I got my first look at Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep, Calif.) at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars showcase last summer. The 18-year-old outfielder, whom evaluators considered a top 10-draft prospect entering the spring, reinforced that status at last weekend’s National High School Invitational at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC, perhaps elevating himself given the underwhelming performances of some of his similarly talented peers.
The video below merges Rutherford’s batting practice from Tournament of Stars and his four at-bats from the Chaminade Prep vs. Walton HS (Ga.) contest at NHSI.
Rutherford is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, a prototype build that’s athletic, projectable and has all the physical attributes for which scouts yearn. He won’t get quite as big as older brother Cole, who plays at Cornell and is listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, though he has plenty of room to fill out between his sloped-off shoulders and could settle into the 215-220 range someday. He tapers off at a high waist, branching down into a muscular lower half. He’ll turn 19 about a month before the draft, making him older than most high-school seniors.
Beyond his obvious five-tool potential, another reason why Rutherford entered the year so high on teams’ preseason draft boards is his consistent performance against good competition. He’s been a showcase warrior throughout his prep career, also playing for the Team USA 18U National Team last summer. He hit the ball hard and stood out for his physicality and tools when I first saw him at Tournament of Stars, and things were no different at NHSI.
The first thing that jumps out from Rutherford’s left-handed swing is his excellent bat path, an ideal line-drive stroke that enters the zone early and enables his all-fields approach. Said approach is what I’d like to focus on here, as it was on full display in a 4-for-4 performance against a mid-80s lefty from Walton HS. In his first two at-bats, he smacked a liner up the middle and followed it up with a long drive to his opposite field that traveled about 310 feet. He then singled and doubled to his pull side in his final two at-bats.
From the video, we notice that these results varied based on two different timing-based approaches he used in the game. In his first plate appearance (0:20), he utilizes a toe tap to close off his open stance for the first three pitches, but replaces the tap with a shorter stride for the remainder of the at-bat as well as the entirety of the second-bat. Those two at-bats resulted in the opposite-field hits, as the shorter stride took weight off his front leg and allowed him to stay further back in his swing, opening up more of the field. In his second and third at-bats, he returned to the toe tap, which produced the hits to his pull side as he shifted more of his weight back onto the front leg. The takeaway is that Rutherford, when he desires to, can work both sides of the field. And that’s possible because of his on-plane swing, an altogether pretty motion that should produce a high contact rate and convert his plus raw power to games.
He also has premium bat speed and hand-eye coordination, rarely making soft contact that results in a playable ball. Batting practice makes you feel more confident about all the good things your notes say about his swing, as the ball actually does sound different coming off the bat when he’s wielding a wooden stick.
Rutherford is loose and well coordinated, and his present athleticism shows up in all phases. At Tournament of Stars, he clocked a plus 60-yard run time of 6.67. That straight-line speed plays in center field for now, but he profiles better in right field long term as he adds bulk with a pro training regimen and loses a step. He’s a good bet to remain a 55 runner with an ability to range laterally faster than the average corner outfielder.
He has at least average arm strength that should tick up with more physical development, as well as an excellent arm action that produces nice carry. Throwing from right field in outfield drills at Tournament of Stars, he pretty consistently delivered one-hoppers to third base and home plate with accuracy. If you’re bent on nit-picking, then you note he’s sometimes slow getting over his front side when throwing a ball that was hit directly to him, instead relying too heavily on his natural arm strength. But in terms of tools and defensive instincts, there’s nothing that suggests he won’t be an above-average defender in right, or be unable to play center if a team wanted him to.
When you boil everything down, Rutherford has no major weakness in his game. For a high-school player with 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 – along with Louisville’s Corey Ray, Florida’s Buddy Reed and Mercer’s Kyle Lewis – who deserve strong consideration as top-five overall picks. 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.
Raw Power: 50/60
Game Power: 60*
*Hit and game power grades are on future basis.