Cubs sign RiverHawks' Watson
LOVES PARK, Ill. - The Chicago Cubs have signed the Frontier League's top pitcher.
The Rockford RiverHawks announced Friday that right-hander Tanner Watson was picked up by the National League team. Watson, 25, is coming off a dominating 2007 campaign in which he broke the RiverHawks' single-season and career wins records. In October, Watson became the only Frontier League player named to Baseball America magazine's All-Independent Leagues first team.
Watson is the second pitcher signed off the Rockford roster since the start of the 2007 season.
"We're glad to see him move up and on, but it's a big loss at the same time, because he was the best pitcher in the Frontier League last year," RiverHawks director of baseball operations Dave Ciarrachi said. "It's a great opportunity for him and hopefully he's able to take advantage of it."
Watson, a Canadian who did not pitch until July 16 because of visa difficulties, recorded the lowest ERA and fewest hits allowed by a Frontier League starter. He was 11-3 with a 2.17 ERA in 15 appearances, 14 as a starter. In 104 innings, Watson struck out 77, scattered 64 hits and walked 31.
"It's nice after the two years playing (independent baseball) to get back to affiliated, to get a shot for spring," said Watson, a former Seattle farmhand.
Watson won a team-record seven consecutive starts from July 13 to August 20. Although he lost each of his last two starts, he came back on two days' rest to pitch a must-win game in the season finale. Watson struck out five in three hitless innings of relief to beat Kalamazoo and give the RiverHawks the wild card.
Watson, drafted by the Mariners in the 19th round in 2000, spent all or parts of five seasons in the Seattle organization. He joined the RiverHawks in July 2005 and was a composite 23-12 in a Rockford uniform. He is the RiverHawks' only 20-game winner.
Watson is the brother-in-law of former all-star Tim Raines. Watson, along with the rest of his family, is wintering in the Phoenix area, near the Cubs' Mesa spring-training site.
Since the franchise moved to Rockford for the 2002 season, nine players have been signed to a total of 10 contracts by major-league organizations. Closer Mike Marksbury was signed by Milwaukee at the all-star break in July. Other RiverHawks picked up in previous seasons are: corner infielder Jayson Drobiak (New York Yankees, 2002); pitchers Justin Olson (Minnesota, 2003), Justin Dowdy (Seattle, 2003; Anaheim, 2004), Jason Shelley (Milwaukee, 2003), Scott Sobkowiak (Cincinnati, 2003) and Derrick Ellison (Seattle, 2005) and outfielder Rich Austin (Kansas City, 2004).
The RiverHawks are members of the Frontier League, a 12-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 16th season in 2008. Advertising and season-ticket information is available by calling the box office at (815) 885-2255. Most games are broadcast live on WNTA (1330 AM) and the internet. Fans can also visit the RiverHawks online at www.rockfordriverhawks.com.
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Frontier League Stories from December 17, 2007
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