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2016 Yankees Roster Report Card: Blake Rutherford

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Rutherford, the 2016 Yankees top draft prospect, is one of the most exciting and talented players in the farm system.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Grade: A-

2016 Statistics: 33 G, .351/.415/.570, 3 HR, 8 2B, 4 3B

2016 Level/Roster Status: Rookie ball/Non-40

The Yankees organization has had a ton of success in the past 20 years, but the draft is not a place where fans or members of the front office pride themselves. The Yankees, as we know, have other strengths: financial clout, international scouting, major league coaching, and a pro-analytics front office. However, as far as draft picks go, there really hasn’t been a better one than Blake Rutherford in a long time.

Back in June I wrote a great deal about the Rutherford pick—I said, “You can't deny, though, that the Yankees have not drafted a legitimate top ten-type talent in a very long time, and that last player was probably Derek Jeter.” Rutherford, 19, was drafted 18th overall in this past year’s draft, and it was one of the best steals of the round, in my opinion. He was a legitimate top-five candidate, but some signability issues pushed him further down the board, and right into the Yankees’ lap.

In that post I wrote you can see a lot of the pre-draft scouting reports: most of the reports focus on Rutherford’s immense upside. If everything clicks into place, as Baseball America notes, “Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”

In his first year of play, Rutherford largely followed a standard path of development—at the very least, there weren’t any surprises about the player the Yankees received. He hit an incredible .351/.415/.570 across two Rookie leagues, which is to be expected for someone of his talent level. He did have some injury issues—he had a hamstring strain that sidelined him for the end of the minor league season—but the physical tools seemed to be there. Dave DeFreitas, of 2080Baseball, wrote about Rutherford as recently as September. He said:

“He has a narrow frame and a relatively unassuming physique—and his slightly rolled shoulders suggest that he has room to really get stronger. He also moves with a certain smoothness that works to hide some of his explosive, fast-twitch capabilities... At the plate, he does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone, looks to use the middle of the field, and just looks comfortable overall for such a young player... As the body matures and he adds strength, I expect a fair amount of those line-drives will start clearing the fences... Defensively, Rutherford has the tools to stay in center field... He showed a 45-grade arm with a quick release and throws that stayed online, but given how well the arm works I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a little more arm strength in there.”

Like I wrote with the Jorge Mateo review, reviews for prospects are tricky. With Rutherford, as with Mateo, a grade can be assigned not only on the actual, empirical performance of the player, but also based on evaluators who assess the physical tools in play.

Based on those factors, I think Rutherford had a nice start to his Yankees career. The expectations aren’t going to be this low going forward, though, as he’ll have to succeed in a Low-A/High-A environment to prove that his skills translate at a higher level. If his talent is anything like people are saying it is, then Rutherford could very well be the best prospect in the organization one year from now.