Tag: Pioneer League

Chukars notebook: Midway through season, Chukars still seeking consistency

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @Lukeoroark
Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.
Saturday is the start of a new season in the Pioneer League. Teams go back to 0-0 for the second half of the year.
For the Chukars, specifically, Saturday means a clean slate.
Idaho Falls finished in last the Pioneer League south division at 17-21. And if it wants to make the Pioneer League playoffs, it will need to use its clean slate to find some consistency.

Idaho Falls’ Julio Gonzales makes the throw to first base after getting the force-out on Missoula’s Dominic Miroglio at second base during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. The double play ended the sixth inning.

“It feels good, as a team, to know that we get a clean slate,” catcher Darrell Miller Jr. said. “And we have an opportunity to make the playoffs in the second half.”
Even with a developmental mindset, as players attempt to perfect different components of their game, the Chukars’ play have fluctuated through the first 38 games.
On some nights, the hits have come in droves for the Chukars’ offense. Other nights, it’s been quiet.
The Chukars have plenty of hitters that have looked solid at the plate (Chris Hudgins, Matt Moralez, Amalani Fukofuka, Travis Jones, Robby Rinn and Miller Jr.) but it now needs more everyday players.
Only four players — Tyler Straub, Cristhian Vasquez, Fukofuka and Rinn — have played 30-plus games this year.
In general, the Chukars have only had 17 players come to the plate — a league-low.
Ogden, for context, had 25 players come to the plate during the first half of the season. The result: the Raptors are one of the best offenses in the league.
“I like the way the compete,” manager Justin Gemoll said. “We’re just striving for consistency, in all three facets of the game: pitching, hitting and defense. At this level, sometimes you have some of those, sometimes you don’t.”
Pitching has been hot-and-cold for Idaho Falls, too.
Midseason acquisitions like Holden Capps has tightened the Chukars’ command on the mound that lacked early in the year. But, the Chukars’ bullpen has statistically struggled.
They rank last in team ERA (6.86), hits allowed (474) and earned runs (256) allowed. The Chukars have allowed 10 or more runs in 13 games this season.
Defensively, the Chukars had 21-straight games with an error.
So, maybe, a clean slate is a good thing.
“Our goal as coaches is to get them better and move them through the system,” Gemoll said.

First half MVPs:

Robby Rinn — Arguably the Chukars best hitter. Rinn leads the team in hits, RBIs, total bases (with Fukofuka) and is third in batting average (.357).

Amalani Fukofuka — one of the Chukars’ most consistent players. Has played well in right field and at the three spot in the lineup. Leads the team in stolen bases (13).

Darrell Miller Jr. — Miller Jr. has shown plenty of power in 76 at-bats this season. He also garnered five hits in a game … twice.

Vance Vizcaino — Athletic and a utility-type of player during his tenure with the Chukars, Vizcaino has moved up the Kansas City Royals’ farming system. He now plays for single-A Lexington.

Chukars infielder Tyler Straub (18) gets ready to catch the ball while Brewers infielder Dallas Carroll (29) goes to slide to the base during a regular season game at Melaluca on Wednesday night.

Holden Capps — Selected to the Pioneer League All-Star team, Capps has been a good mid-season acquisition for the Chukars. In three starts, has a 4.05 ERA and a 1-1 record on the mound.

Janser Lara — Also an All-Star, Lara has gone 2-1 in four starts with the Chukars this season.

Michael Silva — A solid reliever for Idaho Falls. Has a 3.44 ERA in nine games and 18.1 innings pitched.

Team Transactions (as of July 23-29):

– The Chukars received right-handed pitcher Dillon Drabble from the Arizona League on July 25.

First half standings:

North division

Billings Mustangs (CIN): 18-18 (.500)

Missoula Osprey (ARI): 18-19 (.486)

Helena Brewers (MIL): 15-22 (.405)

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS): 14-23 (.378)

South division

Orem Owlz (LAA): 26-11 (.703)

Ogden Raptors (LAD): 23-15 (.605)

Grand Junction Rockies (COL): 18-20 (.474)

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC): 17-21 (.447)

Chukars notebook: Chukars may face problem with pitcher shortage

By Luke O’Roark | Loroark@postregister.com | @Lukeoroark
Editors note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.

