Jackson Coutts of the Fredericksburg Nationals bats during a  game against the Delmarva Shorebirds on June 1, 2021.      Credit: Edward Maurer / Fredericksburg Nationals

Jackson Coutts is living his dream.

The former Orono High School and University of Rhode Island standout is in his first season as a professional after signing a free-agent contract with the Washington Nationals and is playing for its low Class A Carolina League team, the Fredericksburg (Virginia) Nationals.

He has been converted into a first baseman after being a right fielder in college and is spending a lot of time learning his new position although he noted he did play first base in some summer league games.

“I’m comfortable there,” he said.

Being a rookie, the 22-year-old Coutts hasn’t received a lot of playing time yet. He has appeared in 16 of the FredNats’ 55 games. He is hitting .161 with nine hits in 56 at-bats with two doubles, six runs batted in and the first home run of his pro career as he works on refining his approach at the plate.

“There are a lot of real good pitchers in this league who throw pretty hard,” he said. “It’s not about batting average. It’s about stringing together good, quality at-bats. You have to be on time [with your swing]. I’m getting a lot of reps in practice and I’m making progress. That’s all I can ask for.”

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coutts, is a left-handed hitter who won the 2017 Dr. John Winkin Award which goes to the state’s top senior player. Coutts, who also played basketball and football at Orono High, hit .302 in 107 games spanning three seasons at the University of Rhode Island with 23 doubles, nine homers and 62 RBIs.

He was off to a terrific start his junior year in 2020 only to have the collegiate season halted early by the COVID-19 pandemic. He played in 13 games and finished among the top 20 among Division I schools in several categories including batting average (.451, 14th), slugging percentage (.824, 9th), hits per game (1.77) and doubles per game (0.54).

Coutts probably would have been drafted after his junior year, but the draft was cut back from 40 to five rounds due to the pandemic so he signed a free-agent deal with the Nationals.

He is now adjusting to professional baseball, living in a townhouse with a teammate 20 minutes from the ballpark. Coutts said they usually get to the park by 1:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game and have a “mini-practice” beforehand, working on fielding and hitting in the cage and on the field.

The FredNats also are playing the same team for six consecutive days in a change that was designed to reduce the amount of travel during the pandemic. They get Mondays off.

It is the first season for the FredNats in a new ballpark with a special eco-friendly artificial turf surface. Instead of the traditional rubber pellets, the filler is composed of coconut husks and sand which keeps the surface cooler for the players.

“On ground balls, you don’t get high bounces [like on the turf at UMaine’s Mahaney Diamond],” he explained. “It took a little getting used to.”

Coutts, the son of UMaine softball coach and former Black Bear baseball player and assistant coach Mike Coutts and UMaine Sports Hall of Fame softball pitcher Lynn (Hearty) Coutts, a former UMaine softball coach, is confident that the hits will start falling in with experience.

“It’s a process. I’m in a pretty good place right now,” he said.