Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo and Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline both said the entire draft room was thrilled when right-hander Jackson Rutledge fell to them at No. 17 overall in the first round of the 2019 Draft on Monday night, but what would Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office have done if they had the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft?
“We had the Oregon State catcher [Adley Rutschman] No. 1 like most teams did,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, referring to the backstop the Baltimore Orioles took with the top pick of the Draft.
“If we were in that position we probably really would have had a spirited discussion about the Oregon State catcher and the high school shortstop, [Bobby Witt, Jr. who went at No. 2 to the Kansas City Royals], and it would have been a fun conversation, but depending on where you’re at, where your team is at would kind of depend on what player you take there, but those two players kind of separated themselves from the rest of the board in our opinion, but it was a good deep draft up there at the top of the draft, and we were really happy that Rutledge got down to us. We had him a little bit higher on the board than 17, but he really impressed us this year, we scouted him a lot, big physical pitcher, 20 years old, that’s got at a really good package to be a good major league starting pitcher.”
“When I woke up yesterday, I didn’t think that we’d get Rutledge,” Kline said when he spoke with reporters after Day 2 of the Draft, “... but we did, and the whole group is absolutely thrilled to get this guy. 6’8’’, 250, big arm, above average secondary stuff, strike thrower, the whole package.
“He was supposed to go in the top 10, ended up getting down to where we pick, and like I said, the whole group, everybody in that room was absolutely thrilled to death.”
Rutledge, whose spot comes with a recommended bonus of $3,609,700, seemed equally excited about the team that selected him.
“Hearing my name called was kind of an out-of-body experience. It’s something you dream of and it only really hit me [when] it happened,” Rutledge said on Monday night.
Rizzo said that though he didn’t see Rutledge in person, he watched plenty of footage of the hard-throwing righty, and the Nationals scouted him extensively in the lead-up to the draft.
“Just on video,” he explained. “I saw him just on video. We dive in hard on the videos and I see countless amounts of video and games on video, and about all the players that we’re taking, but these guys are out there beating the bushes every day, they’re at the games and we had seen Rutledge pitch probably 11-12 times since this last Fall baseball. So we’re well-acquainted with him, and he’s a guy that held his stuff and his velocity and his delivery and his success throughout each and every year, and like I said, this kid is just starting to scratch the surface as a 20-year-old that’s got really good stuff and a great makeup.”
“They had kind of been on the radar for a little bit,” Rutledge said, when asked about going to the Nationals.
“They’ve been at just about every game of mine, so you know I kind of had a relationship with their scouting department.”
The St. Louis-born pitcher acknowledged that he’ll now have to shift allegiances with his new employer (assuming he signs).
“I grew up in St. Louis, so I was a Cardinals fan for most of my life. I guess I’m no longer a Cardinals fan, but I just really wanted to go to wherever I could make a difference.
“I think Washington is definitely a place I can step in and be a guy, so I’m excited for that and looking forward to it.”
What did the Nationals see that they liked from Rutledge?
“First round talent and everybody in that room is extremely pleased that he was there when we picked at 17,” Kline said.
“All of his pitches, four pitch mix, they all come out of his hand in the same spot, same arm speed, and he’s got good stuff.”
“Good athlete and he has good mechanics,” Rizzo added, when asked if the 6’8’’ frame came with any concerns.
“He’s got a short arm stroke which helps keep him gathered over the rubber and like I said, he’s really grown into his body.
“His body has matured and his athleticism has very, very much improved, and the guy really stays over the rubber well, and he has a delivery under control, and a really good arm swing.
“We like the strides that he’s already made, still a young 20-year-old kid, and a guy that needs a lot more finish to his game, but a guy that has a lot of skills and a skill set that we really go after with our starting pitching.”
An obligatory question for each new pick: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
“What I kind of do with my body language on the mound is kind of try to keep it flat,” Rutledge said.
“I’m not a guy that’s gonna get up and start yelling whenever I strike a guy out, but I’m also not a guy that’s going to get mad if I get a bomb hit off me.
“I’m going to kind of keep it flat and keep it consistent because I think that’s where success comes from, is consistency, so if I can start with my body language, then it’s going to lead to making more consistent pitches and eventually better pitches.”
When did the Nationals start honing in on Rutledge? With 16 teams picking before them, they had a number of names on the big board as the Draft got underway.
“The question isn’t who we’re going to take, it’s who gets down to us, because we put that board together, we’ve got 800 magnets on the board. We pick 17th in the first round, so we’ve got our 17 magnets in order, in our preferential order the way we like them and we would have been satisfied with that 17th magnet, and the 17th name on that board, but fortunately we got a guy that we had higher than that and we really thought highly of this player and he was one of the coveted pitchers that we had on the board.”