Welcome back to The K Zone. Today we dive into the life of the Nationals First Round Pick of 2019! Jackson Rutledge went 17th overall in 2019 and is looking forward to being a major arm in an organization that excels in developing Ace Pitchers. Get to know Jackson Rutledge before you see him on TV by reading the interview!
Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?
Jackson Rutledge: My favorite player was Adam Wainwright. He was the ace for the Cardinals growing up in St. Louis and he’s a great role model.
Mike Duffy: What was the atmosphere in studio 42 like on draft day?
Jackson Rutledge: The atmosphere was exciting but somehow relaxed. There was obviously a lot going on but everyone there seemed to be having a good time and enjoying all of it.
Mike Duffy: How did getting drafted feel for you? Was it extra special getting your name called by the commissioner?
Jackson Rutledge: It was an incredible feeling. I finally felt like all that I and my family had done paid off. Having the commissioner call my name was something you dream of but never think it would be you, so having him call me was awesome.
Mike Duffy: What are you most excited about joining the nationals?
Jackson Rutledge: The Nationals have a history of developing high-level pitching and getting them to the majors at a young age, so I’m excited to get a chance to be one of those players.
Mike Duffy: When did you first know you wanted to play professional baseball?
Jackson Rutledge: That had been my dream since I can remember. It only became somewhat realistic once I got to high school.
Mike Duffy: Have you always been a pitcher or did you use to play other positions?
Jackson Rutledge: I played some first base in high school but I was mostly a pitcher.
Mike Duffy: Do you have any dream purchases with some of your first bit of pro ball money?
Jackson Rutledge: Nothing special other than a car. Most likely going to save as much of that as I can for now.
Mike Duffy: Have you spoken to any of the guys playing in Washington? Who are you most excited to play with?
Jackson Rutledge: I got the chance to meet a few players when I went to DC to sign which was a very cool experience. I’m most excited to play with and learn from Max Scherzer.
Mike Duffy: Besides your hard work, is there anyone else you would like to thank who attributed to your success?
Jackson Rutledge: My family has definitely helped a lot to get me where I am. Also, all of the coaches I’ve had over the years from high school, travel ball, and everyone at San Jac.
Mike Duffy: What is your all-time favorite movie?
Jackson Rutledge: My favorite movie is either Anchorman or Shawshank Redemption.
Mike Duffy: What have been some of your favorite tv shows?
Jackson Rutledge: My favorite TV shows are the Office, Parks and Rec, and Brooklyn 99.
Mike Duffy: Any musicians that stick out to you?
Jackson Rutledge: My favorite musicians are Nas, Vince Staples, and Kendrick Lamar.
Mike Duffy: What song is currently stuck in your head?
Jackson Rutledge: I’ve had Fireball by Pitbull stuck in my head all week because that’s all we listen to in the GCL.
*Note* Due to server issues this was not released on time, all standings and statistics are as of April 28th
1.Houston Astros (16-11)
With the best record in their division and one of the best overall, it’s hard to not put Houston at the top. Altuve is playing an MVP again and the rest of the offense is clicking like they were in 2017. Brantley is looking like an amazing pick-up, so far slashing .315/.373/.533 in 92 AB. Even more impressive as his OPS (.905) is only 5th on the team as Bregman (.971), Reddick (.970), Springer (.936), and Altuve (.915) are all ahead of him. Their team AVG (.281) tops the majors and their team OBP (.356) is second. And that is to say nothing about the pitching staff. Verlander is looking to continue his success after his extension, starting the season with a 2.61 ERA. While Cole’s 5.22 ERA may cause some concern, his 2.70 FIP indicates that he should return to his all-star 2018 campaign form. Their bullpen also looks strong with a 2.96 ERA.
2.Tampa Bay Rays (18-9)
Tampa comes in tops in the MLB. The look ready to compete this year and with Boston struggling should have no problem winning a wildcard spot, maybe even their division if they keep up this level of play. Leading the offensive charge is just centerfielder Austin Meadows. So far this year his .351 batting average is 4th in the American league and has 6 homeruns, showing some pop in his bat. On the mound we see two separate pieces that are the reason this team has been as dominant as it is. Blake Snell is continuing to pitch well after his 2018 Cy Young campaign, and should have another successful season. We likely will not see another 1.89 ERA like we did last year but I would expect him to come in around 2.7-2.8 this year, even if it were higher as his FIP suggests, he’s not even the best on the roster. Tyler Glasnow has turned into an absolute lawnmower and the players are the blades of grass. He so far posts a 1.53 ERA and a 2.64 FIP. Expect there to be 2 Cy Young candidates coming out of Tampa. Their team 3.07 ERA is also tops the majors.
