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Prospect Q&A: White Sox outfielder Rutherford

2016 first-rounder talks about his continuing offensive education
Blake Rutherford was selected by the Yankees with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2016 Draft. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)
July 8, 2022

There was a time when Blake Rutherford was one of the most interesting prospects in baseball. Rutherford, 25, was selected by the Yankees with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of Chaminade Prep High School in West Hills, California. He was dealt to the White Sox

There was a time when Blake Rutherford was one of the most interesting prospects in baseball.

Rutherford, 25, was selected by the Yankees with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of Chaminade Prep High School in West Hills, California. He was dealt to the White Sox at the following trade deadline as part of a deal that sent Major League veterans Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to New York.

By the end of the 2017 season, Rutherford was the No. 37 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He tore the cover off the ball in two Rookie leagues and looked the part of a middle-of-the-order outfielder after his first full season. Rutherford enjoyed his best Minor League campaign in 2018 with High-A Winston-Salem but struggled to recapture that success in 2019 and 2021.

He was something of a longshot for the Major League roster this spring, but that idea was squashed when the White Sox traded for outfielder Adam Haseley. Rutherford was designated for assignment just before Opening Day and was outrighted to Triple-A Charlotte. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound lefty has shown a vast improvement at the plate in his second tour with the Knights, however, batting .272 with a .759 OPS and eight homers in 60 games. (His career high in homers is 11.)

In the latest Prospect Q&A, Rutherford talks about the work that he put into recapturing the success of the early part of his career. He gets specific on some of the adjustments he made to his swing and offensive game plan as well as his mental approach both on and off the field. From last season to the first half here, you have almost all of your offensive numbers trending in the right direction. How would you review your first half?

Blake Rutherford: I view it as a good start. I feel like I've been able to remain consistent . Trying to play hard every day, giving the most to my team. But I'm just trying to contribute to the team anyway possible -- whether it's offense or defense. And I'm just trying to go up and get good at-bats and learn from the ones that aren't as good and make adjustments quicker than maybe I have in the past. Coming off last year, was there anything specific you wanted to focus on improving?

Rutherford: All-around, trying to get better, but just continuing to work on my swing offensively. The adjustments I've made to changing up my bat path a little bit, trying to stay through balls better, be more connected at the plate. ... I work a lot with our hitting coach here, Chris Johnson. He knows what I was working on this offseason. So that's the main thing is just continuing to work on that and putting together at-bats. Obviously, you go through ups and downs. When I was just trying to weather the storm, you don't feel as great. And then, when you feel good, you just continue to let it last as long as possible. How did you identify bat path was something you wanted to change?

Rutherford: I had a hitting coach when I was in high school, Craig Wallenbrock. This year, I wanted to go back to him. And I worked really hard with him and a couple guys in the offseason. We've been continuing to try to stay to the baseball and get my bat in the zone earlier and let it stay in the zone longer, not so much in and out. Give myself more of a chance to adjust to pitches or if I'm fooled, still be able to be in the zone long enough to do damage or get some part of the barrel on the ball. I feel like I have a lot of power that I'm trying to continue to learn how to translate into games. Did the success you had in high school and your first Minor League seasons make you want to go back to Wallenbrock this offseason?

Rutherford: Well, Craig is a pretty renowned hitting guy. A lot of really great players have worked with him also, and still work with him. But, yeah, just to go back to someone that knew me in high school and saw my body and how it worked in high school and just kind of someone that I feel really comfortable talking hitting with and learning from. How have you seen these adjustments translate?

Rutherford: I just feel like I haven't really tapped into being the full hitter I know I can be. And I still don't think I'm there, I feel like I have a lot to learn and I feel like in this game, you're always learning. And I'm definitely still learning. And I learn a lot from our teammates here, and our hitting coach here and just what I learned in the offseason. But I just felt like the work I put in the offseason, and the adjustments we worked on making are going to help me continue to translate what I want to be and the type of hitter that I want to be -- which is just a complete hitter who can kind of go gap to gap and hit for average but also can hit balls out of the ballpark at times. You ended up in roster limbo with the White Sox at the end of Spring Training -- what was that experience like?

Rutherford: The ultimate goal is obviously to be a player that can help the White Sox win a championship. I want to kind of just focus on doing what I could do to help the team win here. I can't really control any of that [roster] aspect. Obviously, I want to be a Major League player, but I'm just going to try and continue to play hard. I want to continue to play hard, give it my best and be the best prepared player I can be. And I try and focus on the things I can control versus the things I can't control. That's the one big thing I feel like I've taken a step forward with this year is just being focused on what I can control and helping the team win. And letting all the other stuff shake out how it does. I feel like in the past, if I get too caught up in that or too caught up in what's going on here, what's going on there, it seems to make me fall back a little bit to where I want to be on the field. So, just trying to stay focused on what I can control and let the rest happen as it may. Did worrying only about what you can control become a little more prevalent than people might realize in the past couple years?

Rutherford: Yeah, I just think, in my first year in Triple-A or so and just being so close to the big leagues, you maybe get caught up in who's going up, who's going down. A guy gets hurt, maybe you're the guy, maybe you're not the guy. This year, I'm just kind of focused on being the best player I can be and making sure I'm ready for any opportunity that may come. Just continue to play hard and give my best effort and continue to work toward being a Major League Baseball player. Hopefully, at some point this year, helping the White Sox win, but that's all I'm really going to focus on is just kind of today and what's going on today and trying to take all of the things I can't control out of my head to let myself be a little bit more free when I'm playing. What's the one aspect of your game that you have a specific goal for in the second half?

Rutherford: I'd like to continue to put an emphasis on hitting and continuing to learn more and get really locked in at the plate and continue to try and drive balls all over the yard -- whether it's singles, doubles, triples or home runs. Trying to just put good swings on balls. But honestly, on the base paths, I feel like I can take a little bit more advantage than I have. Be a little bit more aggressive and steal more bags. I haven't really stolen that many times or had that many attempts, and I feel like that's a big component I'm missing this year. And just looking toward getting my aggressiveness back and putting some pressure on the defense to make some plays.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for