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Some of the Minors Leagues' top young stars will be in the hunt for a championship when the South Atlantic League Playoffs begin Wednesday.
The West Virginia Power will take on the Lake County Captains in the Northern Division matchup, and the Augusta GreenJackets meet the Asheville Tourists in the Southern half of the bracket.
The Tourists, first-half Southern Division winners, boast third baseman Darin Holcomb, who was recently named the league's Most Valuable Player.
"He's been the most consistent hitter in the league this season," said Tourists manager Joe Mikulik. "He's only had two days off the whole season and he got a little tired in August, but he found a way to maintain consistency.
"He's got a great idea of the strike zone," Mikulik added. "He had 65 walks and 60 strikeouts this year. That's very impressive."
The 22-year-old Holcomb, selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 12th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, hit .318 with 14 homers and a league-leading 102 RBIs.
"The Rockies have put together a talented and unique bunch here," Mikulik said. "They play hard, they play to win and they've been consistent."
Meanwhile, Augusta features Madison Bumgarner, recently named the league's top pitcher.
The 19-year-old left-hander finished the regular season with a 15-3 mark. He led the league with a 1.46 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings. He also won seven straight decisions, including victories in his last six starts.
"Augusta's got a very good club," Mikulik said. "We will have to play smart and be consistent against them."
The West Virginia Power got a good deal of spark this season from Caleb Gindl. The 20-year-old right fielder posted a .307 batting average with 13 homers and 81 RBIs. His productive campaign earned him a spot on the 2008 SAL Postseason All-Star Team.
The Power also feature All-Star designated hitter Eric Fryer, who led the SAL in hitting with a .336 mark as he banged out 128 hits.
The Lake County Captains, first-half Northern Division champions, got solid seasons from 23-year-old right fielder Matthew Brown, who batted .308 with 139 hits, as well as starters Ryan Miller (8-7, 3.72 ERA) and Ryan Morris (9-7, 3.76 ERA).
West Virginia Power (77-62) vs. Lake County Captains (75-65)
Best-of-3 series begins Wednesday, Sept. 3
The Power are back in the playoffs for the second straight year after getting swept in last season's finals by the Columbus Catfish. The Captains, by virtue of winning the first-half Northern Division title, are participating in the postseason for the first time since 2003, when they lost in the finals. They are much improved since last year, when they finished 64-74.
Lake County had a 7-5 edge in the season series. The Power dropped all three games at home against the Captains, but wound up 5-4 on the road.
West Virginia's Fryer hit .302 (13-for-43) against Lake County with four homers and eight RBIs. Lee Haydel battered the Captains with a .349 average, going 15-for-43. Reliever Corey Frerichs was 2-0 in the series, allowing two hits and fanning 13 over 9 2/3 scoreless innings. Lake County's Brown hit .526, going 10-for-19 with a homer and 10 RBIs. Dustin Realini went 11-for-27 (.406).
Players to Watch
West Virginia: First baseman Steffan Wilson (19 HRs, 100 RBIs) and third baseman Zelous Wheeler (13 HRs, 87 RBIs) added some extra punch to the Power lineup, while second baseman Eric Farris batted a steady .293 with 133 hits. Starters Evan Anundson (12-8, 4.28 ERA) and R.J. Seidel (9-5, 4.51 ERA) contributed to a balanced staff.
Lake County: First baseman Richard Martinez batted .304 in 44 games and shortstop Ron Rivas posted a .291 average in 81 games. Second baseman Karexon Sanchez smacked 12 homers and drove in 60 runs. Pitcher Joseph Mahalic was 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA.
Asheville Tourists (83-56) vs. Augusta GreenJackets (88-50)
Best-of-3 series begins Wednesday, Sept. 3
The Tourists are making their first appearance in the playoffs since 2001, when they lost in the finals. It is their second postseason under Mikulik, who is in his ninth season as the Asheville skipper. The GreenJackets, in their first year under Andrew Skeels, are in their third straight postseason. They were eliminated in the first round in 2007 and were knocked out in the finals in 2006.
Asheville and Augusta finished the season with a 7-7 split in their 14 meetings. The Tourists swept Augusta on the road, 3-0, in their first series in late April, but the GreenJackets bounced back to take the other three series.
Asheville's Kevin Clark only had six hits during the series with Augusta, but two of them were homers. He also had seven RBIs, as did Holcomb, who batted .311 against the GreenJackets. Connor Graham was 2-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two starts against Augusta. Nick Noonan led the GreenJackets, hitting .378 (17-for-45) during the series, while Garrett Baker and Angel Villalona each collected 10 hits. Bumgarner won both of his starts against the Tourists without allowing a run in 14 innings. Oliver Odle was 1-0 in two starts with a 3.46 ERA.
Players to Watch
Asheville: The Tourists' power was spread among several players this season, including first baseman Jeffrey Cunningham (18 HRs, 78 RBIs), left fielder Clark (17 HRs, 76 RBIs) and right fielder Brian Rike (15 HRs, 72 RBIs). They also got a solid offensive contribution from center fielder Michael Mitchell, who batted .300 with 150 hits and 93 runs scored in 127 games. Meanwhile, Graham, a 22-year-old righty, posted a 12-6 record with a 2.26 ERA.
Augusta: First baseman Angel Villalona (17 HRs, 64 RBIs) and DH Thomas Neal (15 HRs, 81 RBIs) supplied punch to the GreenJackets' lineup. Pitching-wise, Bumgarner had a strong supporting cast of starters, including right-hander Odle (10-7, 3.77 ERA) and lefty Craig Clark (8-4, 3.51 ERA).
Alan Friedman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.