3. New York Yankees (17-11)
I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to put them lower but with the year they are having you have to give the Bronx bombers credit. While the offseason may seem to be disappointing to fans, not landing Machado or Harper, they drastically improved their rotation and bullpen. Additions of Ottavino and keeping Britton help improve an already strong relief core and signing Happ and getting The Big Maple help fix the ERA problem the Bronx Bombers had last year, and when Severino returns you can expect this rotation to become one of the top 10 in baseball. Their ability to have a 17-11 record despite only having half of their starting lineup during a stretch this month earns them this spot on this list. While I can’t yet put them above other AL powerhouses, it will be interesting to see what getting the likes of Judge and Stanton back do for this squad.
4. LA Dodgers (19-11)
While it’s hard to put them above the Cardinals (due to being swept by them in a four-game series) I would argue that the dodgers show more sustainable success. Bellinger is playing like an MVP, bouncing back from a somewhat disappointing sophomore year and is returning to his rookie days of homering on command and has the highest batting average in the majors at .426, over 40 points higher than second place Tim Anderson. As of right now, Bellinger leads the majors in home runs, on base percentage, slugging, runs, RBIs, and average. Easily the MVP of April. The rest of the offense is impressing as well, Joc Pederson sitting comfortably at 10 homeruns on the year and a .380 OBP. Seager looks to come back strong and Kiki Hernandez is looking like a versatile utility player. The reason I place them higher than the Cardinals comes with the rotation. The rotation to say the least has struggled. Other than Stripling who is so far posting an impressive 2.65 ERA, their starting staff does not look as sharp as it has in the past. Buehler specifically is hurting, posting a 5.25 ERA. His FIP suggests this should come down to high to mid 3s but with his impressive velocity and spin rate on his fastball I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished this year like his rookie one and post a sub 3 ERA. Kershaw also has only had 2 starts but has a 2.77 ERA in them, and while this number is lucky as he got knocked around a bit, he was able to come up clutch and prevent runs from going across the plate. He may no longer be the best pitcher in baseball but he likely will have another “down year” by posting a high 2s ERA. As of now the Dodgers are my pick to lose to an AL team in the World Series.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (17-10)
Obviously adding Paul Goldschmidt to the lineup was a big piece, and he will likely end up the best bat of the team, but their hottest hitter right now comes in the outfielder Marcel Ozuna. Ozuna leads his team in OPS at 1.010 (if he keeps this up Miami might have lost another MVP). He is only one piece of a very impressive lineup, DeJong and Kolton Wong are also turning into strong offensive threat. Their starting rotation is cause for concern, with Flaherty and Mikolas both posting and ERA over 5 so far. Their FIP does little to help their case, Flaherty and Mikolas posting a 5.01 and 6.04 respectively. On the bright side, their bullpen is a top 10 in the majors with a 3.84 collective ERA, and Jordan Hicks seems to be on the verge into turning into the next Chapman with his 104-mph heater.
6. Philadelphia Phillies (16-12)
Philadelphia is looking like the competitors they were hoping to be. Harper isn’t exactly putting up super star numbers but is fitting in perfectly with this Phillies offense. His .400 on base percentage should be around where he sits all year and helps put runners on for the Phillies perennial MVP candidate for years to come, Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins lead the majors in pitches seen per at bat, and continues to do so. His plate discipline combined with strong power and ability to put the ball in play make him a lethal player for the Phills and will likely be the make or break for their season. McCutchen and Segura are turning into strong offseason pickups, the latter being especially impressive. Segura comes in leading the Phillies in AVG at .324 and not only gets hits, but seems to always be over the score sheet with 13 R and 10 RBI in only 75 PA. The Phillies starting rotation is an interesting case, with arguably their two worst starters in the rotation are leading the team in ERA: Vince Velasquez and Jared Eickhoff. Eickhoff had an impressive rookie season way back in 2016, but since then has struggled with injuries and was looking doubtful if he would ever have success in the majors. His 2.77 ERA and 2.13 FIP indicate that he may be a strong candidate for comeback player of the year. Velasquez is currently an unsustainable ERA of 2.08, his FIP indicating that should increase sits at 4.19. Nola seemed to be a sign of concern, last years Cy Young candidate is currently posting a 5.68 ERA but seemed to have found his groove a few games ago after working out of a bases loaded jam in Colorado. If Nola can return to form and Eickhoff can complete the comeback this team will make some noise in October.