The Idaho Falls bullpen was a bit rattled.
Chukars pitchers had just given up 18 hits to Grand Junction at home and surrendered five home runs in a 14-3 loss which saw fans leave after the seventh frame.

Andres Sotillet pitches against Grand Junction. The Chukars lost 14-3. (Photo by Taylor Carpenter)

After 10-straight games, the Chukars had used up almost all 13 pitches on their roster. And they still had 12 more games before their first day off on July 11.
One pitcher, Michael Silva, was seen practicing his fastball late the night before their 14-3 thrashing.
The shortage of pitchers on this year’s Chukars roster could be a concern — at least in the first half of the season.
“We don’t really worry about that stuff,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “That’s out of our control. We just work the guys that we got here.”
To add on to the shortage, all 13 pitchers are right handed.
And there’s not much they can do about it.
“I was shocked, too,” Silva said when he saw the Chukars didn’t have any southpaws. “It is what it is, honestly. We just have to make due with what we got and what we got is pretty good.”
Because of the MLB’s minor league system, the Chukars don’t decide the makeup of their roster. They simply have to work with the players given from the Kansas City Royals’ front office.
So, if a Chukars player is doing well, they might not be wearing the maroon and grey for too long.
And while the system has given Chukars a chance to move up (Jonathan McCray was recently moved up to Triple-A), it puts Idaho Falls in a bind. The Chukars have the fewest pitchers available on any given night. Orem and Grand Junction have the most in the Pioneer League with 22. Other teams range anywhere from 16 (Missoula) to 19 (Billings).
And this shortage has affected it statistically: Idaho Falls has the second-worst team ERA in the Pioneer League (7.36) but has pitched the third-most innings (99), as of Friday.
“We have faith and trust in all the right-handed pitchers we have,” Silva said. “Because it’s all we have.”
This isn’t anything new for Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, who’s in his third year in Idaho Falls.
Suppan said last year he had to work with the opposite — mostly left handed pitchers. The 17-year MLB veteran added that the purpose of the minors is trying to get pitchers to work on certain pitches, not worrying about aligning certain pitchers against certain batters like one might see at higher levels.
“It is a part of the minors” Suppan said. “I coach who’s here and try to get each guy better.”
Robby Rinn, one of the Chukars’ best hitters this season (he leads the league with 19 RBIs), said he’s noticed how Idaho Falls only has righties in the bullpen.
But he said it hasn’t affected his at-bats during practice or games.
“We’ve been facing a lot of righty’s, actually, except for Orem, but other than that we’ve been heavy righty the whole entire season so far,” Rinn said.
Jake Wakamatsu echoed a similar sentiment for the Chukars’ short bullpen. It’s just a component of the minors Idaho Falls will have to live with.
“That’s tough, too,” Wakamatsu said. “Hopefully we’ll get some guys coming up to help the bullpen.”

Recent Chukars Acquisitions (as of June 30)

• Emmanuel Estevez was recently acquired by the Royals-Arizona League affiliate. Estevez’s departure shrinks the Chukars’ bullpen to 12.

• Jonathan McCray was assigned to triple-A (Omaha Storm Chasers) on June 28 and then returned two days later. He has batted .361 in eight games with Idaho Falls.

• The Chukars acquired the Royals’ 16th round pick in this year’s draft: catcher Chris Hudgins.

Around the Pioneer League (as of June 30)

• Orem and Billings are tied for first in the Pioneer League. The Owls (7-4) have beaten the Chukars twice (10-6 on June 23; 9-3 on June 14) and lost to them once (9-7 on Thursday) this season. Great Falls, Ogden and Idaho Falls are all tied for second in league standings at (6-5).

• The Chukars are tied for second in the South Division behind the Owlz. Both teams feature some of the best offenses in the league (Owlz are batting .342; Chukars’ team batting average is a .309).

• In the North Division, Billings tops the standings at 7-4. The Mustangs have gone 6-4 in the previous 10 games.

• Ogden’s Cristian Santana has the league’s highest batting average (.537) in 41 at-bats this season. Chukars first baseman Robby Rinn, who’s from Rhode Island, leads the league with 17 RBIs.

• Billings has the two best pitchers in the league: Tyler Mondile and Moises Nova. Mondile has a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings pitched. Nova has a 0.96 ERA in 9 and ⅓ innings pitched.

