Trio of former RiverHawks advance to Double-A
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April 2, 2008 - LOVES PARK, Ill. – Three former Rockford RiverHawks are just two stops from the major leagues.

The full-season affiliated minor leagues open play this week and each of the three Class AA leagues has an ex-RiverHawk on the roster of one of its teams. Pitcher Tanner Watson is with the Chicago Cubs’ affiliate at Tennessee of the Southern League; pitcher Justin Dowdy is with Oakland’s Texas League affiliate in Midland; shortstop Olmo Rosario is with Connecticut, San Francisco’s farm club in the Eastern League.

In addition, pitcher Reed Dickert has been assigned to Brevard County of the high Class A Florida State League by the Milwaukee Brewers.

“All of them were outstanding players with us and have earned the opportunity,” RiverHawks director of baseball operations Dave Ciarrachi said.

Watson, the RiverHawks’ all-time wins leader, and Dowdy were both members of Baseball America magazine’s first-team All-Independent Leagues All-Star team last year. Rosario was the independent Can-Am League Player of the Year last season with the Nashua Pride. He’ll attempt to become a second-generation Giants shortstop.

The 10 full-season leagues open the season on Thursday.

The above players are among five former RiverHawks were signed by major-league organizations following the 2007 season. The Cubs signed left-hander Derrick Ellison, but released him late in spring training.

Watson was signed directly off the Rockford roster. 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.

Last year, 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.

“The difference in Tanner is he learned to pitch here,” Ciarrachi said. “He always had the ability to throw. When he left here, he was a pitcher.” Ciarrachi said a key element of that progress was Watson’s increased willingness to come in on hitters.

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.

Dickert started that game, the second start he made in four days for Rockford against Kalamazoo. In the first, he struck out 14 and pitched a 2-0 shutout at Kalamazoo. Dickert made those two starts after he arrived in a late-August trade from Orange County, where he was 6-3 with a 4.62 ERA and struck out 112 in 85 2/3 innings in the independent Golden League.
Dowdy is getting his fifth shot at affiliated baseball, after stints with the Chicago White Sox, who drafted him in the 18th round in 2001, San Diego, Seattle and Anaheim. Dowdy spent the first half of both the 2003 and 2004 seasons with the RiverHawks. The southpaw opened the ’03 season as the closer and was picked up by the Mariners at the all-star break. He returned to Rockford in ’04 as a starter and the Angels signed him at the break.

Last season, Dowdy recorded an independent United League-record 24 saves and went 2-3 with a 1.37 earned-run average for the Alexandria Aces. He had a strikeout-to-walk ratio in excess of 4-to-1 and struck out 102 batters in just 52 2/3 innings.

“All three of them have the ability to pitch at the major-league level,” Ciarrachi said. “They have to No. 1, stay healthy and No. 2, perform at the level their ability should allow them to perform at.”

Rosario is also getting another shot at affiliated ball. He played in the Tampa Bay organization in 2001-02 under the surname Perez. His father, Jimmy Rosario, played shortstop for the Giants and the Brewers in the 1970s.

In the 2004 postseason, Rosario hit .429 during the RiverHawks’ run to the Frontier League pennant and was voted Finals MVP. He returned for 2005 and hit a team-record .373.

Rosario hit .362 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI and stole 25 bases for the Pride in 2007. Rosario led the CAL with a career-high 133 hits.

He’ll miss Thursday’s opener against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a Toronto affiliate, because of a rib injury he suffered while attempting to steal a base in spring training.

“(Wednesday), I’ll take my full BP,” Rosario said. “I’ll start Friday.”

Opening Night is at 7:05 p.m. May 21, when the RiverHawks host River City. The RiverHawks are members of the Frontier League, a 12-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 16th season this summer. 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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