The Cincinnati Reds selected Mike Dowless in the 30th round out of Hoggard High School in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1979. The school was a hot-bed of talent in the 70’s, with seven played selected that attended the school, including a 2nd round pick of the Houston Astros in 1974. But since the 70’s ended only two players have been selected from the school – one in 1986 and another in 2010. The school has never produced a Major Leaguer.

In that 1979 debut, right-handed pitcher Mike Dowless was solid with the Billings Mustangs, making 12 appearances and throwing 62.0 innings with a 3.48 ERA. He would give up just four home runs, walk 22 batters, and he struck out 54 of this hitters that he faced on the season.

It was the next season that saw Mike Dowless really step forward. In his first full season as a professional, the Cincinnati Reds sent the righty to pitch in the Florida State League for the Tampa Tarpons. Times were certainly different then than they are today, as Dowless made 23 starts and three relief appearances, racking up 166.0 innings during the season as a 19-year-old – an unheard of number of innings for a teenager in today’s era. That was par for the course then, however.

During the season he would go 12-8 and he even picked up a save in one of his three relief appearances. Despite an unspectacular record, his numbers were dominant. He posted a 1.68 ERA that season, throwing eight complete games – three of which were shutouts – and allowed just 109 hits, two home runs, and he walked 50 batters with 130 strikeouts. That gave him a WHIP on the season of 0.96.

That season saw Mike Dowless lead the league in ERA at 1.68. The next closest pitcher with more than 105.0 innings was future big leaguer Gene Nelson, who posted a 1.97 ERA. Both guys were 19 at the time. Mike Sullivan, also a Reds prospect on Tampa, had a 1.76 ERA in 102.0 innings that season, but made just 16 starts on the year. Dowless also led the league in WHIP with a 0.96 mark, besting Chris Lein of Fort Lauderdale who was next on the list at 1.06.

Stacking up with the contenders

There were some pretty strong seasons by ERA in the 1980’s by Cincinnati Reds prospects. But some of them came with some really poor peripherals that led to them being disqualified from true contention in my book. A sub 2.00 ERA only goes so far with a WHIP of 1.50. With that said, there were still quite a few big seasons among the pitchers that I felt were at least worth taking a deeper look at for the award here. Let’s see how everyone stacked up:

Let’s start with Joe Lazor‘s 1986 in Billings. I almost picked that season as the winner. It was far and away the best year when it comes to ERA+. No one else was within the same galaxy. His ERA itself was lower than everyone, but it was also done in a very hitter friendly league. On the flip side he was 21-years-old and in rookie ball, and he only threw 61.2 innings. In today’s game, that would be about a full season of innings for a starter in Billings. But in 1986 that was only best for third most innings on his own team and ranked 22nd in the league that year. It was a great season, but tough to put ahead of a season by a younger pitcher who threw 105 more innings at a higher level and also dominated. It was close, though. And come on, his name is Joe freakin’ Lazor.

Ron Robinson‘s 1981 season in Cedar Rapids was up there, too. His ERA and ERA+ weren’t quite on par with that of Dowless, nor was his WHIP. But he picked up a whole lot of strikeouts – especially for the era. His 165 strikeouts were second best in the league that season, but trailed future big league Ed Nunez by a whopping 40 strikeouts. Robinson threw seven complete games that year and had three shutouts. He would go on to pitch in parts of nine seasons in the big leagues – mostly for the Reds. He went 48-39 in his career with a 3.63 ERA (107 ERA+), splitting time between the rotation and bullpen for the Reds and Brewers in his big league career.

Butch Henry‘s 1988 was interesting. His ERA+ is good, but it’s not truly great. That’s surprising given a 2.26 ERA, but the Midwest League played very pitcher friendly that year. He ate up a ton of innings, throwing 187.0 of them, and went 16-2 for the 87-53 Cedar Rapids Reds that season. That team had an ERA of 2.81 on the year and was one of three teams under 3.00 for the season. Henry would go on to pitch in the big leagues from 1992-1999, going 33-33 with a 3.83 ERA (110 ERA+). He made 91 starts and 148 total appearances in his career that saw him pitch for Houston, Colorado, Montreal, Boston, and Seattle. He was a part of the deal that brought Bill Doran to Cincinnati.

Getting back to Mike Dowless, he never repeated what he had done in 1980. He was back and forth between Double-A and Triple-A over the next few years. In 1984 he was sent back to Cedar Rapids and A-ball where he found some success as a 23-year-old with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts and 24 relief appearances. But he missed all of the 1985 season for an unknown reason. In 1986 he was back on the mound in the minors, splitting time between Greenville – the Double-A affiliate of Atlanta – and A-ball Kinston (they were unaffiliated with an MLB team – things were a bit different back then in how Minor League Baseball worked). That season he posted a 3.16 ERA in 134.0 innings, but it would be the last year in which 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
1960’s
1950’s

6 Responses

  1. Jim H.

    Whiffed on Keith Brown’s 1988 including his cup of coffee with the big club that season.

    • Doug Gray

      I didn’t, though. He had 48 walks and 77 strikeouts that season in 155 innings. I automatically remove anyone who doesn’t have at least a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He had a great ERA.

  2. Oldtimer

    Ron Robinson and Scott Scudder both played on 1990 Reds WS champions. Robinson was swapped mid-season for OF Glenn Braggs and INF Billy Bates.

    Robinson was a really good guy. Met him several times in ST during 1980s. He was especially nice to my (then) 5 YO nephew Doug in 1985 ST.

    I am really enjoying looking back at these Best Of Reds MiLB Decades article. Well done!

    • Oldtimer

      Robinson missed a prefect game in 1988 (I think that was the year) by one pitch. He retired 26 straight Expos and had 3-2 count on next batter (pinch hitter, forget his name) who lined a single to LF. Next up was Tim Raines who hit HR to tie the game.

      My brother-in-law and same nephew (Doug) were at that game.

      • Doug Gray

        My phone ALWAYS tries to autocarrot the word perfect into the word prefect, and it drives me absolutely insane!