TAMPA, Fla. -- Blake Rutherford was the Yankees' first-round Draft pick in 2016, taken No. 18 overall. He had a tremendous pro debut, hitting .351/.415/.570, with the only negative being a hamstring injury that shut him down in August. The outfielder is preparing for his first full season of pro ball with Charleston in the South Atlantic League.
MLBPipeline.com: You had a great pro debut, really hitting the ground running. Did you have the chance to reflect on it at all and realize how well it went?
Rutherford: I had some success my first half-season, but it was a very small sample. To me, I like to have success, but it's not as big of a deal. I think I'll grade my first full season a bit more because it'll be the first time I'll be playing almost every day over a long season. I had a lot of fun last summer. At first, I struggled a lot, but one thing that really helped is that [farm director] Gary Denbo called me into his office and told me to relax and to go out there and just have fun. That allowed me to have the success I did because I wasn't worried about the stats or my performance. I was just worried about learning to become a professional and what it's like to be a Yankee.
MLBPipeline.com: Did you press because you felt you needed to prove you were worthy of being a first-round pick and the bonus you got?
Rutherford: Absolutely. I was definitely trying way too hard. I was trying to prove to everyone that I deserved to be picked where I was, or the money I received. Once I calmed down and just started playing, I realized every player was deserving of where they were. When the games started happening every day, I feel I was able to calm down and focus on trying to help my team win. That allowed me to relax, and the individual stats kind of took care of themselves after that.
MLBPipeline.com: How eager are you to get out of the complex here in Tampa and play someplace else?
Rutherford: I'm hoping I'll be able to be with a full-season team this year and get out, get to travel and see some of the other cities, get to play against some of the great players in the other organizations. My goal is to help whatever team I'm on win and hopefully win a championship with whatever team I'm on. Going out and living the Minor League life, I know it's going to be hard. I know if I am with a full-season team, the travel is going to be hard. But that's part of the game, going through what every player has had to go through to get to the top.
MLBPipeline.com: The Yankees are such a storied franchise. What does it mean to you to get to wear the NY or Yankees logo, meeting Yankee greats, especially now at a time when you're a part of one of the best farm systems in baseball?
Rutherford: It definitely means a lot to me. I grew up a diehard Yankees fan. All my life, I've dreamed about playing for the Yankees. You see the logo worn around the world, not just in the United States. It's such an amazing opportunity and such a special organization to be a part of. There's so much greatness that came from here. Walking around every day, you see it. Meeting Derek Jeter, I'm always kind of speechless when that happens because of how he conducted himself on the field, but also off the field. He's definitely one of the greatest Yankees to ever play. Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Tino Martinez, all these guys you grew up watching on TV, to be able to meet them… It's an amazing thing that all these players come back, and I think it says a lot about the Yankees and the family atmosphere here.
It's such an amazing place to start a career, to have your first job be here. You're surrounded by so many great players, and so many past great players. I feel there's no way you can't develop or learn from these guys. I'm excited to play here, especially with the youth movement that's coming through. There are a lot of really good young players, and in the next few years, I think people are going to see how many special young players there are here.
MLBPipeline.com: Mickey Moniak. Friend, friendly competitor or hated rival?
Rutherford: Good friend. I love Mickey. He's a great player and he deserves everything he got in the Draft. I'm looking forward to competing with him all the way up. I think he's going to be a successful player. He works hard and he has a lot of tools. Maybe rivals on the field, but we'll always be best friends off the field. We just played each other yesterday. We'll grind it out and we'll battle on the field, but after the game it's a high five and a hug, seeing how we're both doing. We're going through the same thing, so we can talk about baseball and life.