The Washington Nationals are set to give a former first-round pick his first look at the MLB level. Right-hander Jackson Rutledge, drafted out of junior college back in 2019, will reportedly make his debut on September 13 against the Pirates. Here’s a closer look at the 24-year-old.
A Look at Rutledge
The Nationals selected right-hander Jackson Rutledge in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Rutledge ranked MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the Draft that year, and the outlet’s report on him pegged the righty as the best junior college product since Bryce Harper.
Rutledge pitched well in his first taste of the pro level, when he struck out 39 over 37.1 IP in 2019 and finished the year in Hagerstown (A). But when Minor League Baseball returned in 2021, Rutledge pitched just 36.1 IP that year — thanks to shoulder and blister troubles — and got hit around at each affiliate he pitched in when he was on the mound.
Rutledge returned to Single-A ball in 2022. While his ERA remained high at 5.36, the good news was that the righty was able to log time and bring his walk rate down to 2.7 BB/9. That rate did spike in 2023, but his overall numbers (3.71 ERA, 106 K over 119 IP) between two levels (AA and AAA) were strong.
The 24-year-old is a tall right-hander, and one that can churn it up to the mid-90s per reports. He does possess a four-seamer and sinker, the latter of which helped him post a GB% north of 50% in 2022. We should note, however, that he posted sub-40% GB% rates in Double and Triple-A this season.
In the Minors, Rutledge’s shown the propensity to miss bats with his fastball, as well his slider and lollipop curveball.
MLB.com grades his changeups and curveballs at 50, slider as a 60, and fastball as a 65.
Rutledge is set to start on September 13 against the Pirates.
What it Means for the Nationals and Fantasy Outlook
An injury to left-hander MacKenzie Gore opened up a spot in the rotation for Rutledge, who’ll look to establish himself as an option for the Nats rotation in 2024.
Besides Gore, the Nationals have a couple of young starters in Josiah Gray and Jake Irvin that performed well in 2023. Other starting pitcher options include Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, both of whom will be in final year of their deals with the Nationals in 2024, Joan Adon, and potentially Cade Cavalli. Cavalli, for those wondering, missed all of 2023 thanks to Tommy John surgery.
With all of those names, there will be plenty of competition for a role in the Washington rotation.
Rutledge’s got the stuff to be a middle-of-the-rotation arm, but now the Nationals will get the chance to see if he can make an immediate impact.
As far as fantasy baseball is concerned, Rutledge is a name to watch in the future but not someone to run and grab. The 24-year-old doesn’t profile to be a high strikeout pitcher, and his win opportunities will likely be limited for as long as he’s on the Nationals roster for the remainder of the season.