In this week's prospect spotlight we shift to the 17th pick of the 2019 MLB draft, Jackson Rutledge. The 23-year old pitching prospect has an important 2023 season ahead of him after struggling with command and injuries in previous seasons. Rutledge displayed flashes of the talent last season that earned his first round status but has yet to develop into a major league caliber pitcher.
Standing at 6-foot-8, 243 pounds, Rutledge is a power forward on the pitcher's mound. He would fit right into the Wizard's big man rotation down the road at Capital One Arena. The big man's frame allows his fastball to touch triple digits on occasion while it sits in the mid-90s. Jackson has a slider that, when he has a feel for it, is nasty with a curveball not far behind it. He does a great job of manipulating the speed and depth of his slider. His changeup needs to develop more for his fastball to be more effective. Command of his pitches has been Rutledge's downfall, as it was his lowest pre-draft scouting report trait. Jackson's pitching motion is unique as he throws from more of a short-arm slot. Here is a video of Rutledge's pitching motion.
Rutledge began his college career at the University of Arkansas. During his freshman year he tore his hip labrum, causing him to miss an extensive amount of time and leading to his transfer to San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. After recovering from surgery, Rutledge tore up junior college posting a 0.87 ERA, 134 strikeouts in 82.2 innings. Those numbers caused Jackson to soar up mock drafts ultimately leading Washington to select him at 17th overall in 2019.
The former first rounder's career got off to a nice start in 2019. Between three organizational levels Rutledge had a 3.13 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched. Most would consider that a positive step for a then 20-year old pitcher. Then Covid struck, causing the minor league season to be canceled. I think this really hurt Jackson Rutledge. Yes, he still got work at the Nationals alternate-site, but not having a season to develop as a 21-year old hurts. Following the missed season, injuries started to plague Rutledge and he's yet to completely shake the bug.
The 2021 season could be categorized as a lost season along with 2020 for Rutledge. Compiling just 36.1 innings pitched and a 7.68 ERA across 13 starts, there was not much development going on that season. 2022 was much better for Rutledge. He finished with a 4.90 ERA across 97.1 innings pitched. Although those aren't elite numbers, Jackson had a few starts where he looked like he belonged in the big leagues. August 17 versus Lynchburg Rutledge threw seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts, finally showing why Mike Rizzo took him in the first round. In his next outing he shoved seven more innings surrendering just two runs showing consistency that he's lacked thus far in his professional career. The following is an interview during his streak of solid outings in the summer of 2022.
Developmental Expectations and Timeline
It's go time for Jackson Rutledge. He turns 24-years old on April 1, so he's getting to be a bit "old" for prospects. Although it does take time for some players to develop, first-round picks are not selected to be late bloomers. Jackson has the tools to be a serviceable major league starter. Judging by how his development has gone thus far, I would say that his ceiling has lowered or will be harder to obtain. The Nationals should give him every chance to develop given that he was a previous first-round draft pick.
2024 is a realistic expectation for Nationals fans to see Rutledge in the big leagues. Hypothetically, if Jackson were to go on a tear this season I say bring him up for a start or two. But for a prospect who is yet to make a start in AA, it would be unrealistic for me to expect him in D.C. this year. Rutledge needs to make lengthy strides this year in just about every facet of his game. He is a truly interesting prospect and one that I believe some have forgotten about. Like I said, it is a make or break season in my opinion for Rutledge. If the injuries and inconsistency continue this year, it might be an uphill battle for the 6-foot-8 prospect.