After being in the pre-draft mix as a potential top-five pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Rutherford fell to the Yankees at #18 overall, netting the team a very athletic high school hitter with impressive bat control. He stands 6’3”, but he has a narrow frame and a relatively unassuming physique—and his slightly rolled shoulders suggest that he has room to really get stronger. He also moves with a certain smoothness that works to hide some of his explosive, fast-twitch capabilities.
At the plate, he does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone, looks to use the middle of the field, and just looks comfortable overall for such a young player. He also turned in 15 extra base hits in 89 at-bats for Pulaski – a small sample size for sure, but impressive nonetheless as it highlighted his ability to drive the ball. In my looks, he was aggressive early in the count, handing fastballs in the zone. Not surprising for a young hitter, however the 24% K rate suggests that he expands the zone when falling in deeper counts, and he was only 3-for-20 across his final eight games, numbers that suggest that pitchers adjusted by not testing the youngster with velo early in his at-bats. There is a lot to like here and no reason to believe that he won’t adjust going forward—his above-average bat speed and line-drive oriented path through the zone have him well positioned to continue to make consistent hard contact as he learns the zone and develops his plate discipline. As the body matures and he adds strength, I expect a fair amount of those line-drives will start clearing the fences.
Defensively, Rutherford has the tools to stay in center field – I got a 4.23 down the line to 1st base, which is probably on the slower side of his regular run times. He was not overly tested in my looks, but the speed does translate well to the outfield. He showed a 45-grade arm with a quick release and throws that stayed online, but given how well the arm works I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a little more arm strength in there. I assume that Gary Denbo (VP, Player Development for the Yankees) will take a close look at his first rounder next March before deciding whether or not to return Rutherford to Pulaski, or ship him to Short-Season A Staten Island. Either way, expect him to show up to Tampa a good deal stronger—if he can sort out the plate discipline he is a good bet to rocket up the Yankees’ already robust 2017 prospect rankings.