7. Cleveland Indians (15-11)
While the Indians sit second in their division, I have no doubt they will overtake the Twins. Their rotations thus far is posting a 3.55 ERA, and expect that only to improve when Clevinger returns. Trever Baur looks to continue to chase a Cy Young this year, so far having an ERA of 1.99. At first glance Corrasco’s 6 ERA would raise concern but his 2.70 FIP suggests he should return to his typical dominant self. The offense is suspect, with Carlos Santana being their strongest hitter so far. Their stars Lindor and Ramirez are struggles so far, but are coming off of injuries earlier might be affecting this. If the Indians want to compete this year their offense is going to need to supply come run support to this fantastic rotation.
8. Minnesota Twins (16-9)
The Twins are shocking everyone right now, and stand with the second-best record in the MLB. Jorge Polanco is swinging away and hitting everything he goes for, batting .337. Eddie Rosario is showing off the power he’s always had the potential to have, finishing this month with 11 home runs, topping the AL. The addition of Nelson Cruz has also added a potent power bat to the lineup. Their rotation is currently lead by Berrios, who has a 2.97 ERA. This rotation is the biggest cause for concern and the reason the Twins are not higher on this list, the rest of their starters all have ERAs over 4. Taylor Rodgers looks good in the pen but if they want to be serious competitors down the stretch we’re going to have to see more from their arms, starters and relievers
9. Milwaukee Brewers (15-14)
To be clear, the only thing putting the Brewers this high as of now is Christian Yelich. Yelich’s league tied 14 home runs, .353 AVG, and .460 OBP numbers are incredible. If Bellinger wasn’t making history of his own this would be the best April an NL player has had in recent memory. The Brew Crew does not have a set in stone rotation and I can see why, their team 5.19 ERA is 6th worst in the majors and are definitely a cause for concern. Even Josh Hader is showing some cracks in his normal unhittable self. Yelich will inevitable cool down, and when this happens the rest of the team needs to step up to support him for the team will just be watching in October.
10. New York Mets (14-13)
This second in the NL East squad is looking to come back after struggling recently this week. Going into the season they were expected to be a team carried by their rotation, but up until now it has been the bats winning games for them. Steve Matz is currently their best starter, thus far posting a 3.68 ERA. Syndergaard being the worst of them with a 6.35 ERA. The former sub 2 and Cy-Young winner Jacob DeGrom Is having difficulty as well with a 4.85. On the bright side, advanced statistics says that these pitchers are just getting very unlucky but none of them look like they are going to compete for the Cy Young this year. The bats are carrying this team, especially rookie of the year candidate Pete Alonso. Alonso was given the call up based off of availability and wasn’t expected to be a top prospect but is thundering his was into the majors. His team leading 9 home runs, .306 AVG, and .398 OBP secured a scary first baseman for the Mets that pitchers will fear in the middle of their lineup. Robinson Cano is struggling so car, only posting a .324 OBP but hopefully this improve and him and Alonso can create a dangerous righty lefty combo. Diaz, their other large acquisition, is looking as dominant as ever. The only pitcher I’ve seen have an ERA tie his WIP, Edwin Diaz has both at a .84. Unfortunately for the Mets he is being used only as strictly a closer, but should still provide a lights-out 9th inning on the road when up by 1 for the Mets.
