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Nationals take Rutledge at No. 17 overall

Righty considered to be one of best arms in Draft
@JamalCollier
June 4, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is, at heart, a scout. That’s a major reason why he considers the MLB Draft one of the most important days of the year for his franchise. On Monday, the Nationals selected right-hander Jackson Rutledge, from San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College, with the

WASHINGTON -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is, at heart, a scout. That’s a major reason why he considers the MLB Draft one of the most important days of the year for his franchise.

On Monday, the Nationals selected right-hander Jackson Rutledge, from San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College, with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. Drafting a pitcher in the first round is becoming an annual tradition for the Nationals, who have selected a hurler with six of their past seven first-round selections, dating back to 2012.

Draft Tracker: Complete pick-by-pick coverage

Rutledge pretty closely fits the bill for the kind of arm Washington has become attracted to.

Per MLB Pipeline’s scouting report: the 20-year old right-hander is 6-foot-8 with a fastball velocity that hovers from 94-97 and can touch 99 mph, with the ability to carry that velocity late into the game. Rutledge also has a slider that can be used as a wipeout pitch and a curveball that can range from average to another plus pitch. It’s not a stretch to say he could have the best stuff in the Draft, and he’s certainly the best junior college prospect since Bryce Harper, a familiar name to Nats fans. With this pick, the Nationals believe they got a future front-of-the-rotation starter.

“We like the strides he's already made,” Rizzo said during a conference call Monday night. “He's a young 20-year-old kid and a guy that has a lot more finish to his game, but a guy who has a lot of skills and a skillset that we really go after with our starting pitchers.”

It's an enticing thought for the Nationals and Rizzo, who covet starting pitching and have invested their payroll so heavily in the top of their rotation, loading up with Patrick Corbin to join Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer.

The 20-year-old St. Louis native said on MLB Network after being selected: “I want to be teammates with Max Scherzer as soon as I can.”

Rutledge took a bit of an unorthodox path to the 2019 Draft. He was projected to go as high as the first five rounds coming out of high school in 2017, but after strongly indicating that he was committed to go pitch at Arkansas, he went undrafted. Rutledge was limited by a torn hip labrum to just 15 2/3 innings as a freshman and left off the Razorbacks' postseason roster. The injury required surgery, which helped lead to his decision to transfer to San Jacinto.

In his sophomore season at San Jacinto, Rutledge was the stingiest pitcher in all of Junior College baseball, yielding only eight runs across 82 2/3 innings (0.87 ERA) over 13 starts. He did this while striking out 134 batters and walking just 30 in 2019.

Rutledge's performance led him to the MLB Network studios on Monday night, after spending the previous day touring New York City with a stop at Prince Street Pizza -- “some of the best pizza I’ve ever had,” he said -- and then spending Monday hanging out with former players like Nick Swisher -- “that guy is a lot fun” -- and Randy Johnson -- “I was just wearing his jersey a few days ago. So that’s cool to actually see him in real life. He’s definitely bigger than me.”

But that all paled in comparison to hearing Commissioner Rob Manfred announce him as the 17th overall pick.

“Hearing my name called was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Rutledge said. “It’s something you dream of and it only really hit me until it happened.”

This pick does come with some risk for Washington. For a tall pitcher, his arm action is short and his changeup can become too firm and flat, per MLB Pipeline, and he is at times erratic and will need to work on his command. Rutledge said he did learn a new changeup grip this past winter, however, by working with former Nats reliever Ross Detwiler.

For as pitching focused as the Nationals are, their drafts have not produced a steady dose of prospects, especially in their rotation, in recent years. Dating back to 2011, Erick Fedde (2015) is the only pitcher Washington has selected in the first round currently on its roster. To be fair, it’s too soon to judge Seth Romero (2017) or high-schooler Mason Denaburg (2018), but they whiffed on Alex Meyer (2011) traded away Lucas Giolito (2012) and Dane Dunning (2016).

So, for a team that prides itself for being built on pitching, the Nationals hope they added another top-of-the-line starter Monday, one who might one day play with Scherzer, or perhaps be the next man Scherzer passes the torch to.

“He’s got a great package as a starting pitcher,” Rizzo said. “Needs some polish, and some reps, but a guy that comes from a really a prestigious junior college... This guy is a guy that we’re glad to have in the system and we feel he can help us in the big leagues and impact the team.”

The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.