Helena Brewers to relocate to Colorado Springs in 2019

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register
Changes are coming to the Pioneer League soon.
Helena Brewers owner, Elmore Sports Group, announced the team would be relocating to Colorado Springs for the 2019 season Wednesday morning in a press release.
The Brewers will still be a member of the Pioneer League — an eight-team league which includes the Idaho Falls Chukars — according to the press release. The relocation will also see Colorado Springs Sky Sox (triple-A) move to San Antonio and the San Antonio Missions (double-A) move to Amarillo, Texas. All three teams are owned by Elmore Sports Group.
The three teams’ relocations await approval by the Pioneer Baseball League, the Texas League, the Pacific Coast League, the President of Minor League Baseball and the review of Baseball Office of the Commissioner, according to the press release.
“My years in Helena have been some of my fondest in professional baseball,” Brewers owner DG Elmore said the press release. “From the day we moved the club to Helena in 2002, I have enjoyed the people and community and I am sad to move the team at the end of the 2018 season. I am glad there will be two more seasons in Helena and I will cherish them.”
Changes could be looming for the Chukars, too.
With two Colorado teams in the Pioneer’s south division, the Chukars could switch to the north division (which includes Missoula Osprey, Billings Mustangs and Great Falls Voyagers) by 2019.
Idaho Falls is also owned by the Elmore Sports Group and Brewers’ general manager Paul Fetz was a part of the Idaho Falls (then the Padres) organization in 1999.
Idaho Falls has been an affiliate for Kansas City since 2004. The organization has been Idaho Falls-based since 1977.

Chukars’ all-stars took giant leaps this season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chukars Notebook: A heartbreaking end to a strong first half

Bayliss
Bayliss

In the ninth inning of the final game of the first half, the Idaho Falls Chukars didn’t know what their audience did: the Orem Owlz had lost.

Orem’s loss to Billings gave the Chukars an opening. If they came back to beat Missoula, they’d be the Pioneer League South Division first half champions.

As Orem’s game was concluding, the Chukars staged a comeback. A 4-1 deficit turned into a 4-4 tie, and it was feet away from a 5-4 lead. Angelo Castellano hit a double high off the wall to tie it up.

I.F.’s joy soon turned into anguish. Jacy Cave hit a walkoff home run off Brian Bayliss to put a disappointing end to an otherwise successful first half for the Chukars.

“It was a tough loss, especially when the game’s over and you find out that Orem lost,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “Still, (we) accomplished a lot. I think a lot of our losses were by one or two runs. A lot of close games. With those close games, it just makes you focus on doing the little things right because a bunch of little things add up to a win.”

In some ways, Bayliss symbolized I.F.’s strong first half and its dispiriting end. Bayliss is a Pioneer League All-Star. The right-hander finished the first half with a 2.87 ERA, 13 strikeouts and three unintentional walks. Cave’s home run was one negative moment in a half full of positive ones.

“It’s baseball. It happens,” Bayliss said. “You’ve got another half season, and you just have to move on.”

The Chukars haven’t won a first half title since 2007, and they went a league-worst 13-25 in the first half of 2015. Bayliss was on last year’s team, and the playoff race this week didn’t feel new to him. It felt like the second half of last year, when the Chukars won the South Division.

The biggest goal for Gemoll and company, of course, is to develop their players. The coaching staff wants all 29 players to improve, wins and losses be damned to some extent.

Not every aspect of development is mechanical. Close games and tight playoff races can also prepare the players for the next level, even if Pioneer League contests feel light years away from the World Series.

“To get to that next level, you’ve gotta be a little bit sharper up top,” Gemoll said. “That’s what the good big league players do.”

One positive from finishing second in the first half title chase: the second half has stakes. The Chukars have another playoff race to look forward to.

LUNA’S STATUS

Chukars starting pitcher Alex Luna strained his left oblique Tuesday at Missoula. The injury will force Luna to miss Tuesday’s All-Star game, but neither he nor Justin Gemoll expect him to miss much time. Luna isn’t exactly sure when he’ll be back, but he hopes to throw again by Tuesday.

Luna leads I.F. with 42 strikeouts, and he’s issued seven walks in 40 innings pitched. The right-hander also leads all Pioneer League starters with a 2.48 ERA.

MONDESI CALLED UP

Kansas City called up former Chukar Raul Mondesi on Tuesday. The 21-year-old has started at second base the previous five games for the Royals and has gone 6 for 17 (.353) at the plate. He recorded his first MLB hit Wednesday, a bunt single against the Los Angeles Angels.

