In 2009, the Washington Nationals drafted pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick. In 2014, the Nats followed a similar pattern by drafting pitcher Erick Fedde in the first round. Well, the 2019 MLB draft started Monday evening, and the Nats took yet another pitcher.
This one is Jackson Rutledge, a 20 year old right handed pitcher who played one year at the University of Arkansas and another at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. Standing at 6 foot 8 inches and throwing up to 97 mph, the St. Louis native is a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but that will have to change very soon. Prior to the draft, MLB had ranked Rutledge as the No. 12 prospect, and many analysts predicted Rutledge to go in the top 10. For the Nats, this is a steal with the No. 17 pick.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Rutledge was a reliever and racked up three wins and two saves in 15 innings before his season ended early for hip surgery. In those 15 innings, he had 14 strikeouts and 11 walks. The strikeouts are impressive, and even though 11 walks looks concerning, those were from his freshman year in college and he only gave up six earned runs that season. It appears as though he was able to quickly adjust to the college level, which he will have to do again in the minor leagues and with the Nats.
With San Jacinto, Rutledge converted back to a starter and pitched 82 ⅔ innings this season. He had nine wins and posted a junior college best .87 ERA. His walk number went down with only 30 all season and compiled a total of 134 strikeouts. According to Federal Baseball, the Nats have been scouting Rutledge heavily, watching him pitch in person at least 12 times, and were very impressed with his performances. He pitched four complete games and has shown he is able to increase his workload from 15 innings to 82 innings in one season and stay healthy. That number will only begin to increase as he approaches a minor league season and potentially fall league play as well.
In November 2018, Rutledge announced that he had committed to the University of Kentucky to play this fall. There hasn’t been any indication of his preference to play another year in college or to sign professionally. The Nats probably wouldn’t have drafted him if they thought he wasn’t going to sign, and after two years with two different college teams, it might just be time for Rutledge to give up his College World Series dream and start helping the Nats get their first World Series win.
The Nats need more pitching because after starters Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the rotation is a bit of a mess. Veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Anibal Sanchez have already spent time on the Injured List and Fedde has been inconsistent. A young powerful arm on the way is a ray of hope for the Nats in the short and long term. Rutledge has a bit of a past with injury as he had to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip after his freshman year at Arkansas, but he is still young, and the injury does not seem like a cause for concern.
In an interview with MLB, Rutledge said he is most excited to face Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, a lofty goal for an unproven starter. Both hitters have found success against almost every pitcher, so it will be interesting to see how Rutledge choses to approach them should he face them in the near future.
Jackson, welcome to D.C. — you’ll love it here.