The Yankees will feel fortunate to even have Rutherford, considering his projections as a top-10, or even top-5 pick. Scouts feel he’ll have at least above average power, hitting and running, with all of those having the potential to be plus tools.
Rutherford may also find reason to feel fortunate about being a Yankee.
“I grew up a big Yankee fan,” Rutherford told PinstripesPlus. “It’s a prestigious franchise and I was really excited for the opportunity to play for them.”
The 19-year-old seems unbothered by his perceived slide down the draft board in June.
“Not really,” he replied when asked if he was surprised to fall to the Yankees. “I was open for any team, but when I heard it was the Yankees I was extremely happy. I grew up a Yankee fan and a big fan of a lot of the players and I look forward to hopefully being able to follow them in their footsteps.”
Putting pen to paper to sign your first professional contract is a special moment for any young player starting their career. For Rutherford, it meant it was time to get down to business.
“I felt relieved because now I can just go play baseball,” he said about signing his contract. “I didn’t have to worry about the draft or what was going on. I could just go join a team and work on hopefully winning a World Series with the Yankees.”
After putting up .240/.333/.400 through twenty-five at-bats in the GCL, Rutherford has only gotten better since his move up to tougher competition. Hitting leadoff for Pulaski, he has hit .375/.444/.708 through 32 at-bats, including four doubles, a triple and a home run. If the adjustment from high school to the pros has been tough, Rutherford hasn’t shown it.
“[The biggest adjustment is] just staying mentally strong,” Rutherford said on the transition to professional baseball. “Obviously, you play a lot more games in pro baseball. Every player, every pitcher you face is here for a reason, so it’s just staying mentally strong and knowing you’re going to have another at-bat, you’re going to have another game, so you just have to stick with the process.”
Some of his early success may be attributed to his experience for his age. As a member of the United States U18 team while in high school, Rutherford won gold medals in the 2014 PanAm Championships and 2015 Baseball World Cup. And already being 19 by the time he graduated high school a month ago, Rutherford has been on scouts’ radars for awhile now. Still, Pulaski manager Tony Franklin has just gotten his first look at the prospect.
“My first glimpse of him was [just a few] days ago. That’s it,” said Franklin, talking about Rutherford’s Pulaski debut on July 15. “What he displayed out there was pretty darn good.”
While Franklin’s job is to help the development of young players like Rutherford, he still takes the time to appreciate being able to witness the talent of those he manages.
“I’m like the majority of fans. I want to see how good this guy is going to be,” Franklin said. “I want to see it myself. I had a front row seat for his debut and it was a pretty good one, so I’m excited.”
Rutherford’s strengths have already been on display in Pulaski, and Franklin has noticed.
“I can tell you that not only me but everyone else out in the ballpark can see his talent,” Franklin continued. “Especially if he hits a ball with the authority that he hits it, and when he runs. There’s nothing scientific about that. That’s what a good baseball player looks like, and let me tell you he looks like a good baseball player. I’m happy he’s here.”
“From a hitting standpoint, I try to compare myself to Cory Seager,” Rutherford said. “Just the way he’s so young and he’s so calm and cool in all situations. No matter whether it’s big or small. Also his ability to hit to all fields with power.”
The question marks that scouts have had with Rutherford are his fielding and throwing. Rutherford moved to the outfield after being a shortstop up until the eighth grade. While he said he’s most comfortable out in center, he feels he can play all three spots.
Franklin knows that the Yankees organization wants players who can play all of those outfield spots. He plans to play Rutherford everywhere along with the other talented outfield prospects that Pulaski has in Estevan Florial, Leonardo Molina and Isiah Gilliam. Franklin said the team will rotate its designated hitter amongst those four, with each player getting three games in the field and one at the DH.
His arm is something that Rutherford is focused on improving.
“One thing I need to work on is my arm because I played a different position when I was younger so I’m still growing into the outfield and how to throw and everything out there,” he said. “I just want to continue to evolve and work on my arm.”
The sample size is small, but so far Rutherford has yet to have problems with either tool. Through his short professional career thus far, he has not recorded any errors and sports a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Even with his so far impressive numbers and the hype that comes with any first-round pick, his manager Franklin knows patience is still a virtue.
“He’s what, 19 years old? [You have to be] as patient as you can be,” Franklin exclaimed. “There are going to be mistakes made. When you make a mistake you try to eliminate it from your play and hopefully the majority of the kids here can do that, not just Blake but all of them.
"We’re all striving for the same things here for our youngsters, teach them as much baseball as we can here. Hopefully, they grasp what it takes to become a major league player because it takes a heck of a lot to become a good major league player. But that comes in time.
“It’d be great if they could come in for a season here or a half-season here and get off to a great start and next thing you know they’re in the big leagues. But that’s fairy tale. You have to spend your time getting 300 or 400 at-bats a year and by the time you’re in the big leagues you have a couple thousand at-bats and hopefully by that time you’re ready to play and play well. Patience is key.”
Even with that in mind, Franklin is still excited to see what Rutherford can do.
“He was our number one selection this year and I expect good things,” Franklin added. “I’m sure everyone here in Pulaski is just waiting with bated breath to find out what this kid’s about. Who doesn’t want to see a raw rookie start in Pulaski and have a 20-year career in the big leagues with the New York Yankees?”
For Rutherford, he just wants to keep doing what’s been working for him.
“I feel like I’m a player who brings the best out of his teammates and stays even keel, I don’t get too high or too low. I’m just really passionate about the game of baseball,” Rutherford said. “I’m here to help and win games. I’m excited for the rest of the season. I’m just going to continue to evolve as an overall player, an overall person, and keep being a student of the game.”
“I expect him to be here every day, to go out and prepare and play the best he can every single day and give it all he’s got,” Franklin said. “So far so good with that.”