In the previous versions of this series we were close enough to the true internet age, and we had historical articles to look at and for the most part, game logs from those seasons to tell a tale of how a players season went throughout the year. But when it comes to Minor League Baseball, Baseball-Reference only has game logs going back to the 2008 season. That means that moving forward we don’t get that information and the articles are just going to focus more on the overall season. With all of that said, the 1990’s in the Cincinnati Reds farm system didn’t have a season that matched anything like the next decade did when Adam Dunn went absolutely crazy in 2001. But there were a handful of strong seasons put up in the 90’s, but I’ve decided the best was Jason LaRue‘s 1998 campaign.
In 1997 a 23-year-old LaRue had a very impressive season while playing for Charleston in the South Atlantic League. He hit .315/.377/.484 that year with 14 stolen bases, 50 (yes, FIFTY) doubles, three triples, and he had eight home runs.
1998 was one of the years in which the Cincinnati Reds didn’t have an Advanced-A team, instead they had two Low-A teams with one in Charleston and the South Atlantic League, and the other in Burlington in the Midwest League. After beating up the circuit in the South Atlantic League the year before, the Reds sent the catching prospect to Double-A where he joined the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Building upon a big season in 1997, Jason LaRue kept on mashing doubles. While he didn’t quite match the 50 that he had the season before, he racked up 39 of them to go along with eight triples and 14 home runs in 105 games for the Lookouts that season. Later in the season he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis for 15 games where he would hit another four doubles. In the 120 games he played between the two teams he hit .350/.413/.581 with 43 doubles, eight triples, 14 home runs, 44 walks, 68 strikeouts, and he had 87 RBI.
But it wasn’t just the offensive output that helps make the case that the 1998 season for Jason LaRue was the best of the 1990’s decade from the Reds farm system. It was also his defense. As a catcher, he plays the most important position on the field. During the regular season he threw out 34% of the 153 attempted base stealers against him.
Stacking up with the contenders
As it was noted early on in the article, there were plenty of contending seasons, and you can make the argument for some of them to be chosen over that of the 1998 campaign of Jason LaRue and have a strong argument. Let’s take a look at some of the other standout seasons and how they all stack up.
If you look at the table you will notice that just two players on the list got 500 plate appearances. A lot of the seasons that really stood out were partial seasons. In some cases that was because guys were in rookie ball and only played partial seasons. But in one case it was because a player got called up to the Major Leagues during the year.
Back in 1998 Roberto Petagine just laid waste to the International League. He hit .331/.436/.617 for Indianapolis that year in 443 plate appearances, driving in 109 runs in 102 games played for the Reds Triple-A affiliate. Cincinnati would call him up on August 12th that season and he remained with the big league club the rest of the way, getting some limited action – mostly as a pinch hitter.
Prior to spring training in 1998 the Reds acquired Petagine from the New York Mets in a trade for Yuri Sanchez. Petagine, a Venezuelan native, used his only season in the Cincinnati organization to turn himself into a legend overseas. After killing the ball in Triple-A, and showing himself a capable big leaguer in limited action that August and September (.258/.405/.468), his contract was purchased from the Reds by the Yakult Swallows in Japan. He played in seven seasons in Japan where he hit .312/.438/.613 with 233 home runs. He would also spend two seasons in Korea in 2008 and 2009 where he hit .338/.462/.560 in 183 games.
Ben Broussard had one heck of a debut season in 1999 after being drafted in the 2nd round by Cincinnati out of McNeese State. Overall he hit .332/.437/.668 with an absurd 20 doubles, three triples, and 24 home runs in just 78 games. Based on that, he was initially my favorite for the season of the decade. But I looked closer and upon further inspection I decided against choosing his season. He played in 38 games with Billings that season and hit a hilarious .407/.527/.800. He moved up to Low-A Clinton and stayed there for a week, hitting .550/.609/1.150. In the 43 games between those two stops he had 15 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs. Perhaps getting a bit too aggressive, Cincinnati pushed him to Double-A Chattanooga. In 35 games there he hit just .213/.291/.441. The power still showed up, but everything else suffered. Great season overall, but the struggles in Double-A knocked him out of the running.
Back in 1994 Decomba Conner posted the best season by OPS+ that I saw. And it came with 30 stolen bases. It was one heck of a year. But it also took place in rookie ball in Princeton and only Conner only managed 185 plate appearances. That makes it tough to give it season of the decade, but it no doubt deserves mention.
Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:
|2010’s||Devin Mesoraco||Tony Cingrani||Donnie Joseph|
|2000’s||Adam Dunn||Travis Wood||Robert Manuel|
|1990’s||Jason LaRue||Curt Lyons||Victor Garcia|
|1980’s||Danny Tartabull||Mike Dowless||Clem Freeman|
|1970’s||Gary Redus||Keefe Cato|