School: Chaminade College (West Hills, California)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lb
Commitment: University of California – Los Angeles
2016 Stats: .577/.676/.923, 34 R, 4 HR, 45 RBI, 13 2B, 1 3b in 27 games/102 PAs.
“When you boil everything down, Rutherford has no major weakness in his game. For a high-school player with above-average to plus tools across the board, he’s uniquely polished with a healthy sample of performance against showcase competition, and his athleticism and aptitude lower the risk level in case the pro game proves unexpectedly challenging for him. In my mind, he’s the definitive top hitting prospect in this year’s prep class and belongs in the top tier of position players…With a combination of skills and athleticism that recalls Grady Sizemore, he has the potential to hit his way into the middle of a major-league order and make multiple All-Star teams.” – Fangraphs
“The left-handed-hitting outfielder from the Southern California high school ranks can do just about everything on a baseball field. Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power. He’ll record average to plus run times, and his speed helps him on the basepaths and in the outfield. Rutherford is a solid defender in the outfield, though most feel he’ll move to right field in the future. The good news is his bat should profile just fine if that move does happen” – MLB.com
“If you like Rutherford, you see a plus hit tool with above-average power that will profile even in left field, and you don’t worry that he’s already 19, because you think he’ll go all Alex Verdugo and catch fire in the Midwest or Sally League next year. If you don’t like him, you see a 19-year-old left fielder without the power or speed to profile there. As his ranking here shows, I happen to like him.” – Keith Law, ESPN (insider content)
**Note: These grades are summations based on available scouting information from sources such as Baseball America, MLB.com and Fangraphs.
Prospect Overview and Future Outlook:
At this time last year, Blake Rutherford was considered the top prep prospect in the 2016 draft. A performer as a sophomore and strong shower in the showcase circuit, Rutherford quickly became well known among those in the scouting community in the amateur baseball hotbed that is Southern California. Rutherford built up such a strong reputation coming into his junior year that his opposition typically chose, or at least tried, to issue him a free pass instead of facing him head on. Rutherford walked in a ridiculous 28.4% of his plate appearances as a junior.
At this point, it’s fair to say Rutherford has almost grown stale among evaluators. The once nearly-consensus top-5 pick has slipped out of top ten on most pundits’ recent mock drafts. Despite being vastly more productive than he was in an impressive 2015, Rutherford still hasn’t satisfied everyone with his performance in his senior campaign. The UCLA commit has struggled (relatively speaking) with opposing pitchers pitching around him and has been swinging at some bad pitches outside of his comfort zone. He does, however, show advanced discipline against the top competition.
The haunting knock on Rutherford is that he turned 19 years old on May 2nd and may be the oldest high school player in the class. While some may want to grade him on a curve given the fact that he has some months on the rest of his competition, others may not put much weight into it. Regardless of where Rutherford sits in the eyes of the fickle MLB draft community market makers, watching him play typically alleviates the concerns. Rutherford, who lacks premium speed or 35+ home run power, doesn’t have a calling card so to speak, but there is no singular weakness in his game.
At the plate, Rutherford has very clean mechanics. His upright stance has little to no accompanying noise. After a slight toe tap and simultaneous gather, he releases a very level swing that has enabled him to use the whole field. Rutherford does a great job of using his upper half for rotation but he could probably get more out of his legs in an effort to generate more power. The lefty hitter’s load is subtle but, perhaps at the expense of some power. He definitely has power, but doesn’t profile as a power hitter. What you have to love about Rutherford the player is he uses the whole field to hit and upon deeper evaluation, shows plenty of maturity in his approach. If you watch enough of his tape you’ll see that he encompasses a few different toe taps according to the sequence at hand. While it shows refinement by itself that he’s making these changes, the promise is in the fact that his swing barely varies in display when switching the way he establishes his front foot.
What this 19-year-old shows at this plate is the jewel of the supposed five-tool prospect.
Moving forward, most would say he’s going to continue to add strength on what is a prototypical body for a starting corner outfielder. As far as running, Rutherford grades out as above average, at least for now, but it is figured that he will lose a step as he puts more muscle on his big frame and takes up a professional regimen. He doesn’t figure to be a top-of-order bat in the way of being a base-stealer, but he has impressed scouts with how intelligently he runs the bases.
He’s played a good centerfield in high school but you would be in a slight minority if you think he is staying there moving forward. The right-handed thrower has enough arm to play in right field assuming he moves out of center field moving forward. There is no deficiency defensively even if he’s not likely to be a plus defender. Certainly his plus instincts aid him in that respect though.
