It took a little time for Blake Rutherford to find his comfort zone in the professional ranks. Now that he has, he's showing why the Yankees selected him in the first round of this year's Draft.
"The first few weeks in the [Gulf Coast League], I was still pretty nervous and uptight because it was my first taste of pro ball," Rutherford said. "Now I'm just treating it like normal baseball and just having fun every day. We are supposed to play this game to obviously win but also to have fun. If we are not having fun, then what's the point of even playing?"
The 18th overall pick last month recorded his first career four-hit game, falling a homer shy of the cycle, in Rookie-level Pulaski's 5-2 loss to Elizabethton on Wednesday at Calfee Park.
"It feels good just to get back in the swings of things," the Yankees' fifth-ranked prospect said. "I just have to see the ball good and hit the ball good. Obviously, I didn't do everything I could tonight because we didn't come out with the victory, but from a personal standpoint, I felt better with how I played today compared to two days ago, for sure."
The 19-year-old outfielder went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Monday as Elizabethton snapped his seven-game hitting streak. But he responded with his best night in pinstripes.
"I talked with one of the hitting coaches [Edwar Gonzalez]," Rutherford said. "We worked a lot in the cage before the game just on staying more fluid and loose with my swing. Just kind of looking for my pitch instead of swinging at the pitcher's pitch and it really seemed to work out today for me."
After grounding out to second in his first at-bat, the left-handed hitter doubled to right field in the third and tripled to center in the fifth. He added a single in the seventh to set up a chance for the cycle leading off the ninth.
"I was aware I was close to the cycle," Rutherford said. "But you never think too much about it, especially with your team down because that's a really individual thing to think about. Obviously, it crossed my mind, but I was more focused on just getting a hit to help my team get closer to a victory."
The graduate of Chaminade Prep in Canoga Park, Calif., singled on a ground ball to left but was stranded as the next three Yankees went down in order to end the game.
MLB.com's No. 64 overall prospect raised his Appalachian League batting average to .392 after hitting .240 in eight games in the GCL.
"In the GCL, that's where I learned a lot about what professional ball is going to be like," Rutherford said. "I met a lot of new kids, a lot of new friends that I will obviously continue to play with and hopefully make the Major Leagues with. But from the start, I knew that this is going to be a lot of fun, but ultimately a grind. I was going to have to get up and make sure my body is doing everything I needed in order to play to the best of my abilities everyday. It was a grind, but I loved it because it meant I got to play baseball every day."
It wasn't long before Rutherford's manager, Julio Mosquera, broke the news of his promotion to him, but it was timed well because he got a chance to share it with someone special.
"I was actually with my uncle [Earl Goodwin] at the time," Rutherford said. "I had all kinds of mixed emotions: I was happy and nervous, there's bunch of stuff going on.
"My uncle moved to Florida, so he missed a lot of the experiences of my senior year, a lot of the bigger baseball events in my life. But he was the one there to see my first home run and my first pro game. He was there for my first callup and I actually think he started to cry a little bit because he had missed out so many opportunities. But he got to experience so many big ones with me in a short week, so he was happy. Hopefully, he can come out to watch me play here, too, but it was definitely a moment that neither of us will forget."
Another moment Rutherford said he will never forget occurred in June when he was drafted by his favorite team.
"It meant everything to be drafted by the Yankees," he said. "Ever since I knew what baseball was, I was a die-hard Derek Jeter fan and a die-hard Yankees fan. To be drafted and given an opportunity to play professional baseball by one of the most prestigious franchises in the world across all sports, it definitely was something I'll be forever thankful for."
Before he gets to the Bronx, however, Rutherford wants to take care of business with Pulaski.
"I hold myself to a really high expectation," he said. "I expect the best out of myself and I expect excellence just because I want to do the best and give the best to my team and my coaches. Right now, I feel like I'm doing OK. I always think there's room for improvement and definitely a lot that I can learn, so I trust this process. As of right now, I'm pretty content, but I'll be doing a lot better when I continue to help the team win because that's the main goal and main objective for me here."
A night after falling a triple shy of the cycle, Isiah Gilliam hit a two-run homer for the Yankees.
Ariel Montesino and Shane Carrier each collected two hits for the Twins, who got solo shots from Amaurys Minier and Andre Jernigan.