The Detroit Tigers' farm system is in shambles. That is the unfortunate truth. Their philosophy under former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has taken a hefty toll as, year after year, every last prospect of any appreciable value was shipped off in trades for major league talent. That fielded good major league teams, but was a double-edged sword. The Tigers' already barren system never had the benefit of replenishing itself in the MLB draft.
This year will change that. The only redeemable part of a completely forgettable 2015 season is the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft. That puts Detroit's brass in a good spot to add some talent to the farm, and what the farm needs most is a bat. One bat that would be nice to see them take a look at is California prep outfielder Blake Rutherford.
When the phrase "five-tool player" is uttered, Rutherford is basically what springs to mind. Listed at 6'4 and 195 pounds, he can do it all. The Chaminade College Prep senior's calling card is his bat. Both his hit and power are graded at a 60 on the 20-80 scale by FanGraphs' Jesse Burkhart.
When you boil everything down, Rutherford has no major weakness in his game. For a high-school player with with above-average to plus tools across the board, he’s uniquely polished with a healthy sample of performance against showcase competition, and his athleticism and aptitude lower the risk level in case the pro game proves unexpectedly challenging for him. In my mind, he’s the definitive top hitting prospect in this year’s prep class...
Cormican of The Good Phight goes into a lot more detail, analyzing the outfielder's mechanics.
Rutherford spends a lot of time on the zone with a flat, line-drive swing. He combines that with quick wrists and good bat control, allowing him to adjust. He doesn't make the consistent contact Moniak does, but he makes hard contact. It's pretty tough to find any clip of him where he hits a weak dribbler. Even his ground balls are rockets.
That prowess with the bat, however, does not prevent him from being a speedy player as well. In fact, he runs fast enough to play a solid center field and steal bases with relative ease. While his speed will decline a bit as he bulks up, losing a step won't be detrimental and, if everything works out, his speed could allow him to develop into a force atop the order.
As a defender, Rutherford's natural position is center field. While he may not profile as a prototypical center fielder, lacking the usual "all wheels, nonexistent bat" style of play, he still could play there long-term. His defense may not be the flashiest, but is graded as average to above-average, and staying up the middle would certainly improve his value.
While most scouts feel that a move to the corner will be in order at some point in Rutherford's career, he has the arm strength to handle such a move to right field, with multiple sources citing his ability to one-hop a throw to third as proof. His bat would also be compatible with a corner position and his speed would bestow him with more lateral movement then most at either position.
When trying to find a flaw in his game, Rutherford makes it difficult. Some scouts complain that, at 19, he should have dominated at the high school level. Others bemoan his needing to add more muscle. Still others have bellyached about Rutherford's throwing mechanics, but that is easily fixed. None of those should be a big deal, though, and in order to find the only meaningful issue that anyone has even mentioned, we have to go back to The Good Phight. There, Cormican says:
I haven't seen it mentioned in any scouting reports, but it's noticeable here that when he chases it seems to be high pitches.
This might be an issue. All three of the major bats in the pipeline, Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones, and Steven Moya, have trouble with strikeouts -- to be fair, Stewart walks a lot, too -- and it might not be the best idea to add another strikeout-happy bat to the system. However, if it turns out to be correctable, it will be a non-issue.
Rutherford is also said to come with a high price tag, but that is common among high-schoolers. Without slot money from the second and third picks, though, an over-slot deal may be out of the question. Fortunately, if the pick fails to sign, we would be awarded another top-10 pick in next year's draft.
In short, Blake Rutherford is an incredible prospect with tantalizing upside, one that many teams would want in their farm system.