The earliest memory Blake Rutherford has of a professional scout taking interest in him dates back to middle school. At 14 years old, an eighth grader, the Major Leagues had already taken notice, and a Yankees scout was in attendance at one of his games.In the five years since, Rutherford,
The earliest memory Blake Rutherford has of a professional scout taking interest in him dates back to middle school. At 14 years old, an eighth grader, the Major Leagues had already taken notice, and a Yankees scout was in attendance at one of his games.
In the five years since, Rutherford, now projected among this year's top Draft prospects as an outfielder out of Chaminade College Preparatory in Conoga Park, Calif., has managed to stay on the radar. He's grown up under the watchful eyes of scouts. Everything he does -- on the field, off the field, on social media -- is scrutinized and factored into his Draft stock.
Unlike most of his friends, who made their secondary education plans as seniors, Rutherford committed to play for UCLA as a freshman, an atypical experience for the average teenager just beginning to navigate high school. Such an early commitment relieved Rutherford of the distraction of a drawn out recruitment process but also brought with it the pressure of increased expectations, which only intensified as his reputation grew.
Complete 2016 Draft coverage
MLB Draft features
"I'd rather have more scrutiny than not have a scholarship to UCLA and not be considered an MLB prospect," Rutherford said. "I think scrutiny is hard, but if you take it, you look at it and you make good of it, then it can turn out to be really beneficial."
At 19 years old, Rutherford is older than most high school prospects. Players who linger in the spotlight for so long can suffer from prospect fatigue. Rutherford made sure to defy that by evolving his game throughout high school.
"I take pride in growing as a player so that every time a scout comes to see me again, there's something new to watch," he said. "I want something to stand out that didn't stand out before."
Among those evolutions to his game is Rutherford's increased arm strength. Known more for his bat than his defensive prowess, Rutherford is determined to prove he's a true center fielder. He made strengthening his arm a priority entering his senior year, and it developed not only as an improved asset but what he believes to now be a strength of his game.
"He sees things that most people don't see, and that's what makes him special," Chaminade head coach Frank Mutz said. "And I think that's why he's able to, every game, get better, and every time somebody sees him, get better and try something different. And at the same time he doesn't harp on it, it doesn't eat him up and consume him. It drives him and pushes him; it makes him better."
While many have had Rutherford pegged for a professional future for years, Rutherford himself may have been the last to subscribe to that future. It wasn't until he won a world championship in his second year playing for USA Baseball's 18U team last summer that he first thought he may be able to make a living with his bat.
That realization only fueled Rutherford's insatiable drive more. With his dream of being a Major Leaguer potentially within view, he knows he needs to do to keep developing if he intends to reach it.
"I want to be a player that's very hard to critique," Rutherford said. "I want to be a player that you have to sit here and search and search and search and kind of almost make stuff up to critique just because I really hold myself to a really high standard."
After years of operating under an intense spotlight and working tirelessly toward achieving his goal, Rutherford's baseball future is now out of his hands. With Chaminade's season over, there are no more games to prove himself. His fate now resides with the front-office decision-makers for 30 Major League clubs.
"I've done, I think, everything I can possibly do on the baseball field and off the baseball field," he said. "It's really up to the teams to figure out what they want and what they're looking for."
There will surely be one organization that determines Rutherford is just that, investing a likely first-round Draft pick in him on June 9.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.