Coutts worked hard last two years to build his power game

The Nationals have reportedly agreed to a deal with undrafted free agent outfielder/first baseman Jackson Coutts out of the University of Rhode Island this week. The 6-foot-3, 235-lb. left-handed power hitter played three seasons in Kingston, R.I. for head coach Raphael Cerrato.

"He's a good player," Cerrato said. "My guess is he would've been like 10th to 15th round on a normal year and would've honestly got a bigger bonus than what he received. I am happy for him. It's an opportunity and he deserves it. He was absolutely killing it. He really figured it out this year."

Cerrato remembers recruiting Coutts out of high school in Orono, Maine. But Coutts was not on a hot streak when Cerrato first saw him with the bat, so the skipper focused on his other assets.

"In high school, I saw him a lot," Cerrato said. "I loved his swing. He came to a couple of our camps. He was mostly catching then. He wasn't like a legit Division I catcher. We thought he'd end up moving to first or outfield. He ran pretty well for a big guy. He had power. But I swear I never saw him get hits. He was like 2-for-20 the summer I saw him. He just didn't get a hit. I was like, 'What is going on?'

"But we liked him and then we saw him pitch. I hadn't seen him pitch in a while and he was like 88-89 mph and I am like, 'Even if he never ends up hitting for us, he can probably help us on the mound. We got to take him.' So we offered him a scholarship. He ended up coming (to Rhode Island)."

Eventually Coutts showed how well he could hit.

Coutts hit .451 with seven doubles, four homers and 12 RBIs when his 2020 junior season was cut short. And that was unfortunate because Cerrato felt like Jackson was on his way to having a big year. One reason for Coutts' ascension was his year-round work that included a couple of stints playing summer ball.

Nationals-Nats-Presidents-Race.jpg"We loved his swing," Cerrato said. "I saw more at-bats of him then most kids in summer travel ball. He had a great freshman year for us. He was probably our best hitter as a freshman. He had a great summer that year in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. He was hitting close to .400 for most of the year."

Coaches tried to alter his swing a bit before his sophomore year to add power, but it did not go as well as they would have liked early on. But Cerrato said Coutts continued to work and eventually found his groove by constantly adding games and at-bats year round.

"In his sophomore year, he kind of changed his swing," Cerrato said. "He got out of a little bit of what he was trying to do because he is kind of just a pure hitter who didn't really have a lot of game power. But the kind of kid that uses the whole field, more like a line drive hitter. He knew and I knew power was important. So we worked on some things and he wanted to try to develop more power. I think it hurt him as a sophomore. It's tough to try to change something in the middle of the year. He did OK, but he wasn't as good as he could have been.

"Then he ended up having a good summer in the Cape Cod League. He went back to what he was as a hitter. He hit .300 in the Cape. He was phenomenal this year and the power is coming. Every time he was up this year, you thought he was going to hit a double or a home run against good pitching. He could hit good pitching. Against Arizona and Central Michigan our second to last weekend, he was destroying the baseball."

Good hitters have an eye for the ball. Hitting a fastball is where it all starts, but recognizing breaking pitches and different arm slots are critical to becoming a more well-rounded hitter. Cerrato said Coutts has improved on seeing every pitch well and realizing what the opponent is trying to do to get him out. Coutts finished his Rhode Island career hitting .302 with nine homers and 62 RBIs.

"He has gotten better," Cerrato said. "A lot of times, that comes with confidence and working on certain things, (like) balance. He was a pretty selective hitter. He didn't really strike out much at all. He has got the kind of power. He hit a home run against Maryland to left-center field that was like a line drive. It just kept going and going, an oppo home run. Man, that was impressive."

Cerrato said the coaching staff loved watching Coutts launch home runs in practice. He had 13 doubles and eight homers in his last 64 games. Coutts spent a lot of time in the weight room and refined his nutrition over the last couple of seasons to help his game.

"He is best when he is driving the ball left-center, right-center and he has got power to hit it out really anywhere in the park," Cerrato said. "He's just a good hitter. You watch him in BP and it's just a joke.

"The other thing too is he got himself in really good shape. He changed his body. I think that has helped a lot. He worked really hard on his defense and became pretty solid for us defensively. The bat is going to take him. If he is going to make it to the big leagues, it's his bat."

Coutts is a quiet in the clubhouse, leading by example. Cerrato noticed how Coutts shared his knowledge of the game with younger Rams players.

"Everyone loves him. There is no one on the team that did not like Jackson," Cerrato said. "He is a very likable kid. Nice kid, soft spoken. I don't know if I ever heard him yell in three years. But he led by example. Guys look up to him. Really, really good work ethic, and that's on hitting and defense. He put a lot of time in defensively. Jackson worked hard in the weight room."

That teaching ability comes from growing up in a very athletic family. Both of Coutts' parents have years of coaching experience after playing sports themselves. His mom, Lynn, works at the University of Denver as a deputy athletic director for student excellence after being the softball coach at Maine. His father, Mike, played for the Maine Black Bears when they made it to the 1981 College World Series, and is now the softball coach for Maine, taking over for Lynn. His sister, Maggie, played softball and soccer at Orono High School and graduated this year.

"I loved seeing a guy like Jackson work with our freshmen this year," Cerrato said. "He just hit with them. I would watch them talk hitting. He was good about that. That gives me a lot of pride. He was that kind of kid. Everyone loved Jackson.

"He definitely was with a very athletic family. Great parents. I know them pretty well, (all) involved in sports, know athletics, played at a high level. That helps a lot. It's a close-knit family and a solid background for Jackson."

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