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Q&A with the nation's No. 1 JUCO baseball player - a UK commit

Jackson Rutledge at Kentucky last month

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Around three weeks ago Jackson Rutledge - the nation's top-ranked junior college baseball player according to Prep Baseball Report - committed to Kentucky.

There's still the big looming question of whether Rutledge will ever play in Lexington. A player with his pedigree is on the minds of scouts and will be drafted at some point.

But for now there's a chance he could make an enormous impact on the Wildcats' baseball program at some point.

Rutledge is a 6'8, 255-pound righty with electric stuff who approaches 100 on the gun - and peaked at 99 this fall - with a five-pitch arsenal that includes a curveball at 81 or 82, a slider in the 86-89 range, a changeup at 86-88 and both a two- and four-seamer.

Formerly a pitcher at Arkansas, before transferring to San Jacinto Junior College in May, Rutledge posted a 3-0 record with the Razorbacks in 2018. During that freshman season with the Hogs he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 appearances, including two starts, over 15.2 IP. He did walk 11 in those frames but opposing batters only hit .210 against him.

Rutledge committed to Kentucky on November 23, and he spoke with Cats Illustrated about that and his decision to pick Nick Mingione's program in a recent interview.

If Rutledge is drafted and signs during the next MLB Draft, he won't play in Lexington. But if that doesn't work out, he would be enrolling at UK before August of 2019.

Here's our Q&A with the flamethrowing righty.

Cats Illustrated: You visited Kentucky not long ago. Talk about that trip and what you took away from it.

Jackson Rutledge: It was good. Obviously, you know that new stadium is unreal. I don't know how it gets any better than that as far as facilities. I really liked meeting with all the coaches and talked to them for a while. Coltyn Kessler was my catcher in high school. He's caught me since I was in 8th grade so it was good catching up with him.

Cats Illustrated: When you picked Kentucky what did it come down to for you?

Rutledge: The biggest thing is competing at the highest college level. There's nothing better than the SEC. If I were to go there next year I would get to face the best teams in college baseball and have a chance to dominate at that stage. The coaches there are all really good. Coach (Jimmy) Belanger knows a lot and I know he could help me. Also, I can trust all of them and I think they're all good people.

Cats Illustrated: When people talk about your game or when the scouting reports are written, what do people come back to in terms of what makes you the prospect you are?

Rutledge: I think the first thing would be just stuff in general. My feel for pitches. And I have five different pitches so I have a starter projection. Also, I throw hard and that always helps. I think the thing that separates me is I have a higher understanding of the game. I have a high level of thinking about everything that I do.

Cats Illustrated: Any favorite pitchers in the big leagues, guys you enjoy following or watching, or try to take some things from?

Rutledge: I'm a big fan of Max Scherzer. He's from St. Louis, too. Just as a competitor he is crazy. I try to model myself after that mentally. I'm also a big fan of Adam Wainwright and also Blake Treinen.

Cats Illustrated: How much has Kentucky's staff talked about the opportunity there, or who they'll be losing, when and how that would impact you?

Rutledge: That was one of the things we talked about at first. They're looking for a weekend guy. Obviously they're going to lose Zack Thompson this year so that would be my goal ... to step in and take his spot.

Cats Illustrated: What were the other schools that were recruiting you?

Rutledge: I had it narrowed to Kentucky, Indiana and Dallas Baptist.

Cats Illustrated: It can be a tough issue to talk about because there's so much unknown, but in terms of the draft, what have you heard?

Rutledge: That is my goal, to get drafted this spring and sign. I think if I can continue to have a good year, get better and prove myself I think the opportunity will be there for me to sign. If that doesn't work out then I'll go to Kentucky and prove myself there.

With a new annual subscription to Cats Illustrated you'll receive $99 in free gear from the Rivals Fan Store!