Last year, starting pitching was headlined by a clear “big four,” but going into this season, the lines are far more blurred. Many pitchers each qualify for many different positions, and almost everyone has both some kind of question or pushback, and some kind of draw. While he’s experienced a shaky start to 2019, Chris Sale lead off our preseason ranks after finishing with a 6.97 K/BB and 1.98 FIP. Sale finished second in AL starters in WAR, despite starting seven fewer games than the leader and most of those behind him. Max Scherzer, who has modeled consistency since breaking out in 2013, ranks second. Scherzer posted a 2.53 ERA last year, which is the lowest in his past six seasons, even though his ERA fell below 3.15 in all of them. NL Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom claims the third overall spot, as his 9.0 fWAR and 5.85 K/BB added together to form a 1.99 FIP. Number four starting pitcher Justin Verlander looks to just keep getting better, despite his 36 years of age. JV’s 12.20 K/9 and 1.56 BB/9 lead to a 2.52 2018 ERA, the lowest of his career. Corey Kluber stands as ace in a strong Indians rotation. His strikeouts were low in 2018, but so were his walks, leading to a mere 0.99 WHIP. Phillies breakout Aaron Nola ranks seventh overall. Last year, he put up a 2.37 ERA, accompanied by a 3.01 FIP. Nola is followed by another ERA breakout guy, Blake Snell, whose 1.89 mark was an incredibly encouraging sign for the Rays. Snell is followed by yet another breakout starter, and yet another Indian, Trevor Bauer. Bauer’s 2.21 ERA was backed up by a 2.44 FIP and 11.34 K/9. Astros acquisition Gerrit Cole returned to excellency last year in the form of a 2.70 FIP, 12.40 K/9, and 6.0 WAR, enough to bring him onto the list with the 10th spot. For top quality pitching mounds, check out Anytime Baseball Supply
Even as versatile bullpens bullpens become more and more popular, relief pitching remains one of the most undervalued, but also one of the most inconsistent aspects of the game. With five out of six first place votes, Brewers breakout Josh Hader takes first place. The first of multiple Brewers on this list (and the trend of single teams dominating the list will continue), Hader punched out 15.82 batters per nine innings last season, adding up to a 2.23 FIP. Now 31 years old, Dellin Betances ranks second after his third straight season of 15 K/9, and a 1.95 xFIP in 2018. Andrew Miller comes in third after a down year last season. In the three years prior, his ERA’s read 1.44, 1.45, and 2.02. The second Brewer on the list ranks fourth, and his name is Jeremy Jeffress, who tossed 76 innings of 1.29 ERA ball last year. Seranthony Dominguez may get some saves this season, but since the Phillies have not yet named one closer, he sits at #5 on this list. Dominguez broke out in 2018 with 11.49 K/9 and an ERA just under 3.00. Another Yankee, (this time a new one), Adam Ottavino, takes the sixth spot. He managed to put up a 2.43 ERA last season in Coors, largely thanks to strong strikeout and ground ball numbers. David Robertson falls two spots below his fellow Philly after making 2018 his eighth straight season with at least 60 innings pitched an 10.4 K/9. Chad Green, the third Yankee on this list (and fourth if you count Chapman from the closers list), comes next. Unlike many of the pitchers around him, Green was able to limit walks while still obtaining K’s, leaving him with a 6.27 K/BB ratio. Houston reliever Will Harris edges out Ryan Pressly to become the only Houston reliever to make the conglomerate chart. Harris wrapped up 2018 with a 2.44 FIP and 4.57 K/BB. San Diego vet Craig Stammen wraps up the top 10, completing last season with a 2.19 FIP and only 1.94 BB/9 in 79 innings pitched.
On an annual basis, catcher is perhaps both the hardest, and the most fun position to rank. The overall offensive weakness, but also the defensive complexity of the position both contribute position two’s uniqueness. Along with the usual Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Savant deserve special shoutouts here for helping to quantify defensive catching metrics. There was heavy controversy among the writers as to who deserved the top spot, but Yankee’s backstop Gary Sanchez won out. Sanchez didn’t even bat the Mendoza line in his shortened 2018, but he did carry a .197 BABIP, 12.3% BB%, and 18 home runs in 89 games, along with a powerful throwing arm. New Phillies’ acquisition J.T. Realmuto claims the second overall spot after putting up 4.8 WAR in 2018 and leading the league in pop time. New Brewer Yasmani Grandal, ranked third overall, was worth 4.9 WAR last season, in part due to his .349 OBP. Grandal may go down as the best pitch framer in history, as he was worth 16.3 framing runs last season. Grandal is followed by yet another player new to his 2019 roster, Wilson Ramos, who is just joining the Mets. Ramos has had his share of health issues, but he hit .308 in 111 games last season, good for 131 wRC+. Ramos, however, is followed by a player far from new to his team, Buster Posey. Posey’s decline has seemed imminent over the past few seasons, but he still put up a .359 OBP last year between catcher and first. The young Willson Contreras follows Posey, and while his offense was merely average last year, he hopes to rebound to his rookie and sophomore numbers in 2019, when he was worth 126 and 122 wRC+, respectively. Another veteran, Yadier Molina, ranks seventh. Molina nearly set a career high in power last year, with 20 home runs in only 123 games, and was worth over 2.0 WAR for the eleventh straight year in his career. His division rival, Francisco Cervelli, Cervelli’s .259/.378/.431 batting line last season helped him reach 2.6 WAR despite below average defense. #9 catcher Austin Barnes will step into the primary role as Dodgers’ catcher this season, and while his offense ranked below average last season, he was the best catcher in baseball in 2017 on a per at bat basis (142 wRC+, 3.7 WAR in 102 at bats). Finally, thanks solely to Mike’s extreme optimism, Jorge Alfaro made the charts at the tenth position. Alfaro was actually worth 3.1 wins last season, thanks to good pitch framing, and a great arm, with a pop time of just 1.94 seconds.
