Later this evening, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade outfielder Blake Rutherford will likely hear his name called in the first round of the MLB Draft.
Whatever a team is looking for on the baseball diamond, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound phenom can do it.
“I would describe my game as a five-tool player, being able to do all things on the field.”
Hit. Check. He can spray line drives all over the yard.
Power. Check. His smooth stroke produces effortless power.
Speed. Check. He was Chaminade’s leadoff hitter and often showed his wheels (and his hustle) by stretching singles into doubles.
Defense. Check. Though some MLB personnel believe he’ll move to a corner outfield position, Rutherford is adamant he can stay in centerfield. He glides to balls and makes strong reads off the bat.
Arm. Check. Try to take an extra base on him and you’re liable to get an easy jog back to the dugout for your troubles.
However, Rutherford thinks he has one more attribute that sets him apart.
“More than [being a five-tool player] is my competitiveness. I’m going to come out and I’m going to work whether it’s a 9 a.m. game in a tournament consolation bracket or the championship game under the lights and a big crowd, I’m going to play the same game.”
His effortless abilities make it much easier for him to stay consistent with his production and emotionally.
“I’m someone who is going to stay even keel the whole time…whether I strikeout, I’m going to react the same as when I hit a double,” Rutherford said. “I’m just a guy who is going to stay the same so that no one can tell if I’m struggling or if I’m not.
“The only way you’ll be able to tell if I’m struggling is if I’m taking a couple of extra hacks in the cages, but I’m someone who is really competitive. I’m going to try to help my team win in all phases.”
Rutherford dominated the high school game this season, even in talent-saturated Southern California. His slash line was a ridiculous .577/.676/.923 for a 1.599 OPS. As Chaminade’s leadoff hitter batting in front of Washington commits Nick Kahle, who was named league MVP over Rutherford, and Tommy Costello, Rutherford was constantly on base and constantly scoring runs. He came across to score 34 times in 27 games. He only struck out eight times.
Kahle and Costello, two of Rutherford’s best friends off the field, were his best friends on the diamond as well. They punished teams if they tried to avoid Rutherford.
“Having Nick hit behind me was the best because I got pitched to a lot more. If I didn’t have Nick and Tommy hitting behind me, I would probably get pitched around a little bit. They still do pick and choose, but I definitely get pitched to a lot more.”
“That experience was amazing,” Rutherford said of the NHSI trip. “The teams out there were incredible. We put together a pretty good run as a team, which was pretty special. No one expected us to get as far as we did.”
Coming up clutch in the biggest spots is nothing new for Rutherford. Last summer while playing for Team USA’s U-18 team, he launched a three-run homer against South Korea that helped the Americans claim the gold medal.
Late in the season this year, Rutherford went head-to-head with Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame potential 2017 first-round pick Hunter Greene, who possesses a 95-97 mph fastball, in a big league matchup. After Greene got him looking on an outside slider, Rutherford reached on an error on a hard-hit ball his next at-bat and then crushed a two-run homer to right field on an inside fastball. The Eagles won 3-0.
Both Rutherford and Greene have committed to play for John Savage at UCLA and Rutherford isn’t ruling out the potential of becoming a Bruin, if things don’t fall just the right way in the draft. He’s looking forward to seeing where he is selected, but believes he has an incredible fallback plan in Westwood.
“[The MLB Draft] means everything. Obviously, it’s something I’ve been working for ever since I knew what the draft was, but it’s also something I’m not really stressing over because it’s going to come and go whether I get drafted or I don’t.
“The draft may take care of itself. If it doesn’t, then I’m going to go to UCLA for Savage and hopefully win a World Series there.”
It was his relationship with Savage and former assistant T.J. Bruce, who has since become the head coach at Nevada, that led Rutherford to commit to the Bruins.
“I love them. They were amazing. They are definitely the first part to why I picked it. Then as I grew, I got to know all of the other coaches. I got to know the program history and the school, the education. Being like 30 minutes from my house, to be able to get that education and play baseball, it’s just a special experience.”
Unlike some other top prospects who commit early and change their minds, Rutherford committed as a high school freshman and never had a desire to alter his decision.
“The reason I stayed committed is that I’m really true to my word, so if I’m going to commit, I’m going to stay true and stay committed to them. I wasn’t going to commit until I knew I had decided where I was going to go.
“But you definitely see the guys they had come through there and the guys they’ve had that have turned down the money to go there shows that a lot of people have a high standard and a high respect for UCLA. That definitely weighed in my decision.”
Because Rutherford is already 19 years old, if he were to attend UCLA, he would be eligible for the draft again in two years rather than having to wait three seasons.
Could Blake Rutherford follow in the steps of players like Gerrit Cole, who turned down a seven-figure signing bonus after being selected No. 28 in the 2008 MLB Draft to attend UCLA?
We’ll soon find out…