What separates Rutherford from the infamous “toolsy outfielders” of White Sox past is not only his advanced swing and feel for hitting, but also the instincts and mentality he brings to the game. This prospect, in a way, reminds me to that of the Cubs’ Albert Almora when he was going into draft day. The similarity doesn’t come from the two having similar profiles, because they don’t, but rather in their mental game. Rutherford mirrors Almora in the way that he is a top prep prospect that is particularly refined in a certain respect of the game with all the physicality required to play the game at the highest level, but scouts want to talk about makeup. When it comes to Rutherford, the evaluators love the way he carries himself, how he leads as Captain of Chaminade Prep, how he does the small things and a local scout even said to me, “I just like how he looks out there.” Whatever that means.
Rutherford is about as tested and polished as you can be as a high school prospect. If he’s still on the board when Scouting Director Nick Hostetler makes his first first round selection at pick #10, someone is going to be coming away with a good value whether it’s the Sox or not.
The most recent mocks from the top draft evaluators have Rutherford in the #10-#14 range of the draft.
ESPN – Keith Law – #14
MLB.com – Jonathon Mayo – #10 (White Sox)
MLB.com – Jim Callis – #13
Baseball America – John Manuel – #13
Whether it’s prospect fatigue or teams being skittish on the prep prospects, the mocks have slated Rutherford at lower and lower positions as we approach draft day. There hasn’t been any injury or under-performance that would prompt the stock dip he’s seen since preseason but nonetheless, he falls. However, there has been talks of him signing later on with teams who have big pools like the Padres, Braves and Phillies. It is certainly a possibility that his price is being driven down by ulterior motives with teams trying to lock in certain players at their respective slots. While most of the teams in the top ten are attached to a prospect or two, Rutherford’s only reoccurring partner is the Chicago White Sox, and even that marriage has faded publicly. In any case, the White Sox had sent a big executive to see him in the early going.
However, there is one team in the top ten that the industry typically fails to feel for in the Miami Marlins at pick #7. That same team, while they play it close to the vest, typically gravitates towards high ceiling prep prospects. There is going to be a series of high school arms available the Marlins as well, but Rutherford would fit their exemplar. Esepcially when you consider the high school pitching track record is atrocious, other than Jose Fernandez. If you’re hoping the White Sox leave day 1 with Blake Rutherford, the #7 pick is one you should sweat.
Away from Miami, there are three other teams I would worry about: the Braves at #3, the Rockies at #4 and Brewers at #5.
While a lot of the big time pundits are saying, “Braves, college bats” others in their camp have said their camp is split and someone called Rutherford, “Yelich with power.” At #4, the Braves will be an interesting team to watch. With most publications tying them to either local Kyle Lewis of Mercer or Tennessee standout Nick Senzel, they’ve been publicly attached to high school pitchers Jason Groome, Riley Pint and recently, the surging Ian Anderson. Past that, they’ve had a strong presence in Southern California seeing both Moniak and Rutherford frequently. Depending on how savvy the Braves want to get financially, they could really twist the start of the draft.
The only other team that I would worry about, maybe even more so than Miami, is the Brewers at #5. Brewers have kept a quiet camp this year but their Scouting Director Ray Montgomery has never been afraid of taking high school players early. Their General Manager David Stearns is also a guy who has quickly built up a reputation of an executive who likes to acquire players on the basis of ceiling. The player they’ve really been attached to is Delvin Perez, as their camp has been mostly quiet, but it wouldn’t shock anyone in the industry if they went high school upside.
Being a prep bat, Rutherford would be outside the typical college pitcher picks the pundits typically have the Sox gravitating towards. In fact, other than in 2012 when the White Sox took a pair of prep bats in Courtney Hawkins and Keon Barnum, you have to go all the way back to 1998 to find the last time the White Sox took a prep bat when the White Sox took Aaron Rowand. Despite recent trends and past behavior, the White Sox say they will hold true to the strategy of drafting the “best player available.” Tying that strategy in with their preference for athletes, I think Blake Rutherford is one of, if not the most likely option at #10 on Thursday.
*Interested in other possible future White Sox? Check out our other published draft profiles below and keep an eye out for ones that are upcoming.*
C Zack Collins, Miami
RHP Dakota Hudson, Mississippi State
LHP Braxton Garrett, Florence HS (Alabama)
RHP Cody Sedlock, Illinois
RHP Robert Tyler, Georgia
OF Corey Ray, Louisville
LHP Eric Lauer, Kent State
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