Player: Blake Rutherford
DOB: May 2, 1997 (19 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'2", 190 lbs
School: Chaminade College Prep (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
Similar to the way a college player can significantly boost his stock with a strong showing in the Cape Cod League, a prep prospect can get a serious shot in the arm from a standout performance with the USA Baseball 18U team.
Long on the MLB draft radar, outfielder Blake Rutherford solidified his standing as an elite prospect last summer when Baseball America identified him as the biggest bat on that star-studded 18U team.
However, his stock has slipped a bit this spring, and he's fallen behind fellow California outfielder Mickey Moniak, who is now the top prep hitter in the eyes of most evaluators.
That being said, Rutherford is still a top-tier prospect with as high a ceiling as any position player.
He has the potential for five plus tools as his development continues, and he went so far as to identify himself as a five-tool player while breaking down his game for Chuck Wasserstrom of MLB Trade Rumors:
I would describe my game as someone who can do all things on a baseball field. I truly believe I’m a five-tool player who has a very overall strong game. I feel like the main thing people have always talked about is my hitting, but I really feel like my fielding, my running and my throwing have all taken a huge step this year. I’m also someone who’s super competitive, and I’m not going to stop until I get what I want – which is winning. I’m just someone who’s passionate and loves to play the game, but stays calm and cool during all situations.
Even after an up-and-down spring, the superstar potential is still obvious, and he's more than worthy of being selected in the top half of the first round.
So what exactly is it that scouts liked so much about Rutherford heading into the spring, and what has caused his stock to slip a bit?
Here's what Baseball America had to say in its predraft scouting report while ranking him as the No. 9 overall prospect:
Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on, and would likely be the consensus top prep bat in the class if he had a more consistent spring or if he were a year younger.
Rutherford turned 19 as the calendar turned to May, offering less projection than other prep outfielders, with a physically mature 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame. Scouts have to project on Rutherford's home run power; he's produced this spring after being the biggest bat last summer for USA Baseball's 18U team.
However, he hasn't taken the next step with his power, at times trying too hard to pull and yank balls for power. When he stays with his approach, he's as impressive as any prep hitter in the class, with power to all fields, a line-drive swing path that covers the plate and the athleticism for center field.
If he can refine his approach at the plate and maximize his raw power, the sky is the limit for the Chaminade Prep star, who could ultimately develop into one of the game's elite all-around center fielders.
Pro Comparison: Brady Anderson
Rutherford's upright stance when he loads up and swing path actually remind me a bit of Joe Mauer, but the similarities between those two players begin and end there.
Looking at the current landscape of left-handed-hitting center fielders, there's no one who matches up with Rutherford as a well-built power threat who can also hit, run and field at a high level.
Instead, we'll go back a few years to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson.
A three-time All-Star, Anderson is best remembered for his out-of-nowhere 50-homer season in 1996, but that one anomaly aside, he was a steady producer in a number of areas.
Once he hit his stride as the Orioles' everyday center fielder, he was a consistent threat for 15-plus home runs, 20-plus stolen bases and strong defense in center field.
Rutherford possesses a better hit tool, as Anderson was a career .256 hitter who never batted over .300 in any one season.
Beyond that, it's a fair comparison across the board as both players are strong, athletic center fielders capable of providing a good mix of power and speed offensively.
Projection: Starting center fielder, potential middle-of-the-order bat
Major League ETA: 2021
Chances of Signing: 95 percent
Rutherford is committed to UCLA, but given how much has been made about his age and lack of projectability, he's no doubt anxious to get his pro career started.