Closers are often the most existing baseball players to watch, and they often exhibit some of the nastiest pure stuff in the game. Edwin Diaz, just traded from the Mariners to the Mets this past offseason, takes the top spot. Diaz displayed 15.22 K/9 last season and a 1.78 xFIP last season, leading to 3.5 WAR as a relief pitcher. Blake Treinen broke out at age 30 last year in the form of a 0.87 earned run average. He put up 3.6 total WAR. #3 closer Kenley Jansen actually took a step back last season, but in the five years before that, his FIPs read 1.31, 1.44, 2.14, 1.91, and 1.99. Velocity machine Aroldis Chapman places fourth overall, with an astounding 16.31 K/9 mark, and a 2.09 FIP. Craig Kimbrel still doesn’t have a team, but word is that he’s lowering his asking price, so once he signs and prepares for the season he could be ready to live up to his #5 preseason rank. Kimbrel put 13.86 K/9 in 2018, albeit with some lost control. He’s only a year removed, though, from one of the greatest closer years all time, when he struck out 16.43 per nine innings while walking only 1.83. Underrated Nationals arm Sean Doolittle places sixth, with a 1.89 2018 FIP and exactly 10.00 K/BB. Despite a questionable mid-season demotion, Corey Knebel experienced his third straight season of 14 K/9 last year. He also put up a 2.40 xFIP, enough to land seventh. Roberto Osuna places eighth overall. He had serious off-the-field issues last season, but still walked less than a batter per game when playing, good for a 2.37 ERA. Filipe Vazquez places an the ninth best closer in baseball. A 2.43 FIP led him to 2.1 total WAR. Finally, Brad Hand was traded to the Indians at the deadline, and he helped to solidify an otherwise shaky bullpen, topping 4 K/BB.
A claim that right field is the best position in baseball would not be hard to defend. The position is ripe with superstars at the top, and shows strong depth at the end. Despite the competition, Mookie Betts was chosen unanimously for the top spot. Had it not been for Mike Trout, he would have won MVP last season for his 10.4 WAR, which comes from a .346 BA, 185 wRC+, and 33/30 power/speed total, and 20 DRS. Mookie’s rival Aaron Judge snags the second overall spot with his power and eye. He continued his 2017 success last year with 27 home runs and a .392 OBP in only 112 games. Recent Phillies’ super-acquisition Bryce Harper comes in third. While defensive woes have hurt his holistic numbers, he still had a .393 OBP last year, just above his career .389 mark. The season before that he slugged almost .600 too. In a testament to the overall strength of the position, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich falls to fourth, after being worth 7.6 WAR last season. Critics point to a likely unsustainable BABIP and fly ball rate, but his OPS of exactly 1.000, complementing his 22 stolen bases, tell a very strong story. Dodgers’ batter Cody Bellinger shattered NL rookie power records two seasons ago, but took a slight hit last year. He was still worth 3.6 WAR and 120 wRC+, though. Mitch Haniger broke out with the Mariners in 2018, with 138 wRC+ and 4.6 WAR in his first full season in the majors. If he can become more consistent on a month-to-month basis, he could join the “most underrated players” list next year. Speaking of underrated talent, Brandon Nimmo is far from a household name, but the seventh best overall right fielder had 149 wRC+ in 2018, mostly due to 15.0% walk rate and .404 OBP. After six up and down seasons with the Dodgers, Yasiel Puig was traded to Reds over the offseason. In Cincinnati, he probably hopes to get close to his 2017 numbers, where breakout defense and good offense and baserunning fed into a 2.9 WAR. Tigers’ asset Nicholas Castellanos comes in ninth, scoring at 130 for wRC+ and putting up 3.0 WAR, albeit with a .361 BABIP. Lastly, rebound candidate Adam Eaton hopes to help the Harper-less Nationals keep pace in 2019. He’s missed the majority of the last two seasons due to injury, but hit .301 in the at bats he did make, and has been worth up to 5.9 WAR per season in the past.