is your favorite MLB player or players?

“Jose Reyes.”

Why him?

“He plays hard every day. He plays hard, he plays exciting, he enjoys the game.”

DOZIER MOVES UP

Former Chukar Hunter Dozier was promoted from Triple-A Omaha to Kansas City on Friday. The Royals made room for Dozier on their 40-man roster by placing pitcher Luke Hochevar on the 60-day disabled list, according to the Kansas City Star.

Dozier hit .294/.357/.506 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 15 home runs in 433 plate appearances this summer with the Storm Chasers. Before Friday, the third baseman was considered the Royals’ top minor league prospect in the minor leagues, per MLB.com.

Dozier, 24, played for the 2013 Pioneer League champion Chukars. He hit .303/.403/.509 with seven homers that season.

2015 CHUKARS MOVE ON

The Post Register ran an interview last month with former Chukar Josh Banuelos, who was released by the Kansas City Royals in June. But he wasn’t the only 2015 I.F. player who was released since last summer. Here are the others (their 2015 stats with the Chukars are in parentheses):

LHP Tripp Davis (Pioneer League all-star; 2.81 ERA, 30 Ks, 11BB in 32 IP)

LHP Cruz Guevara (5.30 ERA, 37 Ks, 17 BBs in 37.1 IP)

OF Brawlun Gomez (.231/.279/.447, team-leading 11 HRs in 208 ABs)

C Pedro Gonzalez (.328/.403/.552 in 58 ABs)

LHP Nick Green (3.52 ERA, 15 Ks, 7 BBs in 15.1 IP)

LHP Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 Ks, 24 BBs in 47.1 IP)

RHP Carter Hope (6.07 ERA, 28 Ks, 12 BBs in 56.1 IP)

OF Riley King (1 for 3 in one game)

C Luis Lara (.320/.393/.320 in 25 ABs)

INF Logan Nottebrook* (.252/.341/.470 in 33 ABs)

C Kyle Pollock (.280/.348/.464 in 125 ABs)

RHP Alberto Rodriguez (3.38 ERA, 21 Ks, 13 BBs in 29.1 IP)

LHP Brandon Thomas (3.35 ERA, 34 Ks, 25 BBs in 45.2 IP)

LHP Ian Thompkins (4.44 ERA, 25 Ks, 20 BBs in 2.41 IP)

*Nottebrook retired

WHO’S HOT?

1B Joe Dudek

From Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, Dudek notched at least two hits in each of the four games. Through Sunday, Dudek had gone 17 for 35 (.486) with three home runs, five doubles and 11 walks in his last 11 games.

WHO’S NOT?

C MJ Sanchez

Sanchez has been saddled with the backup catcher role thanks to Meibrys Viloria, so his playing time has been sparse. When Sanchez has played, he’s struggled.

Through Sunday, the 22-year-old had played in nine games since the start of August. He went 2 for 28 (.071) with one walk in those contests. He’s hitting .214/.291/.229 on the season.

World Series trophy to visit Idaho Falls

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For the first time in at least five decades, the World Series trophy will visit Idaho Falls.

The Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets 4-1 in last season’s World Series. The Royals decided to send the Commissioner’s Trophy to all six of its minor league affiliates’ towns, including Idaho Falls. The trophy will be on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday and Saturday, when the Rookie-level Chukars host Helena and Missoula, respectively.

“Real happy that the Royals thought of us on this,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “It will be something else to get excited about for a season of baseball. And I anticipate a couple of really big crowds those two nights.”

Idaho Falls has fielded minor league teams since 1940, but the city’s MLB affiliates have rarely won World Series. The last team with I.F. as an affiliate to win a title was the New York Yankees in 1962 (the affiliate was named the Idaho Falls Yankees). I.F. was also a Yankees affiliate in 1949 (named the Idaho Falls Russets), when New York beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Those were the only two titles by I.F.’s major league clubs before last season.

Greene does not know if the World Series trophy traveled to Idaho Falls in 1949 or 1962, and there are few, if any, ways to know one way or the other. So this week might be the first time the trophy has ever graced I.F.

