Feature Photo: Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade College Prep, Simi Valley, CA
(Photo by Perfect Game)
A southern California native, Blake Rutherford has been on the showcase and tournament circuit since before he started high school. “The summer after eighth grade is when I really got my first experience of travel ball,” he recalls. It didn’t take long for evaluators to take notice.
David Rawnsley, the vice president of player personnel for Perfect Game, has seen him each of the past three years and he’s come away impressed every time. “He was a well-known commodity in the scouting world after his freshman year of high school,” says Rawnsley. “Part of his attraction is he has been out there for a long time. Scouts and bigwigs have seen him play in highly competitive environments.”
This past summer, Rutherford starred on the USA Baseball 18-and-under team, helping to lead Team USA to its third consecutive WBSC World Cup championship, and being named to the All-Tournament Team. He also played in the 2015 Perfect Game All American Classic, collecting a double and a stolen base in three at bats. This spring, he was one of the top performers at the National High School Invitational, where his Chaminade team finished as the runner-up in the 16-team tournament. He went 9-for-14 with two doubles and a triple in the tournament. 2080’s Nick Faleris was in attendance, and came away impressed.
“Rutherford did a little bit of everything in Cary [at the NHSI], including carrying himself with confidence and with a sense of presence. The swing works, and there was a sense of calm about him regardless of situation or count. It’s more of a line drive approach right now, but he should grow into some over-the-fence power as he continues to refine as a hitter, and learn which pitches he can lift and drive.“
While some evaluators, and even Blake himself, compare his game to fellow southern California prep product Christian Yelich (OF, Marlins), Rawnsley sees Rutherford ending up more like Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, projecting him as a plus hitter with plus power if he reaches his ceiling.
Outside of the bat, Rutherford shows five-tool potential, with a chance for average speed, defense and arm strength at maturity. Rawnsley grades his present speed as above average, noting he’s likely to lose a step once he fills out physically, while Faleris grades it a tick lower, projecting a below-average runner once he has fully thickened. While Rutherford’s arm strength and defense presently grade out as average, the variable nature of his projected mobility leaves his ultimate home in the outfield up for debate, with many projecting an eventual shift to a corner outfield spot.
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But the real draw on draft day is going to be the offensive upside. Rutherford certainly kept up the pace at Chaminade this year, slashing .550/.654/.887, with 13 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 10 stolen bases, and a 19:8 BB:K ratio over 27 games.
When asked about his advanced bat, Rutherford states, “That’s something that’s been more natural to me. Obviously, I’ve worked at it a lot, but it’s always been the more natural thing to me.” The work has certainly paid off. Rutherford starts practicing as early as 7:15 in the morning, then heads to class, followed by training at Pro Active in the afternoon for year-round workouts. And that doesn’t include games.
Of course, Rutherford isn’t doing all of this alone. He credits his coach at the California Baseball Academy, Daylon Monette, with helping him develop into the player he is today. “He basically taught me the game of baseball. “He was one of the biggest keys as to why I am the player I am so far,” said Rutherford. He also credits his high school coach, Frank Mutz. “He’s had my back through this whole process, and he’s definitely been a really big mentor and a good friend throughout all my years of high school.”
Rutherford’s family has played an integral part in his development as well. He’s received unwavering support from his parents. “I can’t remember the last time one of them missed a game. I just can’t thank them enough,” Blake says. “They’ve given me everything I need to be able to be successful so far, and hopefully be successful in the future. I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation, and a better set of parents.” He also credits his older brother, Cole, who suffered a devastating ankle injury (which Blake termed as “disgusting”) last year playing for Orange Coast College. But he fought back to full strength, transferred to Cornell University, and earned a spot on the baseball team, becoming an inspiration to his younger brother. “I took a lot from watching him play,” Blake recalls. “He put in a lot of work, a lot of tears, a lot of time…so I’ve learned what it’s like to face adversity and what it’s like to overcome it.”
This type of perspective isn’t lost on evaluators. Rawnsley recognizes his makeup, saying “From everything I hear, and talking with his dad, he seems to be a straightforward kid. He’s used to the attention.” Maturity is what separates Rutherford from other players. While he is older than most high school seniors entering the draft, having just turned 19, Rawnsley believes that will be an advantage. “With a 17-year-old player with projection, you have to start guessing. A more mature player gives more surety in the evaluation. Rutherford shows the benefits.”
So what does this mean for Rutherford’s draft stock? Rawnsley believes he won’t have to wait long to hear his named called during the MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 9th. “Rutherford will go in the top 10, and I say that with a high degree of confidence. You could paint a scenario where Philadelphia (picking first) or Cincinnati (picking second) or Atlanta (picking third) could be very interested in him at the top of the draft.”
Faleris echoes those sentiments. “I don’t think there’s any question the profile is a top-half of the first round profile. I could certainly see a team in the top five popping him, and I think it’s highly likely we see him getting top-ten money regardless of where he ultimately comes off the board.”
If you ask Rutherford, he’ll tell you it hasn’t been a distraction. “I’m not really focused on the draft. If the draft comes and I get drafted, that would be amazing.” As draft day nears, there are no “ifs” about it.