Rookie Review: Josh Rutledge, SS, Colorado Rockies
Filling in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, Colorado Rockies infield prospect Josh Rutledge has been outstanding in his first three weeks of major league play, hitting .329/.348/.659 with six homers and 15 RBI in his first 85 at-bats. He's swiped three bases, and although his 3/14 BB/K ratio is unattractive, his combination of power and speed is notable. Is this a fluke? Why didn't Rutledge receive more attention pre-season?
Rutledge was a starter for three years at the University of Alabama, hitting .369/.429/.418 (17/39 BB/K in 268 AB) as a freshman, .305/.398/.444 as a sophomore (25/50 BB/K in 239 AB), and .360/.396/.529 as a junior (14/45 BB/K in 297 AB). He was a speedy guy with little power at first, but gradually developed more pop, going from zero freshman homers to five sophomore bombs to 10 homers in his junior year. The Rockies drafted him in the third round in 2010.
In college his biggest problem was mediocre plate discipline, but he made some progress with that in his first full season in 2011, hitting .348/.414/.517 with 41 walks and 91 strikeouts in 460 at-bats for Modesto in the High-A California League. He was especially hot in the second half, hitting a tremendous .410/.459/.664. Scouts attributed the improvement to a better eye and adjustments to his swing and weight shift, but the Cal League is great for hitting and there was some understandable wondering about if this would stick at higher levels.
Rutledge hit .306/.338/.508 with 27 doubles, 13 homers, 14 steals, 14 walks, and 69 strikeouts in 356 at-bats for Double-A Tulsa this spring before his recent promotion to the majors. Texas League scouting reports praised his bat speed, this quality helping make up for a lack of selectiveness in his approach. He hasn't been a walk machine in the majors, either, although so far the aggressiveness (and the lack of Triple-A experience) hasn't hurt him. That may not be true forever.
Rutledge showed limited range and so-so arm strength at shortstop in the minors and looked much better at second base this spring for Tulsa. Once Tulowitzki comes back, Rutledge will likely take over at the keystone, where he should be an offense-oriented player with a decent glove. I like him a lot, and while I don't think he's going to be a .329/.348/.659 hitter over the course of a 500 at-bat season in the majors, Rutledge could have a very long career.