Name: Blake Rutherford
Born: New Jersey
Age: 19 (5/2/97)
Height/Weight: 6'2"/190 lbs
School: Chaminade College Prep (West Hills, California)
Earlier in the year, Blake Rutherford was generally projected to be drafted much higher, with some publications projecting him to be selected as early as within the top ten. In the weeks and months that have passed, Rutherford has dropped down the draft board thanks to a somewhat inconsistent season, a lack of domination against competition, and the fact that he turned nineteen in May and is a year older than the majority of high schoolers. He may be available when the Mets draft at 19, and if so, the Mets may find themselves with a steal on their hands.
Though he was born in New Jersey, Blake grew up in Simi Valley, California. He still maintains some of his east coast roots. The Yankees are his favorite baseball team, and Derek Jeter is favorite player, for example. The youngster has been scouted for years now, and if there were such a thing as "prospect fatigue" for potential major league draftees, Rutherford could certainly be a case study. He has been a member of Chaminade College Prep school's varsity baseball team since 2012, when he made the team as a freshman. He has dominated at virtually every year, his 2013 sophomore season being the only outlier since the left-hander appeared in only seven games. As a freshman, he hit .322/.372/.356 in 29 games. As a junior, he hit .435/.602/.693 in 27 games, and as a senior this past season, he hit .577/.676/.923 in 27 games, good for a career .438/.550/.630 batting line in 90 games at the school.
Rutherford played for the USA Baseball's 18U squad twice in 2014 and 2015. He hit .286/.429/.321 in 28 at-bats in his first year with the team, and .304/.377/.457 in 46 at-bats in his second year. It was with the USA Baseball 18U team that he met Greg Moore, a coach with Cal State. Moore said that Rutherford is:
"such a steady person that I think he's wired for the ups and downs and opinions that will flow around him. On the field is where he's most comfortable. Eliminating the distractions and focusing will be the toughest obstacles just like any 18-year-old in his shoes. I really enjoyed how Blake goes about it on the field. He's wired to be a professional treating every day the same but also working to become better. You talk about a five-tool player. He has those skills but also understands the game of baseball."
Rutherford has a commitment to UCLA, a school whose coaching staff he has a strong connection with, and does not take the commitment lightly. "There's definitely a chance I still end up at UCLA. I love UCLA. My family is a big education-first, big school-first family," he has said.
What The Scouts Think
At 6'2", 190 lbs, the 19-year-old has an athletic, projectable frame. He has room to grow and fill out, adding additional muscle to his frame and power to his game. His lower half is noticeably muscular, in addition to his broad shoulders, which is conducive to both hitting and running. Blake Rutherford is a legitimate five-tool threat. At his best, he can hit for average, hit for power, has speed, has a strong arm, and is at least a solid-if-unspectacular fielder. Offering a scouting report of himself, Rutherford says that he is a "player that can change the game on the basepaths, hitting, or fielding."
Rutherford has an advanced approach at the plate, but the youngster shrugs it off, calling it rather simple. In his own words: "It just means getting my pitch when I hit. Even if it's a strike, I'm going to take it if it's not a pitch I'm going to drive, until it gets to two strikes."
He sprays line drives all over the field, turning on pitches when he can to launch them over the outfield fence. His left-handed swing is level, which should produce a high contact rate. His raw strength and quick bat speed should generate hard contact when he does put bat on ball. As noticed by Jesse Burkhart at USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars showcase last summer, Rutherford utilizes multiple timing mechanisms, depending on the situation of his at-bat.
"From the video, we notice that these results varied based on two different timing-based approaches he used in the game. In his first plate appearance (0:20), he utilizes a toe tap to close off his open stance for the first three pitches, but replaces the tap with a shorter stride for the remainder of the at-bat as well as the entirety of the second-bat. Those two at-bats resulted in the opposite-field hits, as the shorter stride took weight off his front leg and allowed him to stay further back in his swing, opening up more of the field. In his second and third at-bats, he returned to the toe tap, which produced the hits to his pull side as he shifted more of his weight back onto the front leg. The takeaway is that Rutherford, when he desires to, can work both sides of the field."
When he stays true to this approach, the 19-year-old is as impressive as any prep hitter in the 2016 draft class. At times, the left-hander gets away from that approach, trying to pull the ball to hard to demonstrate his power, resulting in ground balls he swung over or fly balls that just don't have enough on them. Rutherford rarely makes weak contact, and even pitches he misses in such fashion are hit with authority.
Scouts are divided as to whether or not the 19-year-old will stay in center field, the position he now plays. Rutherford maintains that he will be able to play the position at more advanced levels, and others agree. Among them is Tarrik Brock, an outfield coach with the San Diego Padres, who has offered Rutherford private instruction due to Brock's connection to Chaminade College Prep through his son. "I think he can play center field for as long as he wants to or whatever the need of the team may be," Brock said. Among the different aspects of outfield defense that Brock worked with Rutherford on included working on following the ball and taking the right angles, the fundamentals of the first step, and how to better his speed when closing in on the ball. He has been clocked at 6.67 in the 60-yard dash, and while that speed is enough for center, adjusting for a decrease in raw speed as he ages, Rutherford profiles better in right field, where his ability to range will make him an above-average defender. His arm is more than enough for right,
Rutherford is known to have an exceptional work ethic. As a sophomore, he began working with Ryan Sorensen at Proactive Sports Performance, a sports performance center. Sorensen, who had previously worked with major leaguers Nick Swisher and Christian Yelich, among others, worked with Rutherford for up to six hours a day during the offseason, working on strength, explosiveness, flexibility, speed and recovery. "From the get-go, he's come to me and really worked his tail off, "Sorensen said. "He's had a purpose of what he needs to accomplish while he's there." Rutherford has put on an estimated thirty pounds of athleic muscle since training at the center, which will undoubtedly help him in nearly every facet of the game.