“Hearing my name called was kind of an out-of-body experience,” pitcher Jackson Rutledge told reporters after the Washington Nationals selected him with the seventeenth pick in the first round of last June’s (2019) MLB Draft.
“It’s something you dream of and it only really hit me [when] it happened,” the 6’8’’ right-hander out of San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas added.
Rutledge, who had surgery on a torn hip labrum in 2018, was coming off a 2019 campaign in which he put up a 0.87 ERA over 13 starts, with a total of 134 Ks in 82 2⁄3 innings pitched (14.59 K/9) in which he walked 30 batters (3.26 BB/9).
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said that the club had been following the towering hurler since he was in high school, and liked what they’d seen all along in the course of his development.
“We had scouted him a lot since his Arkansas days,” Rizzo explained, referring to the season Rutledge spent at the University of Arkansas before transferring to San Jacinto.
“We had to have seen him [start] probably about 12 games this year. He never missed a beat.”
“They had kind of been on the radar for a little bit,” Rutledge acknowledged when asked if he was aware of the Nationals’ interest before he was actually selected.
“They’ve been at just about every game of mine, so you know I kind of had a relationship with their scouting department.”
“First round talent and everybody in that room is extremely pleased that he was there when we picked at 17,” Kris Kline, the Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Ops, said of the Nats’ Draft room after the pick.
“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.”
“His stuff never wavered,” Rizzo said of the consistency Rutledge displayed each time they saw him pitch. “He was extremely efficient and consistent throughout the season.”
“He showed power stuff,” the one-time scout and scouting director continued, offering his own report on Rutledge’s stuff.
“Mid-to-upper 90s fastball, with a good hard slider, a good curveball and a developing change. His command is vastly improved since he was a younger pitcher.
“He’s finally growing into that big body of his and we think that he’s just scratching the surface.”
“He pounds the strike zone,” Kline said. “He’s an aggressive pitcher, 95-99, touch 100, and he’s got a good, hard slider in the upper 80s and low 90s, and a really good snapping curveball, and ... a developing change and throws strikes, he’s got a great package as a starting pitcher, needs polish and needs some reps, but a guy that comes from a prestigious junior college that has had some terrific pitchers in the past, Roger Clemens amongst them, and this guy is a guy that we’re glad to have in the system, and guy that we feel can help us in the big leagues and impact the team.”
Rutledge made 10 starts total in his first pro season last summer, with a 3.13 ERA, 15 walks, and 39 Ks in 37 1⁄3 IP between the Nationals’ Gulf Coast affiliate, NY/Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays, and the Low-A Hagerstown Suns.
He started the 2020 campaign as the top ranked pitcher in the organization, with MLB’s Pipeline scouts writing that there is, “... front-of-rotation potential in Rutledge’s profile if it all clicks,” and if it doesn’t work out as a starting pitcher, “he has the requisite two plus pitches to dominate as a reliever.”
This year, in a five-round MLB Draft, the Nationals’ first pick is the 22nd overall selection in the first round.
The expectation, among scouts, is that they’ll go for another hard-throwing starter with the top pick this time around, with The Athletic’s Keith Law and ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel both matching the Nationals up with Cole Wilcox (RHP/Georgia), while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo went with righty Slade Cecconi (RHP, Miami) at No. 22 in his latest mock.
We’ll find out what the Nationals do this time around tomorrow night when the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft airs on the MLB Network and ESPN at 7:00 PM ET.