BBB 2017 Top Prospect Countdown #3: Blake Rutherford

Blake Rutherford is a 19-year-old, left hand hitting outfielder selected in the 2016 MLB amateur draft. The Yankees selected Rutherford with the 18th overall pick in the first round. Rutherford was born in New Jersey, but moved to Southern California at the age of two and attended Chaminade College Preparatory School in Simi Valley. Senior year Rutherford batted .577 and clubbed nine homeruns, in only 27 games. He was invited to play in the Under Armour All American game in 2015 and also competed with the USA 18 and under team. His time with the USA team includes winning a gold medal in Japan.

Photo via MiLB.com

Breakdown
Rutherford can most certainly be labeled a “big time” prospect. He has been on the national radar as young as thirteen years old and committed to baseball powerhouse UCLA during his freshman year of high school. Leading up to the draft, majority of analysts and scout profilers had him ranked in the overall top ten of the entire draft class. The consensus was that Rutherford was the most complete hitter in the draft and a “safe bet”. When Rutherford fell to the eighteenth pick, it was an absolute no brainer for the Yankees to draft the lefty slugger. Rutherford slipped for two reasons and neither have anything to do with what he brings to the field. First, Rutherford had high bonus demands. That is usually the kiss of death for small market teams. Secondly, his age, 19, is old for a high school prospect. Neither of these two (non) issues effected what the Yankees thought of Rutherford and rightfully so. One could argue, and many did, that the Yankees got the steal of the first round and possibly the draft.

At 6’3 and 195 pounds, Rutherford has the size and build of a major league outfielder. He has a smooth lefty swing and above average bat speed. Unlike many young lefty hitters, Rutherford’s swing is mostly level and leaves very little holes for pitchers to attack. Rutherford’s skills also translate to the field. He grades in with above average speed and an average arm. His off the chart baseball IQ and work ethic combined with all his tangible strengths have expectations for Rutherford rising by the day.

Projection
Rutherford has done nothing but develop and improve since his debut in the Gulf Coast league. After a quick stint with the Tampa Yankees, Rutherford was bumped up to the Pulaski Yankees of the Appalachian league. In both leagues Rutherford combined for a .351 average, with three homeruns, and twelve RBIs. He also had an OBP of .415 and slugged .570. It was an impressive campaign for a professional debut at the age of 19. Unfortunately Rutherford missed the back end of the season with leg injuries, before being shut down for the year in August. The injuries were minor and the Yankees opted to take the safe route by shutting down Rutherford. Frankly, it’s hard not to be excited about the young outfielder. Only his arm keeps him from being a true 5-tool talent, but is average enough to not provide him any troubles in the majors. His average arm will most likely force him from centerfield to a corner outfield spot. If there is a knock on Rutherford, it was his lack of power in year one. Some find it alarming that he was only able to muster three homers in 140 at bats, others think it’s merely a matter of him getting stronger and growing into his own body. If he is unable to develop more of a power stroke, his value will certainly decline, but he would be far from a lost cause. Rutherford has an advanced approach to hitting.  His patience and willingness to go to all fields is extremely rare in someone his age with his experience. If Rutherford is able to develop the power potential he has, he could be a candidate for a perennial 30 and .300 player year in and year out. At the very least, he should develop into an above average major leaguer who brings value to both the offensive and defensive side of the field.

As I mentioned previously, Rutherford is a student of the game with a strong work ethic. As a high schooler, he was already watching film and taking notes on his at bats. He also has value in the locker room with a spotless reputation. Rutherford spent time volunteering for a disabled children baseball league before he was drafted. Rutherford has the physical and mental capabilities to be a star in the major leagues. I would suspect he ends 2017 in high A and will be a strong candidate to be the Yankees top prospect heading into 2018.

MLB Comparison: It's almost too early in Rutherford's pro career to come down with a concrete pro comparison for him. His swing plane is incredibly similar to Carlos Correa's, but seeing they play different positions, that may not be an accurate comparison. Some liken him to Jim Edmonds, but I'm not sure he'll be the elite fielding centerfielder Edmonds was. Others have compared him to Jacoby Ellsbury, but I'm not convinced he'll steal as many bags as the Yankees' overpaid "star." I'm inclined to compare him to Alex Gordon of the Royals or to Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. Again, he may fit somewhere between that as he may not be a 40 homer type player, but if he's anywhere between Gordon and CarGo, I think the Yankees will be more than satisfied. 

Article by: Jesse Bartley

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