All video and rankings are provided by 2080 Baseball.
* * * * *
Jackson Rutledge, RHP, San Jacinto Junior College (TX):
Round: 1 | Overall Pick: 17 (#13 overall on 2080 Baseball Top 125)
Jackson Rutledge was on scouts’ radar as a St. Louis high schooler in 2017, though his strong commitment to the University of Arkansas caused him to go undrafted at that time. After seeing limited action as as freshman for the Razorbacks, he transferred to the JuCO ranks and blossomed into a first round pick in 2019 at San Jacinto (TX) College.
The Nationals selected Rutledge with the 17th overall pick on Monday night—the highest the team has drafted since taking Lucas Giolito #16 in 2012—which comes with a slot value of $3.61 million.
Built in the mold of a classic power pitcher, Rutledge stands 6-foot-8 with a broad 250-pound frame. Because he’s effectively a college sophomore—having only played two seasons between Arkansas and junior college—there’s the extra upside that comes from being a bit younger than most college draftees (20 years, 2 months).
Already big in high school, his fastball has ticked up from the 90-to-93 mph range two years ago as Rutledge tightened up a hefty frame and grew into his extra-large build. The heater now touches the upper-90s and sits comfortably at 95-96 mph, coming downhill at hitters with natural angle from a very short, catcher-like arm-circle that adds deception. His best off-speed is a power slider in the high-80s, a potential swing-and-miss pitch that flashes above-average upside. Rutledge shows good feel for spin, and is also able to mix a sharp 79-to-81 curve for another look. Though pitchers with this type of unconventional size and plus velocity don’t need to be as refined as those with less raw stuff, he will still need to develop better overall control and improve his below-average changeup to fit a rotation profile.
The Nationals have a penchant for taking upside gambles in the first round, and Rutledge fits the organization’s preference for power arms early in the draft. Many of those rolls of the dice have panned out well, though there’s undeniably a certain attrition rate that comes with Washington’s boom-or-bust strategy. That said, shooting for ceiling has allowed the Nats to consistently find value drafting outside of the top 15, and Rutledge has the upside to be another one of those successful picks. His height and unconventional arm action have some potential for injury, though the ceiling for this type of XXL flamethrower can be a power frontline starter. Josh Johnson was in the same mold, and while he had some dominant years, the peak was fairly short. Nate Pearson (Blue Jays) is another similar pitcher in terms of size and stuff, himself a JuCO transfer and former first-rounder pick who has continued to show flashes of dominance (and burgeoning ability to fit in the rotation) with improved control and mechanics in pro ball.
As I noted in the Nationals Organizational Review for 2080 Baseball, the Nationals have a top-heavy system that’s about to thin considerably as Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom graduate from prospect eligibility. Rutledge immediately joins Wil Crowe and Mason Denaburg as one of the top pitching prospects in Washington’s pipeline. It’s easy to see him as an imposing back-of-the-bullpen arm giving his frame and arm-strength, though the Nats will run him out as a starter for now in hopes the control and third pitch improve enough to develop into the #2/#3 rotation piece Rutledge has the tools to become.
Drew Mendoza, 3B/1B, Florida State University:
Round: 3 | Overall Pick: 94 (#84 overall on 2080 Baseball Top 125)
Mendoza was one of the top high school position prospects in the 2016 MLB Draft, though a strong commitment to Florida State caused him to slide to the 36th Round. He went to Tallahassee and was immediately a large part of a major ACC program, playing in over 150 games across three seasons for the Seminoles and finishing his college career with a cumulative .298/.443/.537 slash line. While he didn’t blossom into a top-of-the-draft type of bat by his junior year like some thought he would, Mendoza’s physicality and offensive upside still landed him within 2019’s top 100 picks.
A physical 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Mendoza certainly looks the part of a pro-level corner player. Left-handed power projection drove his draft stock as a high schooler, and the scouts that prognosticated home runs on the come were proved correct. Mendoza belted 31 dingers in his college career—14 of which came this year as a junior—and evaluators have little doubt about his ability to hit the ball out of the park. He has always walked at a steady clip, even drawing an equal number of free passes as he had whiffs in 2019, though with that power and patience also comes a long history of strikeouts. Mendoza could struggle to hit for average against more advanced competition and will have to prove he can handle tough same-side matchups. Defensively, he has the range and arm-strength for the hot corner but needs to stay mobile and work on his range to stick at the position.
In the best-case scenario, Mendoza shores up his swing/miss issues and finds a way to stay off 1B defensively. If this happens, his power production could make him a regular at 3B. What’s more likely is he either moves across the infield or doesn’t change much as a hitter, winding up a righty-mashing platoon option that moves between corner spots. He’s a fairly high-floor player because of his pro-ready frame and left-handed power, fitting the Nationals’ mold of physical college performers from power conferences.
Matt Cronin, LHP, University of Arkansas:
Round: 4 | Overall Pick: 123 (#72 overall on 2080 Baseball Top 125)
Cronin was the Nationals’ fourth-rounder, another example of the team’s preference for statistical performers in major college conferences. Our draft guys at 2080 Baseball ranked him 72nd overall because his power two-pitch mix can move quickly through the system in a relief role. He never started a game in college, working out of the Razorbacks’ bullpen for three years and finishing SEC career with an impressive strikeout rate of 12.45 K/9.
Cronin is country strong, with a wide 6-foot-2 frame and powerful trunk that generates velocity from max-effort mechanics. The moving parts in his delivery add deception, though he tilts hard to clear his arm though an over-the-top release point that puts strain on his shoulder. Cronin’s uncoiling finish can also obstruct his control, something his 14 walks in 24 innings this year would support. His best attribute is left-handed velocity, able to run the fastball to the 96-to-97 mph range at best. Cronin’s curveball was among the better off-speed pitches in this class, a consistent swing-and-miss offering with sharp down action at 77-to-80 mph. Presuming he can stay healthy and keep his walks down, Cronin has the upside of a hard-throwing lefty ‘pen piece.
Tyler Dyson, RHP, University of Florida:
Round: 5 | Overall Pick: 153 (NR on 2080 Baseball Top 125)
The Nationals seem to stock up on toolsy players that have fallen in the draft, something they’ve done the last few years. Be it for reasons of performance, injury, or makeup, the team has a track record of taking chances at upside farther down the board. Dyson falls into this category, having looked like a potential Day 1 selection early in his college career. After playing a prominent role for the Gators as an underclassman, his struggles in 2019 knocked Dyson from the rotation.
A physical 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he’s a power arm that isn’t lacking for sheer velocity. Dyson tops out at 97-98 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s, though a fairly straight four-seam fastball catches more barrels than it should due to inconsistent control and command. His mid-80s slider also lacks much action, generally a hard one-plane tilt with limited depth. Dyson has struggled to incorporate a changeup into his arsenal, so even if he begins his pro career as a starter, it’s reasonable to foresee a move to the ‘pen in his future. Dyson has the raw stuff to succeed there, though he’ll have to develop more aptitude and overall pitchability to reach his ceiling at the pro level.
A native of Washington, D.C., Adam will be periodically contributing scouting pieces on Nationals prospects for Federal Baseball. Currently, he’s the Assistant Director of Professional Evaluation at 2080 Baseball. Previously, Adam worked in the Baseball Operations departments of the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers after serving as a Senior Prospect Writer for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter: @2080adam. Adam can be reached at email@example.com for all podcast and media requests.