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Andrew Vaughn spends opening weekend showing why he’s no White Sox trade chip

Vinnie Duber Avatar
April 11, 2022

It’s no wonder why the White Sox reportedly balked at the A’s asking price during trade talks for Sean Manaea.

All you had to do was watch the team’s season-opening series in Detroit to learn why the hopes are so high for Andrew Vaughn.

And why the White Sox have no intention of trading him.

“He’s very strong mentally,” Tony La Russa said after Friday’s game.

It’s the kind of thing La Russa and the rest of team brass has been saying about Vaughn for a long time now. Honestly, you didn’t need to watch a string of solid offensive performances in the first three games of the 2022 campaign to know about the big plans for Vaughn on the South Side.

He’s anticipated to be a long-term middle-of-the-order bat for this team, has been since the day he was drafted third overall out of Cal, where his stupid-good .376 career batting average and bonkers .497 on-base percentage showed what kind of hitter he already was.

Vaughn flew to the majors mostly because the pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, and he never played a game above Single-A before making his big league debut on Opening Day last year. But watching the sort of approach he brings to every at-bat, you get the feeling he probably would’ve made pretty quick work of the minor leagues anyway.

“When you meet him and you listen to him talk about hitting and his approach and his confidence, it’s really impressive,” Hall-of-Fame slugger and White Sox front-office member Jim Thome said in an interview last year. “He’s kind of how it should look, for me.

“We can talk all about what he does physically. Mentally, for what this kid’s been through in a little bit of the ups and downs that he’s went through, he remains so even-keeled across the board that I think that’s what’s really going to make him a good big leaguer at the end of the day.

“I look forward to seeing him just being the guy that we all think he’s going to be. When you see Vaughny come to home plate, I don’t know, there’s just these special feelings you get like he’s going to do something really good.”

This weekend, Vaughn did it all, among the most productive hitters in a lineup full of All-Star type bats. He earned the compliment for his mental strength following his most clutch moment of the series, the ninth-inning, go-ahead homer that came immediately after an eighth-inning Tigers comeback against Liam Hendriks and the White Sox’ bullpen. Hendriks couldn’t put the Tigers away in the bottom of the inning, but in his customary nonchalant fashion, Vaughn flipped the script on the entire afternoon, if only for a brief moment.

“Got a hard fastball and a hard sinker (before the homer), and I just saw a pitch up and I thought it was a slider and I put a good swing on it.

“It was a pretty good feeling to quiet the crowd down a little bit and get the momentum in our favor. It just didn’t turn our way in the end.”

Despite the big home run, Vaughn was out of the starting lineup Saturday, with a right-hander on the mound and Gavin Sheets getting a chance as the DH. But when AJ Pollock tweaked his hamstring making the turn around first base, Vaughn was pressed into duty for an injured outfielder.

Sound familiar?

It was that aspect of Vaughn’s rookie season that was the most impressive. His bat will power his major league future, but when he stepped in to play left field, a position he never played before, and did so admirably, it was a whole new level of “look what this kid can do.”

La Russa was so impressed with Vaughn’s ability he even played him at second base one game in Kansas City last summer. Vaughn’s defensive efforts were wildly unexpected for those on the outside, and the assignments were a surprise even for Vaughn. But the decision paid off and helped keep the White Sox’ playoff hopes afloat amid a rash of injuries.

“Did I ask him (if he would play left field)? What kind of leadership is that?” La Russa joked during the spring. “You told him what the plan (was), and because he was an athlete and willing to work … worst you can be is average (in the field).

“He said, ‘What? Where?’ Next time I heard that was when I told him he was going to play second base in Kansas City. ‘What? Where?’

“When I saw him in the regular season, he got above average jumps. We were all amazed at how quickly he read balls off the bat.”

It was enough to put him at the top of the team’s right-field depth chart before a late-spring trade for Pollock that sent Vaughn back to where he was always supposed to be in 2021: at DH. But his versatility and do-anything attitude haven’t gone anywhere, and even if Pollock is correct in his assertion that his latest hamstring issue is nothing to worry about in the long term, we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of Vaughn in the outfield.

Subbing in for Pollock on Saturday, all Vaughn did was drive in another run in the White Sox’ 5-2 win before exiting for pinch runner/defensive replacement Adam Engel.

Vaughn was back in the starting lineup Sunday, with the White Sox’ list of injured players growing and another lefty on the mound for the Tigers. Vaughn went right back to work, with two more hits, four more RBIs and a three-run homer that served as the punctuation mark on a dominant, 10-run day against the team that might prove the White Sox’ biggest obstacle to repeating as AL Central champs.

Vaughn spent two of the weekend’s three days, including his big RBI day Sunday, as the DH. And while many fans view the position as the easiest there is — you don’t have to play the field, you just have to swing the bat and take a seat — hitters as dangerous and accomplished as José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez will tell you otherwise, their dislike for DH’ing based on the focus it demands when there’s no position to run out to, when you just have to sit and stew in whatever happened in the previous at-bat.

Vaughn has that ability, one that even other greats in the game do not. More mental toughness, eh?

It all adds up to the kind of player you don’t want to trade. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale got Twitter going a bit Sunday with his writing that the White Sox might have been able to land Manaea – who’d be a godsend for a rotation down its top two starting pitchers at the moment – had they been willing to part with Vaughn.

But yeah, that was never going to happen.

Even a late-season burnout during his rookie year is in the rearview mirror, as is the bruised hip he suffered making a clunky-looking dive in the outfield during the spring. Vaughn’s ready to take the next step, to take off, to take the baton and run with it – whatever fun cliche tickles your fancy.

“It was a learning curve,” Vaughn said of his rookie year, talking with CHGO during spring training. “The whole 162 games, it’s a grind. And there’s really no other way to put it, you just have to know what you’re going into. I learned so much about myself, about how I have to treat my body, go about my business.

“I think last season was awesome. We got to go to the playoffs my rookie year. It was pretty cool. I think this year’s going to be a lot better.

“End of the year, I scuffled a good bit, dealt with a little injury, and I think now I know how to handle it, how to take care of it, to get my body ready for playing 162. That’s the goal.”

Three games down for Vaughn, with three big impacts.

Only 159 to go.

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