Blake Rutherford has made quite the impression in his first four games as a Charleston RiverDog. Though the weather has been cool at Joe Riley Park the first few games, the talented 19-year-old outfielder is red hot, going 8-for-16 with three doubles and five runs driven in for the season so far. Numbers, though, only begin to tell his story.
Rutherford was drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2016 amateur draft by the New York Yankees who held the 18th overall pick in the draft. One of the key reasons why the Yankees drafted came in his character off the field. While in high school at Chaminade College Prep in West Hills, CA, Rutherford worked with disabled children playing in a baseball league. “It’s definitely one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had working with kids with disabilities. Just seeing the joy the game of baseball brings to them, and just all the great things baseball can do in people’s lives. That’s my main goal, and our main goal out here is the platform the game of baseball gives us to create a difference in the world and just continue to reach out to those in need,” Rutherford said of the experience.
While in high school, Rutherford also played football and brought lessons from the gridiron to the diamond. “There’s a lot of differences, but the mental toughness of football, you get pushed past your limits. With baseball, with all the travel and stuff, you always have to continue to keep a strong mind, so I would just say football with just the mindset and the toughness that it carries, it just definitely transitions and helps me with baseball.”
Rutherford also caught the attention of USA Baseball while at Chaminade Prep. Rutherford not only played for the gold medal-winning USA 18-and-under teams in 2014 and 2015, but he was also a key player for the team providing numerous clutch hits to spur the team to victory. “Probably one of the best baseball experiences I’ve had just because it started with the whole team aspect and obviously we faced adversity. We had to go all the way to Japan and terms weren’t always right for us, but we were able to battle back. I just think it was really good team atmosphere and it was a lot of fun,” Rutherford said of his time with Team USA.
The following June, Rutherford’s name was called by the Yankees in the 2016 Draft. “I was not expecting it. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go. I was thrilled when the Yankees did draft me because that was my favorite team growing up. I was just really excited and really relieved that I was going to go play for the Yankees, and I was just relieved that and just going to be able to go focus on baseball and not worry so much about where I’ll go and just what’s going to happen next,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford was initially assigned to the Yankees West team of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. After eight games there, he was brought up to Rookie-level Pulaski where he went on a tear. In 25 games at Pulaski, Rutherford hit .382 while lashing seven doubles, four triples, and two home runs and driving in nine runs. With nine walks added into his stats, he ended up with an astounding .451 on-base-percentage.
His manager in Charleston, Patrick Osborn, is very impressed with Blake’s natural abilities and talent. “Blake was born with a ton of ability. You see it right away. He does things very easy. Things come easily to him. Whether it’s catching fly balls, running, hitting, throwing. The first day I saw him, I could see this kid’s been blessed with a lot of talent,” Osborn said.
Although a highly regarded defensive player, Rutherford is pushing himself to get better. A speedy outfielder with great range, one of the things scouting reports often mention is the need for him to improve his arm strength. “I was a shortstop growing up, so I had a different arm angle. I’m just continuing to build up my arm strength and arm angle, and that’s something that will be a priority for me for the rest of my career, just something I’m going to try and make a plus in my game,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford didn’t take it easy during the offseason. Rutherford had the opportunity to workout with Miami Marlins outfielder, Christian Yelich. “I got to workout a lot with him in the offseason. I get to work out with him and get to know him and pick his brain, just see him hit. So I definitely model my game after Christian Yelich. Just the way he’s able to hit to all fields and hit for power and just an overall good player,” Rutherford said of his mentor.
This will be Rutherford’s first season playing a 140 game schedule. Although it will be a grind, Rutherford isn’t too concerned about what lies ahead. “I feel like you can’t prepare mentally just because there’s going to be a lot of things that are thrown at you that you can’t prepare for. I feel I have a really good mindset and I’m surrounded by a lot of really good coaches and a lot of good players who have played a full season, I’m going to bank off their experience and just continue to learn and focus on what they tell me to focus on. You just gotta focus on one game, one at-bat at a time.”
As for how the season will unfold, Rutherford had this to say, “I’m a hard worker, and I’m going to continue to work hard. Obviously I’m going to have my struggles through a full season, but I’m just going to battle through it and work, and hopefully, we can win a championship while we’re here in Charleston.”