GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At White Sox camp, it was Chicago's No. 7 prospect, Blake Rutherford. Rutherford was the first-round pick of the Yankees in 2016, taken
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At White Sox camp, it was Chicago's No. 7 prospect, Blake Rutherford.
Rutherford was the first-round pick of the Yankees in 2016, taken No. 18 overall out of the Southern California high school ranks. He had a very strong pro debut that summer and a solid, if unspectacular first half of his first full season when he was part of the package sent to the White Sox in the Todd Frazier/David Robertson trade. He faded down the stretch, hitting the infamous wall many prospects collide with in their first full seasons of pro ball.
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MLB Pipeline: You've had one Spring Training in Florida and now you're having your first in Arizona. What are the biggest differences you've noticed?
Rutherford: The big difference is everything's a lot closer here. The travel is a lot easier here going to games because everything is a lot closer. There are great fans here and in Florida, so that's about the same. This is a little closer to my home in California so my family can come out a little bit more. It's good to see them. Another big thing is my brother is with the Padres right now, so he'll be out here with me this Spring Training. It'll be a little more family-friendly here. But they're both great places.
MLB Pipeline: Your brother is with the Padres now?
Rutherford: He signed as a free agent. He went to Cornell, finished up and got his degree, then signed, so this will be his first Spring Training, so it will be fun. I guess I'm the experienced one.
MLB Pipeline: Have you noticed any differences in the way the Yankees and White Sox do things?
Rutherford: Not really. They both have pretty similar rules that help with discipline and responsibility, growing up as an adult, learning how to be a professional. They both have great coaches, great special guests who come in. The Yankees had A-Rod, Reggie Jackson. Here we have Jim Thome, Jose Contreras, Aaron Rowand is one of the coaches on staff here. Between both, it's been unbelievable.
MLB Pipeline: You went from one really good farm system to another one that's even better. It must be fun just to see all the talent around.
Rutherford: Absolutely. There are a lot of good players here. It's going to be fun growing up with them. It's a lot of fun and it's really competitive, so it brings out the best in everyone.
MLB Pipeline: Speaking of growing up, last year probably didn't go quite the way you wanted to start to finish. What were your takeaways from some of the struggles that you had?
Rutherford: Overall, I think it was a really good year for me because I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about what it takes. Toward the end of the season, my body just wore down. I got tired. This year, it was a big thing with my trainer back home, building a strong foundation so when it comes down to the end of the season, I still feel strong and sturdy. Last year, I was having a pretty good year and then toward the end, body parts were aching. That's not an excuse, everyone has that, but it kind of got to me. This year, I'm mentally stronger and physically more intact. I think it's going to be a lot better year because of the base I have and the experience I had last year.
MLB Pipeline: When you hit that wall, did you say, "Oh, that's what everyone is talking about."?
Rutherford: Everyone talks about how it's hard. I was fortunate enough to have a good first half and then you hit a wall. You have to be mentally tough to get through it. That's what it's going to take this year; I'm going to have to be mentally stronger. I worked on that, too, and talked to a lot of players. I got to work out with Christian Yelich a lot. He's someone I look up to now. He shared a lot of experience that's going to help me going forward.
MLB Pipeline: You had to deal with the business side of baseball, with the trade. Were you not completely blindsided by it, especially since the Yankees are known to make trades?
Rutherford: I knew there was a chance. You hear stuff all the time when you're with the Yankees. They were making a run and they needed the players the White Sox had, so they had to do what they had to do. I know they liked me over there. It was tough for them to get rid of the three guys they had to get rid off, but it was what they had to do to help their team. Coming here, it's a great opportunity here. There are a lot of young players who are getting the opportunity to play here. They welcomed me with open arms. It was hard, that had been the only pro ball I knew, so all my friends were there and I was comfortable. I was alone when I got traded, being 19-20 years old and having to pack up and move places and go to a new clubhouse, it was tough, I'm not going to lie. But I think it made me grow up a little bit faster and mature a lot.
MLB Pipeline: How often do you talk to Mickey Moniak? He kind of had some struggles too and was going through the same things as you in your first full year. Was it something you could talk to each other about?
Rutherford: I think Mickey would tell you the year just kind of wore on him, too. The South Atlantic League is a big travel league and there a lot of good players there. He was in Lakewood, so he had to travel far for every game, so I'm sure it wore on his body even more. I talked to him a lot. We worked really hard this offseason and we talked about hitting, about working out and about coming out and proving why we think we're two of the better younger players in baseball. I think it's good for us that we struggled because we'll be able to come back a little bit stronger, and mentally strong. I think he's going to have a really good year and I think the fans and all the people in the Phillies organization are going to be excited about how he looks.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.