The Washington Nationals selected Jackson Rutledge, a right-handed pitcher out of San Jacinto (Tex.) Junior College, with the 17th pick in the first round of MLB’s first-year player draft Monday night.
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The 20-year-old uses his 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame to put heat behind a four-seamer with movement that sits between 94 and 97 mph and complements his change-up, slider and curveball, according to scouting reports. Rutledge was generally regarded as a top-15 prospect in the draft, and Baseball America tabbed him the No. 4 pitcher and the second-best right-handed pitching prospect available.
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On the MLB Network telecast, Rutledge said: “I want to be teammates with [Nationals ace and fellow St. Louis area native] Max Scherzer as soon as I can.”
Rutledge has a shortened arm action that, on the telecast, Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez compared to Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly.
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Analysts debated how much concern Rutledge should inspire with what one called “one of the most unique, unorthodox arm actions I’ve ever seen” and wondered if the Nationals might need to move him to the bullpen someday. Eventually, Martinez emphasized that Rutledge used his legs well enough to maintain balance and assuage concerns.
Rutledge was the Nationals’ only pick of Day 1 of the three-day draft because they forfeited their second-rounder, among other penalties, after signing pitcher Patrick Corbin in the offseason. The left-hander had declined a qualifying offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Rutledge made 13 starts at San Jacinto this season, compiling a 0.87 ERA and striking out 134 in 82 2/3 innings. He committed to play the 2020 season at Kentucky, but the Nationals might change his plans
“It’s unreal,” Rutledge said on MLB Network. “It’s [been] a long time, trying to sit there nervously. It feels incredible to stand here right now.”
The Nationals followed their recent trend in selecting Rutledge: They have now used seven of their past nine first-round picks on pitchers, and both times they took a position player they had multiple first-round picks and used the other one on a pitcher
Rutledge was physically ready for professional baseball coming out of Rockwood Summit High but not “maturity wise,” his father, John, told Baseball America. Rutledge went undrafted in 2017 and committed to Arkansas, where he struggled with arm soreness as a freshman. He made two starts but pitched mostly out of the bullpen and finished with a 3.45 ERA in 12 appearances and only 15 2/3 innings pitched. He decided to transfer after he was not used in a game over the final two months of the Razorbacks’ season
Now, the Nationals add another right-handed, first-round-level arm to their farm system. On MLB Network, Rutledge reflected on his decision to transfer from Arkansas
“Absolutely,” he said, when asked if the gamble paid off. “It wasn’t an easy decision.”
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Sam Fortier Sam Fortier is a sports reporter for The Washington Post. Follow
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