As we get further back into these pieces, the less information we’re likely to have available about some of the players – especially if they never reached the Major Leagues. That’s not entirely the case today for the Cincinnati Reds Relief Season of the Decade on the Farm, which came from Victor Garcia back in 1990 for the Cedar Rapids Reds.

I don’t know when he signed with the organization, but he first appeared stateside in 1988 with the GCL Reds at age 18. Things went well for the young right-handed pitcher as he posted a 2.27 ERA in 13 starts that spanned 71.1 innings. The following season he moved up to Low-A and the South Atlantic League where he transitioned to the bullpen for Greensboro. Luck was on his side with regards to timing as he picked up 10 wins out of the bullpen, losing just one game, and posting a 2.75 ERA in 85.0 innings and striking out 108 batters.

The next season was the big one for the righty. The Reds kept the now 20-year-old Victor Garcia in Low-A, but sent him to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League where he would pitch for future Reds manager Dave Miley. Cincinnati didn’t have an Advanced-A affiliate in 1990, instead having two Low-A affiliates with one in the South Atlantic League and the other in the Midwest League.

Garcia made 49 appearances on the season with Cedar Rapids and went 8-3 out of the bullpen. He picked up 15 saves while throwing 71.0 innings. The Dominican Republic native posted a 1.52 ERA on the year, allowing just 36 hits and walking just 18 batters – five of which were intentional – all while striking out 106. His WHIP on the year was an incredible 0.76.

Where things get wild is that even in his own bullpen, Garcia didn’t have the best ERA. Mark Borcherding posted a 1.45 ERA in 74.2 innings that season. He made nine starts and another 12 relief appearances for Cedar Rapids that season.

Victor Garcia would lead the Midwest League among pitchers with at least 45.0 innings pitched in WHIP and hits allowed per 9-innings pitched, while finishing second in strikeouts per 9-innings pitched and 4th in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Stacking up with the contenders

When looking at the best season of the decade, it’s more than just the pure numbers that are involved. How old a player was and the level at which they performed comes into play, as do the league adjusted stats such as ERA+.

There were some very good relief seasons during the 1990’s by Cincinnati Reds prospects. Including on by a future Hall of Famer who got away in Trevor Hoffman. Let’s take a look at the players I had in contention for the season of the decade among relievers.

When we look at ERA+ among the players in full-season leagues it’s Scott Wright that’s leading the way at 257. He was a bit older, though, at 25-years-old and he split his season between Low-A and Double-A. He dominated in the Midwest League, posting a 0.28 ERA (1 earned run in 32.0 innings), and was still pretty good for Chattanooga in Double-A in the second half with a 2.68 ERA in 43.2 innings. Strangely enough, that 1998 season was the last time he pitched in affiliated baseball. A 1.67 ERA somehow led to his inability to get a job the next spring and he found himself pitching for the independent league St. Paul Saints in both 1999 and 2000 before apparently retiring.

Glen Cullop posted a 1.52 ERA in 1993, matching the mark by Victor Garcia, but bested him in the ERA+ department. As a 21-year-old in Advanced-A ball, he had age working in his favor, but his peripherals simply couldn’t come close to matching up to the ones that Garcia posted which gave him the edge in my book.

The 1993 season for Louis Maberry was a real contender. The then 22-year-old pitched for Low-A Charleston and posted a 1.62 ERA (231 ERA+) and threw 94.2 innings out of the bullpen. That came with just 55 hits allowed, 28 walks, and 103 strikeouts. It was tough to weigh the age difference against a good chunk of more innings and a decent gap in peripherals between the two guys. Ultimately I leaned on the peripherals, lower WHIP, and age difference for Garcia – but wouldn’t be upset if your mileage varied and you leaned to the 23.2 extra innings for Maberry to give him the nod.

Near the bottom of the list is the 1995 season of Brendan Donnelly. He was very good across three levels that year at age 23. It would be a long journey for him to reach the Major Leagues, though. In fact, he wouldn’t reach the Majors until 2002 when he burst onto the scene as a 30-year-old in Anaheim. That year he posted a 2.17 ERA in 49.2 innings pitched. The next year he made the American League All-Star team and posted a 1.58 ERA. In total he pitched nine seasons in the Major Leagues – all after he turned 30. He finished his career with a 3.22 ERA in 386 big league games.

Let’s get back to Victor Garcia, though. As mentioned at the start of the article, he was very good before his 1990 season. And then he was absolutely brilliant in that year. It didn’t stop there, though. In 1991 he moved up to Double-A Chattanooga and posted a 1.98 ERA there with 51 strikeouts in 50.0 innings before moving up again later in the year to Triple-A Nashville. His ERA there was 2.63, but something changed as he walked 14 batters with just 12 strikeouts in 24.0 innings.

In 1992 the Reds invited Victor Garcia to big league spring training. He didn’t spend much time there, though. He left Plant City, where the Reds held spring training at the time on March 5th – telling the team that he “needed to solve an immigration problem” according to a report by The Associated Press. He didn’t return that year to pitch anywhere in the organization, missing all of the 1992 season. In 1993 he did return, splitting time between Advanced-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Chattanooga – but he wasn’t nearly the same dominant pitcher that he had been every other season of his career. He posted a 4.26 ERA between the two stops that season in 63.1 innings. It was the last season he pitched professionally.

Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:

Decade Hitter Starter Reliever
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

5 Responses

  1. Oldtimer

    Only two played MLB if I read the names correctly. Sullivan with Reds in 1990s.

    Trevor Hoffman was a star reliever in MLB starting with Padres. I think Reds lost him in free agency compensation draft but not sure.

    • Oldtimer

      Nope. Marlins took him in 1992 expansion draft:

      November 17, 1992: Drafted by the Florida Marlins from the Cincinnati Reds as the 8th pick in the 1992 expansion draft.

  2. T-bone

    Good lord I feel old, this guy was teammates with a guy I played baseball with in High School. He was also roommates with Trevor Hoffman one year. Nice story for a guy that never made it past Double A. He became a scab during the strike for the Astros.

    • Doug Gray

      During 2020 we all feel old. We are three decades into the year and it’s May 2nd.

      • Oldtimer

        I felt old (born 1951) on New Years day 2020. I feel much older now.