Fans who attend the games Friday or Saturday will be able to view the trophy in the Melaleuca Field concourse, and they will be allowed take pictures with it.

I.F. is the second-to-last stop for the trophy this summer. It traveled to Omaha (Triple-A), Northwest Arkansas (Double-A), Lexington (Single-A) and Wilmington (High A) in early June. Its last stop is Burlington (Kansas City’s other Rookie affiliate), where it will visit in mid-August.

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.

On the road again: Jeff Suppan adjusts to life as coach

 

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Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on June 14 at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Jeff Suppan has memorized one line of Spanish: “No hablo español pero entiendo todo.”

Translation: “I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand everything.”

It’s a joke Suppan tells the Spanish-speaking pitchers on the Idaho Falls Chukars in attempt to hurdle the language barrier. And the Latino pitchers make up a fraction of the players Suppan is mentoring in his second year as I.F.’s pitching coach.

“You try to understand the individual, whether they speak the language or not,” Suppan told the Post Register.

Last season, Suppan made a translated cheat sheet of key points he wanted to tell his Latino pitchers. He also consults bench coach Ramon Castro or bilingual players if he needs a translator.

But the maze of translation still provides some frustration.

“If I say, ‘Hey, be aggressive,’ (a Latino pitcher) might think it means, ‘I have to throw 100 miles an hour,’” Suppan said. “To me, that doesn’t mean that. ‘Just hit the strike zone. Be aggressive in your pitch, whether it’s a changeup, slider, curveball or fastball.’”

These adjustments are relatively minor compared to Suppan’s first weeks in Idaho Falls last summer.

Suppan officially retired from Major League Baseball in 2014. His last pro season was 2012, when he split time between the San Diego Padres and their Triple-A affiliate. When the Padres released Suppan after the season, the right-handed pitcher ended his 17-year MLB career.

The year before his stint with San Diego, Suppan played for the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Kansas City Royals’ AAA affiliate. Suppan said people in the Royals’ organization gauged his interest in coaching. At the time, he couldn’t fathom coaching career.

“It took a year, maybe two years to get the player out of me,” Suppan said.

Suppan became more attracted by coaching the longer he was retired. He stayed in touch with the Royals and went to the team’s scout school. A year after officially retiring, he was hired as the Chukars’ pitching coach.

One of the hardest things for Suppan to get used to last summer was riding the bus to every road game. He flew in chartered jets his entire major league career, which began in 1995. From 1998 to 2011, Suppan’s only trips to the minor leagues were for one-start rehab assignments.

He only had to worry about one pitcher for the previous two decades, as well. As a pitching coach, Suppan had to focus on more than a dozen.

Suppan owned a Los Angeles restaurant fittingly named Soup’s Grill until this past December. His coaching responsibilities helped lead to the restaurant’s sale.

“My wife was stuck in California with two kids having to run to the restaurant because somebody didn’t show up,” Suppan said. “I didn’t really think that was fair, and the market was right, so we sold it.”

Chukars left-hander Matt Portland was disappointed when he found out he’d be returning to I.F. for a second straight season. No player wants to repeat a minor-league level. One bright spot, however, was the Chukars coaching staff, particularly Suppan.

Portland described Suppan as approachable and hip, a coach who deftly balances the mentor-peer relationship. Suppan will discuss more than just pitching, although he’s good at that, too.

“His favorite saying is, ‘You never know when a bag of (expletive) is going to fall on your head,’” Portland said. “You’ve gotta be even-keeled and be ready for the highs and the lows.”

Portland has a 9.18 ERA this season, but last week he threw a sequence of pitches that left Suppan proud.

The basis of the sequence is this: throw an inside slider followed by a sinker that begins where the slider ended. The goal is to create an invisible X in the hitter’s mind, keeping him off-balance.

After weeks of practice, Portland executed the sequence in a game.

Moments like these make the grind of I.F.’s season worth it for Suppan. Whenever he can get through to his pitchers, Hispanic or otherwise, he’s glad he pursued a coaching career.