Mondesi, widely considered the Royals’ top prospect, was added to Kansas City’s 2015 World Series roster and made one plate appearance in Game 3. He started this season in Double-A Northwest Arkansas but was suspended 50 games in May after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing drug. He returned to Advanced Single-A Wilmington on June 25, moved up to Northwest Arkansas on July 4 and ascended to Triple-A Omaha on July 9.

Mondesi played for the Chukars in 2012 at the age of 16. He hit .290 with a .733 OPS in 232 plate appearances.

FORMER CHUKARS LITTER TOP 30 LIST

MLB.com released its updated overall and team prospect lists this week. The Royals’ new top 30 looks similar to their preseason list, but several players have moved around.

Below are the former and current Chukars who made the Royals’ list:

1. SS/2B Raul Mondesi (preseason: No. 1) Was a Chukar in 2012; No. 54 on MLB.com’s top 100 list

2. 3B/OF Hunter Dozier (preseason: No. 15) Chukar in 2013

4. LHP Matt Strahm (preseason: No. 10) Chukar in 2012, 2014

6. RHP Kyle Zimmer (preseason: No. 2) Chukar in 2014

8. 1B/OF Ryan O’Hearn (preseason: No. 13) Chukar in 2014

9. RHP Alec Mills (preseason: No. 15) Chukar in 2012, 2014

10. RHP Jake Junis (preseason: unranked) Chukar in 2013

11. RHP Josh Staumont (preseason: 18) Chukar in 2015

14. SS Marten Gasparini (preseason: 8) Chukar in 2014, 2015

23. RHP Brooks Pounders (preseason: 29) Chukar in 2014, 2015

24. LHP Eric Skoglund (preseason: 28) Chukar in 2014

29. SS Ricky Aracena (preseason: 26) Current Chukar

30. 2B/SS Corey Toups (preseason: unranked) Chukar in 2014

Former Chukars who dropped out of the top 30: OF Amalani Fukofuka (preseason: 20; Chukar in 2015), OF Brandon Downs (preseason: 24; Chukar in 2014)

WHO’S HOT (FIRST HALF)?

C Meibrys Viloria

Alex Luna, Manny Olloque, Yeison Melo and others had excellent halves, but Viloria is the indisputable choice for this award. In the first 38 games, Viloria led the Pioneer League in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.793), hits (53), RBIs (36), doubles (15) and total bases (92).

WHO’S NOT (FIRST HALF)?

LHP Nick Andros

Andros finished the first half with a 10.80 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched. He allowed 27 hits, seven walks (11 strikeouts) and a team-high six home runs.

Local umpires step up at Chukars games

Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Teagan Smith knows Melaleuca Field well, but the ballpark looked foreign to him last Thursday.

Smith umpired an Idaho Falls Chukars game for the first time in his 10-year umpiring career.

His experience at Melaleuca Field is exclusive to high school games, which might feature 100 fans on a good night. The attendance at last Thursday’s game between the Chukars and Helena Brewers was 3,177.

The mix of a large crowd and professional stakes led to a bundle of nerves for Smith, who was filling in for the injured Jacob Botek. But the butterflies fluttered away once the game got rolling.

“It’s just baseball,” Smith said.

Smith was one of three local umpires who picked up Botek’s slack during the Chukars’ most recent homestand. Idaho Falls general manager Kevin Greene is tasked with finding replacement umpires. Conflicting schedules and low pay sometimes make that job difficult.

On the rare occasions when Greene needs to find a replacement umpire, he turns to Brent Martin. Martin is the District 6 commissioner for umpires and rules interpreter, and he has filled in at Chukars games for years. Martin declined to umpire last week due to a bad knee, so he recommended Smith and Brad Hadley to Greene.

Hadley worked with Pioneer League umpire Conner Culhane on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. But neither Hadley nor Smith could work Friday’s game due to their previous commitments as umpires for American Legion baseball games. That left Greene in a bind.

“I called the (Pioneer) League president and said, ‘I’ve got no one,’ Greene said. “He said, ‘Kevin, you’ve gotta find someone.’”

Greene eventually got Chris Sundvold to fill in.

Players and coaches know the replacement umpires are not professionals, but the umpires didn’t poor treatment from the teams. And Smith, Hadley and Sundvold umpired relatively clean games. It’s just baseball, after all.

