Appy notes: Rutherford torching opponents

Yankees first-rounder showing power to all fields in debut with Pulaski

Blake Rutherford is batting .446 with 12 extra-base hits in 17 Appalachian League games. (Chris Robertson)

By Bob Sutton / Special to | August 4, 2016 10:00 AM ET

Outfielder Blake Rutherford isn't lacking confidence as he goes through his first summer of professional baseball -- and that's understandable for the first-round Draft pick of the New York Yankees.

In just a few weeks in the Appalachian League with the Pulaski Yankees, he has showcased an array of skills that back up his credentials.

"I'm pretty confident with how I play the game," he said. "I try to contribute any way possible."

He torched Pulaski opponents for a .446 batting average through his first 17 games after spending less than two weeks in the Gulf Coast League. In his final five games in July, he went 13-for-19 with a pair of four-hit outings. Five of the hits went for extra-bases.

Rutherford, who turned 19 in the spring, is a left-handed batter already displaying power to all fields. In a two-week period, he ripped through pitching of five different foes.

"Hitting seems to come easy to him," Pulaski manager Tony Franklin said. "That's pretty much a gift. Left-handed pitchers, right-handed pitchers, fastball, slider."

The newcomer has been impressive in more ways than just in the batter's box.

"He's made it easy on us," Franklin said. "His approach to the game is pretty much even-keel. That kind of approach seems to be pretty present in him. He's mature. He has come in and fit in very well and not seemed overwhelmed by any of this. There's a lot going on every day."

Rutherford is 6-foot-3 and listed at 195 pounds, appearing physically advanced compared to many players coming out of high school.

He said the move to Pulaski has been a good part of the process in his opening weeks as a professional player.

"I had an idea that was the plan," Rutherford said. "I'm enjoying the time here. The team is really special how they embraced me and accepted me and I'll be appreciative of that for a while."

For a player selected with the 18th overall pick who agreed to a reported signing bonus of more than $3.2 million, there's naturally going to be attention and scrutiny.

"All No. 1 picks get that," Franklin said. "You wouldn't know he's the No. 1 pick. He loves to play baseball. He's not here to show his No. 1 stock."

Rutherford said he views the attention as positive.

"Scrutiny is good if you look at it and take it as constructive," he said. "The Draft is over. First round, second round, whatever -- it doesn't matter."

Before the Yankees came calling, he had a commitment to UCLA since he was a high school freshman out of Simi Valley, California.

"UCLA was a real big thing for me," he said. "It weighed on my mind, but the Yankees were my dream team. To hear them call my name was a dream come true."

Rutherford said he sees himself as a center fielder, though he already has been moved around in the outfield. He also said he expects physical and mental challenges as the grind of a season kicks.

"I'm hanging in there," he said. "The training staff has been great.… The biggest transition is the mental aspect. You have to be mentally strong. I think that's something that kind of separates you."

In brief

Close calls: The Greeneville Astros have been involved in 14 one-run games across their first 40 results, winning a league-high eight times in those encounters. Reliever Devin Raftery has two victories in those one-run decisions, with his other win coming in a two-run victory.

Finishing act: Left-hander Cristian Castillo threw a one-hitter against Pulaski for the first nine-inning complete game in the 10-season history of the Burlington Royals. Two nights later, teammate Ofreidy Gomez threw a rain-shortened, five-inning complete game against Bluefield. The previous nine years, Royals pitchers had a total of four complete games (none longer than seven innings).

Birthday present: When the Bluefield Blue Jays handed the Burlington Royals their first shutout of the season with a 5-0 victory Aug. 2, it came on manager Dennis Holmberg's 65th birthday. It was the sixth-year Bluefield manager's 186th win in the league, moving him into sixth place on the all-time list.

Bob Sutton is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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