BRADENTON, Fla.—The Yankees were delighted to nab outfielder Blake Rutherford last year with 16th overall pick in the draft. The Southern California prep star had been among the names rumored on the Phillies' board for the No. 1 overall selection, and he ranked No. 9 on the BA 500 for his all-around polished skill set. Plate discipline and gifted hands give him the potential to be a well above-average hitter in the major leagues, and he's got the athleticism and enough footspeed to stay in center field as he continues to develop. And evaluators also saw the potential for above-average power in the future, so long as he added strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. Over his first offseason as a professional—which started a little bit earlier than anticipated due to a hamstring injury that ended his season on Aug. 24—he began to do just that. Rutherford, 19, reported to camp this year at 205 pounds, up 13 pounds from his draft weight. Those gains, he said, were due to dedication over the winter to nutrition and strength training. With more strength should come more power, which will help him if he ever does need to move into a corner outfield spot. "I think there's going to be power. I think there's going to be a lot of power," said Patrick Osborn, who managed high Class A Tampa last year but will move to low Class A Charleston, where Rutherford is likely to be assigned. "He's still growing, and I think he put on some weight during the offseason, good weight. There's line-drive, gap power now, but his ability to make consistent contact out front, I think you're going to see those balls start to loft." In two of his at-bats Saturday against Pirates minor leaguers, Rutherford showed exactly the kind of offensive balance that earned him the No. 3 spot in a loaded Yankees Top 30 prospects list. In his second at-bat of the day, Rutherford got a fastball on the inside part of the plate and lined it past the first baseman in to right field for a single. In his next trip he got a fastball on the outer half and flared it into left field for another hit. In between, he showed the ability to pick through breaking pitches to get something he could handle. And when he gets something he can drive, Rutherford has the elite hands to quickly get the sweet spot to the baseball. That’s why he’s earned the nickname “The Barrel” around Yankees camp. “He can flat-out hit,” Osborn said. “He hit’s the ball where it’s pitched, has really good pitch-recognition. He’s a very advanced hitter for a 19-year-old kid. His hands work very well in his swing and he has very good barrel accuracy. The ball in, the ball out, the ball down, the ball up, he’s been blessed with a hit tool.” Included with Rutherford in Saturday’s lineup were Wilkerman Garcia, Oswaldo Cabrera, Dermis Garcia, Isiah Gilliam and Leonardo Molina, all of whom were a part of the group the Yankees sent to their Rookie-level Appalachian League last season. Rutherford will join many of those players—as well as tooled-up outfielder Estevan Florial, who did not play on Saturday—in moving up to Charleston this season. Rutherford is obviously ready to get the season going and continue his development, but he’s also excited about being a part of the Yankees’ ongoing revival of their minor league system. “Honestly, we have guys who stick out at every position,” he said. “Florial, Molina, both Garcias, Donny Sands, Gilliam. You can go up and down the list and call out any player and talk about how good they are or how good their potential is going to be, so I think this year has a chance to be really special across the level if we can just play together and play really well as a team.” Other prospects in the Yankees’ system—which BA ranked as the second-best in the game—might get more ink or have louder tools, but Rutherford has the polish and consistency to keep his name among the elite in both the system and the minor leagues. • Another talented outfielder from last year’s draft—Phillies No. 2 prospect and 2016’s No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak— showed what he could do in his game by taking a 93 mph fastball and jolting it into the right-center field gap. He then used his above-average speed to coast around the bases for a triple. • Lefthander JoJo Romero started the early-morning tilt against Blue Jays minor leaguers and showed the stuff that made him a fourth-rounder out of Yavapai (Ariz.) JC last season. Romero pitched early with a heavy fastball in the high 80s before finding a few more ticks later, including once at 93 mph. He coupled the pitch with a low-80s changeup that showed impressive late fade and time and got multiple swings and misses. • While Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Michael Pineda got their work in over at the Yankees complex in Tampa, Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman
—the freight the Astros paid to acquire catcher Brian McCann—started on the road and showed off electric arms. Guzman, a 21-year-old whose future likely lies in the bullpen, sat between 97-99 in the first inning and touched 100 mph before settling into the mid 90s later in the game. He didn’t command the ball well, however, and was yanked in the middle of an inning. Abreu sat between 94-96 and touched 97 and showed the makings of an above-average breaking ball, but also was inconsistent.