The Lexington Legends and Wilmington Blue Rocks have received a lot of attention from Royals minor league junkies lately and rightfully so. Both teams are on fire right now, and many of the Royals’ big-name prospects are somewhere in A-ball.
But I can’t take my eyes off another team in the low minors, a team with fewer big names but even more fire power than the boys in Lexington and Wilmington.
The Idaho Falls Chukars are doing some amazing things so far this summer. How amazing? Well, they’re averaging more than seven runs a game in the 40 games they’ve played (and somehow that’s only second in the Pioneer League). Offensively, this Chukars club is scorching the ball.
Recent draftee, and RFR darling, Kyle Isbel holds the top stop in the Pioneer League in wRC+ at 168 (he was promoted a couple weeks ago so he probably won’t be qualified soon). He’s the name most readers know, but even with his promotion, the Chukars lineup is brimming with guys knocking the cover off the ball. They have three hitters in the top six in wRC+ in the Pioneer League and four in the top-20.
Nate Eaton, another 2018 draftee out of Virginia Military Institute, is fourth in wRC+ at 164. He’s hitting .355/.450/.613/1.063 with 10 doubles, eight triples, and two home runs. He’s also stolen 10 bases. Reed Rohlman and Offerman Collado, two older prospects, are putting up great numbers, as well. Rohlman is hitting .348/.441/.558/.999. He’s 23 years old so he’s expected to mash the Pioneer League, but still, that’s impressive. Collado is slashing .342/.409/.450/.860 as a 22-year-old second baseman.
Kyle Kasser, Jose Caraballo, and Nick Hutchins all have/had (Hutchins got promoted due to injury) OPS numbers over .800. It’s actually harder to find someone on this team who isn’t hitting well, especially since Chase Vallot has found his swing again while rehabbing there.
I don’t know that these performances are anything to get too excited about. Many of these players are old for the Pioneer League and will struggle more as the competition gets tougher. But all they can do is compete against the players they’re facing, and it’s much better that they’re hitting well than not. Eaton, especially, looks like he might be a viable prospect if he can find a position to play defensively.
There’s a broader point to this, though, about the importance of having a deep pool of hitters in the minors. Not every prospect is going to be a phenom. Some will develop slower, later, and in different ways than top guys like Khalil Lee. In some ways, prospect development is a numbers game. If the Royals have a bunch of guys hitting in Idaho Falls, it’s more likely one or two of them will become viable prospects.
But even if none of these players amount to much, it’s fun to follow them now, to watch them pound out 10, 12, or 15 runs in games, and to imagine what they might be moving forward.
Photo Credit: Chukars Extra