“Hitters can hit forever in the cage, but we can’t really throw (forever),” Suppan said. “Getting that work down to where it’s short increments where we’re gaining a lot of knowledge from it, that’s where I get really excited.”

Chukars notebook: Controversy surrounds minor-league wages

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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 beat Rockies 7-6 on an odd walk-off play

Idaho Falls Chukars third baseman Angelo Castellano grabs an infield grounder during Thursday’s game against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars third baseman Angelo Castellano grabs an infield grounder during Thursday’s game against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

In one moment, the Idaho Falls Chukars’ rally looked over. A moment later, they were celebrating a walk-off win.

So goes baseball.

Idaho Falls ended a three-game losing streak with a 7-6 win in 10 innings Thursday over the Grand Junction Rockies. The play that gave I.F. the win baffled just about everyone in attendance at Melaleuca Field.

‘A weird walk-off’

Chukars first baseman Colton Frabasilio said the weirdest walk-off play he’s ever seen came between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2013 World Series, a game he attended. In the bottom of the ninth, St. Louis’ Allen Craig tripped over Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks following a wayward throw from Boston catcher Jared Saltalamacchia. Craig was out at the plate, but the umpires ruled that Middlebrooks obstructed Craig’s path home. That meant Craig scored, and the Cardinals went up 2-1 in the series.

Frabasilio played a key role in Thursday’s walk-off, which was almost as odd as the World Series play.

Frabasilio was on second base, Meibrys Viloria was on first and Luke Willis was at the plate with one out in the 10th. Willis hit a two-hopper to Rockies second baseman Jonathan Piron, who tried to start an inning-ending double play. But Jose Gomez could not hold onto Piron’s throw, and Viloria hit Gomez with his right leg as he slid into second base. Viloria’s slide sent Gomez to the ground in pain, and the ball trickled into the outfield. Frabasilio scored easily as a result.

“I just turned around, saw the ball rolling on the ground and that was it,” Frabasilio said. “It was a weird walk-off, for sure.”

Field umpire Forrest Ladd did not make any signal during the play. He and home plate umpire Carter Goodson agreed that Viloria’s slide was not illegal, so Gomez was charged with an error (the ninth of the game) and I.F. earned the win. Gomez walked off the field after spending a few minutes on the ground with a trainer tending to him.

The Chukars suffered two walk-off losses earlier this week. The first was a 6-5 loss at Grand Junction on Monday, when Piron hit a walk-off RBI single in the 10th. The second came on Tuesday at Ogden, a 12-11 loss in which the Raptors scored three times in the bottom of the ninth.

Roster move

Left-handed pitcher Sam Selman joined the Chukars late Thursday afternoon to continue his rehab assignment.

Selman made six relief appearances in Double-A Northwest Arkansas this April before hitting the 7-day disabled list in May. He pitched out of the bullpen three times since June 22 for the Arizona League Royals, where he began his rehab assignment.

The 25-year-old made his pro debut with I.F. in 2012. He appeared in 13 games (12 starts), posting a 2.09 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks. Selman advanced as high as Triple-A Omaha, where he made five relief appearances in 2014.

Player of the game

Chukars designated hitter Ryan Dale

The Aussie went 2 for 4 with his first home run of the season, a solo shot off Alejandro Requena in the fifth inning.

Up next

The Chukars (7-6) and Rockies (6-6) convene again at 7:15 p.m. Friday with a couple of high 2016 draft picks starting on the mound. Fourth-rounder Jace Vines will start for I.F. against fellow righty Riley Pint, the fourth overall pick in the June draft.

Jenkins promoted to AAA

The Kansas City Royals promoted Chukars catcher Ryan Jenkins to its Tripe-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers, on Wednesday.

Jenkins, a 17th-round draft pick in 2010, played just nine games with the Chukars this summer and hit .233. He joined Idaho Falls on July 28 on a rehab assignment after starting the year in Low-A Kane County, Ill.

He’s skipping several steps to make an appearance for Omaha, which has juggled several catchers lately looking to fill in for injuries and the promotion of catchers Salvador Perez (2008-09 Chukar) and Brayan Pena to the Major League club.