Kansas City Royals: The curious case of the Idaho Chukars

SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24: An overall view as Kevin McCarthy
SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24: An overall view as Kevin McCarthy /

Should the Kansas City Royals promote the Burlington Royals above the Idaho Falls Chukars?

I pay attention to the Kansas City Royals minor league system like many of you. At the beginning of the year, on the official affiliates page, I noticed the Burlington Royals are listed above the Idaho Falls Chukars on the list. Looking around, I found no mention of it.

It is probably nothing more than a tech error. However, it’s a move that sure makes sense to me. I’ve always wondered why the Idaho Falls Chukars are on top of short season A Ball. Its a strange place to evaluate players who’s next stop would be the Lexington Legends.

Idaho Falls is where the Chukars call home. It is located in southern Idaho due west of the Teton’s in Wyoming. It’s in a beautiful region of the country, with wide open spaces. It’s also high country, along with most of the rest of the Pioneer League. Elevations range from around 4000 – 5000 feet. The air is thin, causing changes in the dynamics of baseball. Think of the Colorado Rockies. It often leads to inflated hitting statistics and a nightmare for pitchers.

For the poor pitchers do who land there, escaping with an ERA under 4.00 is rare. Besides the problem of balls flying farther, it also limits the effects of breaking pitches. Kris Bubic, Jonathan Bowlan and Jon Heasley from last year’s draft started their Royals careers there. Bubic, the fourth pick, did the best with an ERA of 4.03 and a WHIP of 1.50. Bowlan, the 5th, ended with an ERA of 6.94 and a WHIP of 1.71, and Heasley ended with 5.15 and 1.40.

Idaho is a much better place for hitters, numbers seem video game-like. Of the 24 position players on the roster at Idaho Falls, 14 had BA’s over .300. Combine that with 22 players who had OBP’s over .330 and you begin to see the problem.

In 2015 Amalani Fukofuka had a great year and was honored with an organization MVP award playing for the Idaho Falls Chukars. He hit a robust .339/.401/.500. He followed that up in 2016 hitting .200/.262/.272 at Lexington. In 2017 he again floundered with .208/.280/.274 before being returned to the Idaho Falls Chukars to hit .295/.360/.442. He was released at the end of the year.

Chase Vallot had a similar experience last year. Hitting .108/.281/.277 with the Lexington Legends, he was then demoted to the Chukars and hit .262/.383/.510.

The purpose of Minor League systems is to provide a place for players learn and grow their skills. As a player masters each level, they are moved up to the next. However, the Chukars seem out of place in the system.

It seemed to me the Royals used it differently than their other farm teams. It looked like they sent hitters there to gain confidence and mostly marginal pitchers to tread water or wash out of the system all together.

For Bubic and Bowlan, it was a place to throw some innings because Lexington was full. I expect they will start this year in Lexington so they can pitch a full season of organized ball.  For the best young players on the move, it was not unusual for them to jump from Burlington directly to Lexington. Those they were not as sure about seemed to always end up on the Chukars.

There are exceptions like Bubic and Bowlan, however, how can you evaluate talent when the numbers they put up don’t look anything like what they did before or after?

The statistics from Burlington should be much more reliable to evaluate. The transition between Burlington and Lexington is less drastic, and therefore easier on the players as well. The numbers much more realistic and helpful in predicting future success or failure.

dark. Next. Kyle Isbel focused on success

I hope the Kansas City Royals make this organizational change for real. I believe it will lead to more predictable results and is a better way of promoting talent.