WASHINGTON – It was a tough decision for Jackson Coutts thinking about turning pro with two more years of college eligibility left – but he has plenty of guidance and support.
A lefty slugger at the University of Rhode Island, Coutts signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Nationals in June.
Both of his parents played sports in college and both are veteran coaches or administrators at the college level.
“In the sports aspect of it, they really were able to help me out – as a coach would,” Coutts, 22, told Federal Baseball from Florida, where is taking classes online from URI and working out with the baseball program at Florida Gulf Coast.
His mother, Lynn, was a Northeast All-American softball player at the University of Maine.
She took a job in athletics and recreation administration at the University of Denver in 2019 as deputy AD for student-athletes excellence after she was part of the coaching and administrative staff at Maine.
His father, Mike, was part of a College World Series team at Maine in 1981 and is the head softball coach at Maine.
“I always had them in my corner as coaches,” the Nationals’ prospect said. “They helped me a lot. My dad would help me with the skill set of it, hitting and fielding.
“My mom was really good at the mental game. I used a lot of her stuff from the past year with school and summer ball.”
A few factors went into the native of Maine signing with the Nationals: the status of the MLB draft in 2021, the uncertainty of college athletics this academic year and the pandemic.
This year’s MLB draft went only five rounds after lasting 40 in 2019. “That stung; obviously the dream to get drafted and play professionally is the biggest part of that,” said Coutts, who had just one Division I offer coming out of high school.
Coutts noted that the 2021 draft may not come close to approaching the 40 rounds that it lasted in 2019 – and thus there will be fewer opportunities to begin a pro career. College baseball players were given an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 season was cut short – so Coutts could have played at URI in 2021-22.
But there were advantages to starting his pro career now.
“You have that head start over everybody else,” he said of signing this year. “It was just a dream I had – I was just ready to get started with” a pro career.
Coutts, a first baseman/outfielder, hit .451 in 13 games this spring for the Rams before the season was shutdown.
He had four hits in as many at-bats at Maryland in February then went 4-for-5 at Delaware State just before the season came to an end in March.
That came after Coutts hit .310 as a freshman in 2018 at Rhode Island and then dropped off to .259 the next year.
“After my sophomore year, I knew I needed to change something,” he said.
After his sophomore year, he played in the Cape Cod League for Falmouth.
One of his teammates was former Virginia Tech pitcher Zach Brzykcy, who also signed with the Nationals this summer as a non-drafted free agent.
“That helped a lot. I spent a lot of time watching and learning when I wasn’t playing,” Coutts said of his summer in the wood-bat Cape.
The Nationals’ scout that signed Coutts was John Malzone, who is based in New England.
He helped to sign lefty pitcher Tim Cate, a second-round pick by the Nationals in 2018 out of the University of Connecticut. Cate pitched for high Single-A Potomac in 2019 and then was part of a 60-player pool and Instructional League this summer.
Even though he signed with the Nats, Coutts was not invited to Instructional League this past October.
Some of the non-drafted free agents who did take part included infielder Jake Boone (Princeton) and Quade Tomlin, signed out of high school; and Brzykcy.
“I wanted to go,” Coutts said of Instructional League.
“I had not played baseball since March, essentially. I didn’t know if there would be a rookie camp. I was kind of disappointed (but) it is all good.
“I am looking forward to continuing working and get to Spring Training in March.”
Coutts has kept in touch with Tony Rogowski, the strength and conditioning coordinator in player development for the Nationals.
“He sends me different workout plans,” said kinesiology major Coutts, who is taking 15 credits online this semester.
The URI product has also been in contact with instructors in the Washington system for working on hitting and fielding.
His girlfriend works in sports information at Florida Gulf Coast – the alma mater of Jake Noll, who played in seven games with the Nationals in 2020.
The odds are against Coutts - only five former students/players at Rhode Island have made the majors, according to baseball-reference.com.
The last was pitcher Nick Greenwood, who appeared in 19 games with the Cardinals in 2014-15.
Another pitcher, Dave Stenhouse, was an American League all-star as a rookie with the Washington Senators in 1962.
He pitched in 76 games through 1964 with the team. Angelo Dagres, another URI product, played in eight games for the Orioles in 1955.