When the White Sox made Andrew Vaughn the third overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft, everybody (including myself) highlighted his polished hitting approach and guessed that he would not need much time in the minor leagues. This is why it is not a complete surprise that, despite not appearing in any official minor league games at the AA nor AAA levels, Vaughn is hitting .259/.367/.420 with a .347 wOBA, 128 wRC+, and a robust 13.3% walk rate over his first 98 MLB plate appearances.
While his .345 BABIP is likely to experience some minor regression, Vaughn hits the ball very hard (93.8 MPH average exit velocity) and has a .347 xBABIP, so he is not due for major bad luck provided his contact profile remains consistent. What is surprising about Andrew Vaughn is the fact that he is producing so well offensively while playing a new position in left field.
Andrew Vaughn’s left field defense has been shockingly adequate, given that he is a first baseman with below-average speed and limited outfield experience. He is not without flaws: for instance, the diving catch in the above video was certainly fun, but he took a questionable route to the ball, and his speed was only barely good enough to make up for it.
Even though Vaughn has made all the routine catches sent his way this year, he has not exactly looked like a comfortable, natural outfielder. This is fine, of course — all the White Sox need from Vaughn in left field is competence, which he has certainly provided. In fact, with time and more reps, it is not difficult to envision Vaughn settling in as a corner outfielder for the majority of his career, which would be very helpful for a White Sox team that already has quite a few designated hitter or first base types in Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, and Yermin Mercedes.
When a player, especially a rookie, is asked to learn and start at a new position one week before the regular season begins, one should not reasonably expect that player to both hit and field well on a regular basis. I would have been perfectly content with Vaughn to this point if he were providing his adequate left field defense with a disappointing batting line. Conversely, if he put up his actual offensive numbers to date, but was a true liability out in left field, it would have been tough to blame him. Yet, he has excelled as a hitter and has surpassed all expectations in the outfield by keeping the two separated in his mind — “church and state,” as he called it in March.
After three significant injuries to White Sox outfielders, where would the team be without Andrew Vaughn having adjusted so well? Of course, the elite pitching would still exist, but an outfield of Leury Garcia, Billy Hamilton, and Adam Eaton, while fast, would be abysmal offensively. Andrew Vaughn, therefore, has saved the White Sox outfield in the short-term while also emerging as a long-term corner outfield option.
Well-deserved praise is regularly bestowed upon the White Sox starting rotation and well-rounded offense. As impressive as Andrew Vaughn has been, he has not even been the best rookie hitter on his team. But, a 128 wRC+ bat that transitions the lineup to the bottom of the order (I’d love to see Vaughn bat 2nd, by the way) who also plays unexpectedly adequate defense in left field is undoubtedly a tremendous addition to a star-studded White Sox roster.
He may not be the flashiest player on the team, but Andrew Vaughn’s advanced approach, beautiful swing, and stabilizing defense have been instrumental to his team’s 23-14 record and recent surge.
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