WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.
At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.
Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.
In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.
Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.
"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."
Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.
Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters.
This was his first glimpse at them in-person.
"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."
If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.
Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.
Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.
"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.
His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.
Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season.
Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.
"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said.
"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."
Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.
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