- - Monday, June 17, 2019

Jackson Rutledge sent out the following tweet last November: “Excited to be heading back to the SEC next year to play at the University of Kentucky!”

So much has changed since then for Rutledge, whose journey took him to the Washington Nationals’ first-base dugout on Monday just minutes after the team announced his signing.

Towering over most of the assembled media, the lanky right-handed pitcher bypassed Kentucky this past season to become the top junior college hurler in the country at San Jacinto in Texas.

“Honestly if you asked me a year-and-a-half ago where I would be I would not have said the first round,” he said. “It worked out really well. I kind of put myself in a good spot.”

Rutledge was taken 17th overall by the Nationals in the MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 3. Now, he hopes to follow fellow St. Louis product Max Scherzer to the major leagues and perhaps one day join the Washington starting rotation.

“It is a dream come true,” Rutledge said before the Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. “I am ready to get after it and start playing professional baseball.”

Nationals manager Dave Martinez said it was “pretty cool” that organization has signed its top pick so quickly.

“Obviously he is going to do down (to the minors) and pitch and hopefully he does well,” Martinez said.

Mark Scialabba, the director of player development for Washington, confirmed to The Washington Times that Rutledge will head to the Nationals’ spring training home in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday.

He “most likely” will begin his pro career in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, according to Scialabba. That league begins play June 24, with the Nationals playing their home games at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

It has been a whirlwind few days for Rutledge, who skipped the parade for his hometown NHL Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues before heading to the nation’s capital.

He got a chance to see Nationals Park on Monday along with his mother, father and two sisters.

“This is my first time in D.C. It is an amazing stadium,” he said. “I heard they have a lot of good restaurants; I am pretty excited.”

Rutledge was able to meet Martinez and several Nationals players.

He joins an organization that is known for drafting pitchers early.

The current Washington pitching staff includes Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick out of San Diego State in 2009, and Erick Fedde, a first-round pick as the 18th overall selection out of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2014. Tim Cate, the team’s top drafted pitcher and second-round pick in 2018, was promoted to high Single-A Potomac on Monday — just minutes before the Rutledge signing was announced.

It was another St. Louis native — former Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler — who has helped Rutledge develop a changeup.

Detwiler was drafted by the Nationals in the first round out of the University of Missouri in 2007 and pitched for Washington through 2014.

“We actually worked out in the same place in the offseason,” Rutledge said.

The new Nationals prospect has picked up some tips from Andy Benes, one of his summer-ball coaches. Benes began his MLB career with San Diego in 1989 as a pitcher with San Diego and ended his career with the Cardinals in 2002.

Rutledge played in college for assistant coach Woody Williams, who pitched for the Cardinals from 2001-04.

“He obviously has a ton of experience,” Rutledge said of Williams.

Now, Rutledge will try to carve out his own identity for an organization that is known for developing pitching.

“It is very exciting,” he said. “The staff is incredible with the guys they have here. I want to be one of those guys that has that success. I am ready to get back to being better.”

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