See also: June 23 Notebook
Blake Rutherford has had a busy last week. The Southern California prep outfielder played four games at the Tournament of Stars event in Cary, N.C., before hopping on a plane for Arizona to participate in USA Baseball's National Team Championships—West, hitting the field with the CBA Marucci team in the 17U division for an 8 am game on Tuesday morning.
To top off the hectic week, USA Baseball named Rutherford to its 18U Trials Roster, one of only two rising juniors to make the list.
Rutherford revels in this type of busy schedule.
“It motivates me because baseball's what I want to do. I want to be a professional baseball player," Rutherford said. “So whatever I can do to keep on developing … it's tiring but it's worth it because baseball's what I want to do in life."
Rutherford, who committed to UCLA during his freshman year at Chaminade College Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., is already regarded as one of the top prospects for the 2016 MLB draft. He's a prototypical center fielder with plus speed. He makes consistent contact from the left side of the plate, with quick hands and the ability to use the whole field and drive the ball to the outfield gaps. Rutherford shows a maturity beyond his age of 17, and his makeup is already regarded as one of his strengths.
At the plate, Rutherford brings a nice combination of power and speed.
“I feel like I have some good power and can square up some balls and hit some balls out," Rutherford said, “and I can also beat a ball and get an infield base hit."
Rutherford projects to have the range to stay in center field at higher levels, a position he's been playing since converting from the infield in the eighth grade. While his arm is at least average, he knows that he needs to continue to improve his arm action and accuracy.
“It's strong," Rutherford said, “but I'm sometimes short on the ball because I'm used to playing shortstop. If I can get the arm flow and accuracy back, that's what I need to work on the most."
Rutherford is no stranger to the USA Baseball program, having previously been a member of the 15U squad.
“I've fortunately been able to play on a USA team and it's just an amazing experience," Rutherford said. “It's a really cool atmosphere to play in … you get to play a lot of games, which is cool."
His next big challenge is to make the final roster for the 18U team
“It's my dream to play on that team," Rutherford said. “That's one of my biggest goals this summer."
One of the big surprises of USA Baseball's National Team Championships—West is the hitting of Team Northwest's Austin Shenton in the 17U division. The lefthand-hitting corner infielder from Bellingham, Wash., was 11-for-13 at the plate after his first three games, including six consecutive hits to start the tournament.
“I'm seeing the ball well and my timing's going and I'm finding some holes," he said.
The performance in Arizona is especially rewarding for Shenton, who missed much of his latest high school season while recovering from a serious knee injury last fall during his first varsity football game. At first not seen as a serious injury, the MRI showed that he had torn two ligaments, the anterior cruciate and medial collateral.
Shenton projects more as a bat-first player, which will put more pressure on the continuing development of his hitting skills. He has good bat speed and a fluid swing, with more power to develop as he matures physically. He acknowledged that he also needs to continue to work on his defense and to get faster.
While not committed to a school, Shenton has started to receive inquiries from several major universities now that he's back on the field and healthy.
As for previous USA Baseball experience, Shenton was a member of the 15U Trials Roster but didn't make the final squad. He can certainly see the benefits of participating in the USA Baseball events.
“It gauges where I'm at with the best on the West Coast," Shenton said.
After an off day, the National Team Championships—West continues on Thursday morning with playoffs for the 17U and 15U divisions, concluding with championship games on Saturday.