White Sox’ outfield depth doesn’t faze Blake Rutherford

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Blake Rutherford embraces the challenge of earning a spot with the Sox. | AP Photo/Darron Cummings

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you’re Blake Rutherford and don’t like crowds, the group of White Sox outfield prospects isn’t for you. If you’re any aspiring Sox outfielder, for that matter, good luck working your way through the maze of talent.

The Sox’ collection of quality minor-league outfielders is deep. It is easily their strongest area, with seven of their top 11 prospects (according to MLB Pipeline) playing in the outfield.

The names start with Eloy Jimenez (No. 3 overall prospect in baseball) and Luis Robert (No. 40). They continue with Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez and Steele Walker among the Sox’ top 11.

‘‘We have an abundance of outfielders who are average or above-average prospects,’’ director of player development Chris Getz said.

For the Sox, strength in numbers is a good problem to have. For the individuals,  competition on their path to the majors can’t hurt.

Rutherford is well-aware of the depth. He played with Robert, Gonzalez, Basabe and Adolfo last season at Class A Winston-Salem.

‘‘I’ve never seen such young talent in the minor leagues in some time,’’ said Omar Vizquel, the manager last season at Winston-Salem. ‘‘When I played in the minor leagues, you saw three or four prospects per team, but . . . almost the whole lineup was pretty good [last season]. I believe these guys will be here soon, and it will be fun to see them.’’

If there is competition among them all, the 6-3, 214-pound Rutherford said it’s of the friendly, healthy variety. He isn’t intimidated.


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Rutherford did, however, put himself through a strenuous offseason with the goal of improving his strength and explosiveness. He put on 14 pounds, looking for an edge.

‘‘It doesn’t really change anything for me,’’ Rutherford said. ‘‘If anything, it’s a blessing to work alongside some of those players and learn from them. Just see what they do, take things from them, bounce ideas off them.’’

Rutherford, a left-handed hitter, batted .293/.345/.436 with seven home runs, a team-high nine triples, 25 doubles and a team-leading 78 RBI last season at Winston-Salem.

‘‘We try to help each other out,’’ Rutherford, 21, said. ‘‘I feel like the reason we all had success is because we were cheering for each other. If one of us would pick something up, we’d tell the other guys, so they could have success, too. That led to a positive vibe and season for all the outfielders.’’

Rutherford, the No. 18 overall pick by the Yankees in the 2016 draft, came to the Sox with Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo and Tyler Clippard in the trade for Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle in 2017. This is his first major-league camp, and he said he’s keeping his eyes open, watching major-leaguers work.

‘‘I was excited and a little nervous when I first got here, obviously,’’ Rutherford said. ‘‘But I calmed down a lot, and I just go out there, enjoy playing games and taking all the moments in.’’

Rutherford has appeared in six Cactus League games in right field and is 4-for-15 with a double.

‘‘I’m confident with where I am at, where I am going and the adjustments I’ve made in the cage,’’ Rutherford said. ‘‘Continuing to develop my swing. There is a lot more for me to learn.’’

Of the outfield group, only Gonzalez (third round, 2017) and Walker (second round, 2018) were drafted by the Sox. Jimenez, Basabe and Rutherford were acquired in trades, and Robert and Adolfo were signed in the international free-agent market.

The number of outfield prospects is a big reason the Sox feel good about their farm system.

‘‘We feel good where we’re at,’’ Getz said. ‘‘But we can’t sit back and get complacent.’’

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