To say that Andrew Vaughn has met expectations from the White Sox front office in his second year after being selected third overall from Cal in 2019, wouldn’t quite capture the whole story. Vaughn, who just turned 23 in April, has been a mainstay in the outfield for the White Sox all season, putting up more than respectable numbers for a team who expects to challenge for a title this year. Boasting one of the highest batting averages on his star-studded team and showing ample power to all parts of the park, Vaughn is making a case for AL rookie of the year as October draws closer.
Going into spring training, it was up in the air as to whether or not Vaughn was going to make the opening day roster. In the minors, Vaughn had only advanced up to high-A Winston Salem, not even AA or AAA where most prospects get pulled from. Plus, a then healthy White Sox team figured to be one of the most deep offensively talented teams through the regular season. With reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu manning first base, Vaughn’s regular position at the time, the idea of him holding down a position player spot in the lineup, even as a platoon bat at 1B, seemed far-fetched. With most of the spots on the field controlled by all stars or veterans, to make the squad, it seemed like it was DH or bust for Andrew. But as games got under way he quickly showed how potent he could be with the bat, and after slugger Eloy Jimenez went down with a long term shoulder injury after attempting to rob a home run in left field, Vaughn started to get some reps in his spot. Coaches soon realized he was more than capable of tracking down fly balls, and eventually Vaughn found himself settling into left field during his dawning professional career.
A little more than two thirds of the way through the season, Vaughn has developed into a utility player for the Sox, a guy that skipper Tony La Russa and Sox fans alike expect to be ready to play on a daily basis. Andrew has proven his worth in the outfield, and with Eloy now back for the Sox, he splits time between left and right field, with Eloy often taking what many presumed might be Andrew’s spot at DH. For most baseball pundits, it might be hard to understand why La Russa is so persistent in using Vaughn in the outfield. But through watching this guy, its not hard to understand why the Sox put so much trust in him. Vaughn is a guy who lives and breathes baseball, and it’s been that way for his whole life. Growing up around him in Santa Rosa, CA you would always hear about “this guy from the little league across town” who hit 30 home runs and didn’t give up a single run on the mound all year. The dude has baseball baked into him, and he’s just a winner, as solid as they come. But the thing that makes him such a special ball player is more than just the raw skillset that he possesses, he’s also got a great intuition for the game. Vaughn rarely makes mental errors in the field and has a very sharp eye at the plate. It’s this X-factor that helps you start to understand how he’s having success competing against some of the world’s best after only a few months of A ball. Whether it be hitting a game-tying home run in the 9th inning against Aroldis Chapman or making full extension layout catches while playing a position he’s just beginning to learn, you can tell there’s something special about this kid.
While the contributions in the field have been a welcome surprise, as Chicago knows well, for Vaughn, it’s always been about the bat. At the start of the year, when asked about rookies Vaughn and Nick Madrigal, All Star Pitcher and teammate Lucas Giolito simply said, “they’re a pain in my ass.” He went further to mention how Vaughn is, “... one of the few guys, I've noticed, that can really see my changeup well,” coming from a guy with one of the most revered change ups in pro ball, Giolito added that Vaughn has the rare ability to, “spit on my changeup just out of the zone.” And for Vaughn, the numbers don’t lie. AV is currently hitting .264 with 15 home runs through 350 at bats. Those are no small numbers for a rookie, especially considering the average player statistically bats around .240 these days. But when you look deeper it gets even more impressive. Vaughn boasts a 49.6% hard hit rate, which is the fraction of balls that a player hits tracking off the bat at 95 mph or greater. This ranks him 2nd on the Sox, right behind Abreu, and 29th in the league in between allstars Bo Bichette and Freddie Freeman. Though they are already good, these numbers also go without considering Vaughn’s relatively slow start in the opening weeks of his MLB career. Ever since the midsummer classic Andrew has really started to play like the dominant force that he was in blue and gold. In the months of July and August, a span accounting for the most recent third of his at bats, Andrew is hitting .318 with a .372 OBP and improved power. These are certainly all star numbers, even on the verge of MVP numbers. And while Vaughn does have some ground to cover to catch Rangers Adolis Garcia at the top of the AL ROY ladder, he’s definitely in contention, especially if he continues on this trend.
But undoubtedly what is first in Vaughn’s mind is competing for a World Series Title with his more than capable team. Many people, including myself, see the White Sox as the most complete team in Major League Baseball. They have run producers from top to bottom of their lineup, scattered with young talent like Vaughn and proven veteran players like Abreu. Their bench is deep with speed and power, including a few talented young catchers that have stepped up in the absence of All Star Yazmani Grandal. This is all without mentioning their arms, the Sox have an extremely talented array of starting pitchers, not to mention a stacked bullpen. Every Sox starting pitcher has recently been an All Star aside from Dylan Cease, who has only pitched a couple seasons in the MLB and has ridiculous stuff with a super high ceiling. The Sox also have a hidden weapon in young Michael Kopech, a guy who would be in the front end of rotations for most clubs, coming out of the bullpen. And to close out games they have a double headed monster in the form of veteran All Stars Liam Hendricks and, recently acquired, Craig Kimbrel. No doubt about it, the White Sox face high expectations this year, but with all their talent, and the added push from Vaughn, they’re more than capable of bringing a title back to the Southside of Chicago. If the Giants can’t win it this year, you know who I’m rooting for.