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2008 season recap -- Pioneer League

The Pioneer League is a rookie-level league with teams located in the Pacific Northwest. The Orioles don't have an affiliate in the league, so I'll just review the championship and select some of the top players.

The Billings Mustangs, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, were 23-15 and won the first-half championship in the North Division. The Great Falls Voyagers, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, finished 20-17 in the second half to earn the second berth in the playoffs from the division.

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The Orem Owlz, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, finished 25-13 in the first half to secure a berth in the playoffs from the South Division. Orem was 27-10 in the second half and ran away with the division title, so the Ogden Raptors earned the second spot. Ogden is an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Great Falls beat Billings in the first two games of their playoff series to capture the North Division title. Orem defeated Ogden in the deciding game of the best-of-three series to advance to the championship as the representative from the South Division.

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Championship

The Voyagers were able to get some revenge in the championship series against the Owlz, who defeated Great Falls for the 2007 title in the Pioneer League.

Starting pitcher Dan Hudson had 12 strikeouts in six innings during the third game to lead Great Falls over Orem, 8-5, for the 2008 championship. The Chicago White Sox selected the 21-year-old right-hander in the fifth round of this year's MLB draft. He was 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Mike Grace had two home runs and five RBIs in five games during the playoffs to lead the Voyagers and infielder Lee Fischer was 7-for-18 with four RBIs in four playoff games. Starting pitcher Kevin Skogley only allowed two earned runs in 15 innings during two playoff starts for Great Falls.

Top players

Roberto Lopez, Orem Owlz – Lopez excelled for the Angels' rookie-level affiliate in 2008. The 22-year-old utility player was named as the league's Most Valuable Player after being among the leaders in several offensive categories. Lopez hit .400 in 67 games to lead the Pioneer League. He also led the league in hits (108), runs scored (68), RBIs (72) and total bases (180), while finishing tied for first in doubles (28) and tied for second in home runs (14).

Luis Jimenez, Orem Owlz – The 20-year-old third baseman had a tremendous season, but Lopez often overshadowed him in the final offensive statistics. Jimenez led the league in home runs (15), shared the league lead with 28 doubles and finished tied for second in RBIs (65). He was also tied for third in the league in batting average (.331).

Brock Kjeldgaard, Helena Brewers – Kjeldgaard deserves recognition for the remarkable his remarkable transition this season. Perhaps Adam Loewen should get in contact with Kjeldgaard because the 22-year-old first baseman was 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA in 17 appearances (one start) for Helena as a pitcher in 2007. After two seasons as a pitcher with the Brewers, he became the team's regular first baseman in 2008 and hit .278 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs in 75 games.

Jayson Miller, Orem Owlz – Miller helped show that the Owlz were as good at pitching as they were at hitting. The 22-year-old left-hander, who was selected by the Angels in the 30th round of this year's draft, was chosen as the league's Pitcher of the Year after going 8-2 with a 2.33 ERA in 15 games (13 starts). He had 68 strikeouts in 81 innings.

Dexter Carter, Great Falls Voyagers – Hudson was the star of the championship series for Great Falls, but Carter played a big part in getting the Voyagers into the playoffs. Hudson led the league in strikeouts and Carter finished second with 89 in 68 2/3 innings. The 21-year-old right-hander, who was drafted by the White Sox in the 13th round of this year's draft, was 6-1 with a 2.23 ERA in 15 games (12 starts).

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