NEW YORK -- The Yankees have been keeping tabs on Blake Rutherford since the eighth grade, which is one reason they felt so confident about using their top pick in the 2016 Draft on the left-handed-hitting outfielder from Chaminade College Preparatory School in West Hills, Calif.Rutherford, 19, is a lifelong
NEW YORK -- The Yankees have been keeping tabs on Blake Rutherford since the eighth grade, which is one reason they felt so confident about using their top pick in the 2016 Draft on the left-handed-hitting outfielder from Chaminade College Preparatory School in West Hills, Calif.
Rutherford, 19, is a lifelong Yankees fan who has an entire room of his parents' home dedicated to his pinstriped heroes -- particularly Derek Jeter, with whom he snapped a picture during the captain's final season. That's nice, but more importantly, the Yanks believe Rutherford will be able to play and succeed at the next levels.
• Yanks add OF Rutherford with first-round pick
"We really think the guy's a center fielder with a really good bat, power," said Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer. "The guy's made quality contact vs. the top high school competition out there, plus the best international. It's been consistent.
:: Complete 2016 Draft coverage ::
"He was good as a junior. He plays the game hard. There's a lot to like about him, and he's really athletic. You feel good about getting a guy who can stay in the middle of the field and hit with power."
Rutherford was rated as the No. 8 overall prospect in the Draft by MLB.com, and Oppenheimer was thrilled that he fell to the Yankees, who used the 18th overall selection on him. Rutherford has committed to UCLA, but Oppenheimer said that the Yanks believe they will be able to reach an agreement.
"I've done this long enough to know until they've taken the physical, gone through the whole process and signed, the whole thing is never done," Oppenheimer said. "I would think that we're going to get it done. We took him with the idea that we're going to get it done. But until it's finished, you never know."
Rutherford hit .577 (45-for-78) with 34 runs scored, 13 doubles, a triple, four home runs and nine RBIs over 27 games as a senior to earn First-Team All-Mission League honors. He lettered four years at Chaminade, posting a .438 (109-for-249) career average in 90 games.
Rutherford also played for USA Baseball's 18U team twice, winning gold medals at the 2015 18U World Cup in Japan and the 2014 18U Pan American Championship in Mexico. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has earned comparisons to Jim Edmonds, Grady Sizemore and Alex Gordon.
• Yankees' 2016 Draft picks
"It's nice that those guys are being thrown around on Blake, because they were good players," Oppenheimer said. "But I think each guy is his own guy, his tool set that he has and his ability to play."
The Yankees are also progressing with several other top picks. Their second- and third-round selections were University of Louisville second baseman Nick Solak and right-hander Nolan Martinez from Culver City (Calif.) High School, both of whom told MLB.com that they intend to sign.
Oppenheimer said that he is excited about several hard-throwing bullpen arms the Yanks selected, like right-handers Brooks Kriske from USC (sixth round, 188th overall) and Taylor Widener from the University of South Carolina (12th round, 368th overall).
The Yankees also tried to choose players with speed, like outfielder Dom Thomson-Williams from the University of South Carolina (fifth round, 158th overall) and outfielder Jordan Scott from the IMG Academy in Florida (14th round, 428th overall).
"It's what we saw that was there for us," Oppenheimer said. "Talking to [general manager Brian] Cashman, it was like, 'Let's try to attack some guys that have a ceiling and some athleticism and a big tool,' and that's what we did."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007.