Blake Rutherford was destined to be a White Sox. His fate may have been sealed back in April of 2016, when Rutherford's Chaminade High School traveled to face off against future 2nd overall pick RHP Hunter Greene's Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. In front of a White Sox scouting contingent led by Executive VP Kenny Williams, Rutherford blasted a two-run home run off Greene. Rutherford remembers the moment fondly:
"Yeah that was a good game. I was able to meet some of them since I was traded over and they may have brought that up to me, but overall it was just a fun game and atmosphere so that's why people remember it."
He was heavily rumored to be the White Sox choice for their first pick in the 2016 draft, but they elected go to with catcher Zack Collins, who is currently slugging his way through the system at AA Birmingham. Rutherford fell to the New York Yankees at the 18th selection, which was a perfect landing spot for him:
"It was an amazing thing to be drafted by the Yankees, they were my childhood favorite. I would have been thankful for any team to draft me but to start my pro career with the team I grew up watching was special."
This past off-season, White Sox GM Rick Hahn reportedly nearly swung a deal that would have netted Rutherford in exchange for star pitcher Jose Quintana, and later Hahn admitted he had a deal die at an advanced level. After rumors of Quintana to New York persisted all through spring and into summer, Hahn and Cubs GM Theo Epstein shocked the baseball world by sealing a deal that sent Quintana to the Cubs in exchange for a package headlined by Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. After dealing away their most valuable trade chip in Quintana, it seemed unlikely the White Sox would be able to land Rutherford after all. However, Hahn was undeterred and packaged high leverage relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle along with slugger Todd Frazier to finally acquire Rutherford in a huge seven player deal. Blake was shocked and saddened to leave the Yankees at first, but he quickly appreciated the opportunity:
"It feels good to go to an organization that wanted me and they are building something special. It makes me feel appreciative and thankful for the opportunity, but obviously some mixed reactions on the night I got traded. I was overwhelmed and sad to leave my friends and some of the coaches that have had a big impact on me. But to come to an organization that has a lot of promise and a lot of future to it, to be a part of that is special."
The deal was met with some raised eyebrows from the scouting community, as Rutherford's prospect stock has lost some luster since he tore through rookie ball last season (.351/.415/.570). This season, between Low Class A Charleston (a notorious pitchers' park) and Kannapolis, Rutherford is slashing .269/.331/.363. But Rutherford bristled at the implication his 2017 campaign has been a disappointment:
"Not really, I don't think its been that bad of a year for me. Its my first pro season and people can say what they want but the type of player I am and what I have to get better at by taking it in the offseason and continue to work. I honestly think that, in my opinion, so far this year this has been a pretty successful year. People have their expectations, but I am just worried about taking care of what I can take care of. The power numbers I'm sure people try to talk about, but I've hit a lot of balls hard and a lot of balls that could have left if I was at a different field then what I was at. I am going to continue development and continue to get stronger as I get older so its not something I am worried about at this point."
The confidence displayed by Rutherford is undoubtedly backed by the White Sox organization, who undertook their 15 month journey to land the 20-year-old outfielder and have to be pleased with themselves for the result. Will it be worth it? Only time will be able to answer that, but Rutherford offered a sneak peak to the player he aspires to be and his ultimate goal:
"I want to be a player who can help the team win on offense, defense, and base running. I don't want to be a one dimensional, but an all-around player who works hard, who really wants to win and help the team bring a championship back to the city."
Playing in the South Atlantic League two years younger than the typical competition, and pushing through the dog days of August, some less-than-stellar numbers at this point are nothing to be alarmed about. The White Sox believe in the tools, and so does Blake. He remains a key player in the rebuild effort, and will be an exciting player to watch develop over the next few years.
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