The only real issue is finding umpires, and scheduling is not the only conflicting factor.

The Pioneer League pays replacement umpires $75 per game, according to league president Jim McCurdy. Martin said umpires get paid about $75 for Legion games, and that number spikes to $120 for doubleheaders. Barring extra innings, Legion games last seven innings, and mercy rules can reduce game times even more. Every Pioneer League game goes at least nine innings, and umpires are required to show up an hour before first pitch.

“You should be getting $100, minimum, for a professional baseball game,” Martin said. “We don’t want to bleed them dry, but we think we should be compensated at least to the high school level or better.”

Umpires can make more than $75 for Pioneer League games, but the extra cash comes out of the team’s wallet, Greene said, and there’s only so much room in the budget. McCurdy said increased pay for replacement umps has not been discussed in recent league meetings.

Hadley doesn’t mind the meager pay. For one, the opportunities for local umpires to work Chukars games are so rare that the money they receive hardly affects their total income. Martin, for instance, hasn’t umped a Chukars game since 2014.

Hadley also considers it a privilege to work Chukars games.

“It’s fun to say that you’ve umped a (professional) game, even though it’s minor league,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the pay because it’s not that big of a deal.”

Chukars Notebook: Raul Mondesi highlights Royals’ prospect rankings

chukars-extra-125x125

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.

Northwest League gets 6-5, extra-inning victory over Pioneer League in all-star game

The inaugural Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game went back-and-forth, with the Northwest League prevailing 6-5 in 10 innings.

The three Idaho Falls Chukars’ all-stars — first baseman Josh Banuelos, center fielder Amalani Fukofuka and relief pitcher Tripp Davis — made late appearances, and they contributed for the Pioneer League in its first all-star game since 1964. The Northwest League held its own all-star game the previous three seasons.

Banuelos.
Banuelos.

The game was tied 5-5 heading into the bottom of the 10th inning. If it remained tied after the 10th, the Pioneer League would have been awarded the victory due to the home run derby win by Luke Lowery of the Pioneer League’s Missoula Osprey, according to multiple reporters at the game.

But Peter Van Gansen of the Tri-City Dust Devils hit a one-out RBI double in the 10th to give the Northwest League a walkoff win.

The Northwest League took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but the Pioneer League struck back with a one-out solo home run from Taylor Ward of the Orem Owlz in the top of the second.

In the top of the third, Grand Junction Rockies’ outfielder Daniel Suero hit a one-out double. He scored two batters later on a groundout to give the Pioneer League a 2-1 lead.

Davis.
Davis.

The Northwest League tied it up in the bottom of the fifth, but the Pioneer League took the lead back in the top of the sixth on a home run by David Denson of the Helena Brewers. Banuelos stepped to the plate immediately following the home run and drew a walk.

Davis pitched a scoreless sixth inning, but he didn’t make it easy.

After getting two deep flyouts to left field, Davis gave up a walk, a single and a walk to load the bases. But the left-handed side-armer got Clark to ground out to second to end the threat.

The Northwest League seized the lead back with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but the Pioneer League scored two in the top of the eighth to go ahead 5-4.

A wild pitch following a strikeout allowed the Northwest League to tie the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth.

Fukofuka.
Fukofuka.

Banuelos played first base from the sixth inning on, and Fukofuka played right field during the same span. Banuelos drew two walks heading into the ninth, and Fukofuka went 0-1 with a walk.

The Chukars (18-26, 5-1 second half) travel to Helena (18-24, 2-4) for a four-game series, beginning Thursday at 7:05 p.m.

All-Star notes: During the eighth inning, the Ogden Raptors’ Twitter account announced it will host the 2016 Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game. Before last night, Minor League Baseball had not approved more than one all-star game between the two leagues.

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

Despite claims, 2013 not Pioneer League’s 75th anniversary

The Pioneer League will celebrate its 75th anniversary this summer. But simple arithmetic shows this isn’t the league’s 75th anniversary.

The league began in 1939. It’s now 2013. Subtract 1939 from 2013 and that makes this summer the 74th anniversary of the league.

Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy claims the Pioneer League turns 75 at the end of the season, and baseball celebrates anniversaries during the season it will reach the milestone. But that’s rarely the case. Continue reading “Despite claims, 2013 not Pioneer League’s 75th anniversary”