KANNAPOLIS — With high draft picks come great expectations, and this year’s Chicago White Sox first-rounder Andrew Vaughn is no exception to that philosophy.
Contrarily, with the rebuild going full-steam ahead and the window of contention rapidly approaching, there may be even more of a sense of urgency for Vaughn to produce immediate results and establish himself as a fast riser in their talented White Sox minor league system.
Vaughn was recognized as perhaps the most advanced hitter available in this year’s draft when he was plucked from the University of California as the No. 3 overall pick. In three college seasons, Vaughn’s combined slash line was .377/.495/.695 with 50 HR and 162 RBIs in 156 games. He also drew 116 walks while striking out only 72 times.
The White Sox inked Vaughn to a $7.22 million signing bonus, and he reported to their rookie league affiliate in Arizona. In his three-game pro tuneup, Vaughn went 9-for-15 with a home run and four RBIs before leapfrogging Great Falls and being promoted directly to the Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators.
With the Intimidators Vaughn made an immediate positive impact as teammate Bryce Bush tells South Side Sox, “He’s a good guy, he came and fit right in with the team. He only spreads positive vibes and everyone likes him on and off the field.” Of his hitting Bush said, “He’s patient and has good bat speed, he could dominate once he gets a little more taste of pro ball.”
When asked to explain the difference between the college and professional game, Vaughn says “Definitely enhanced velocity. Everybody throws harder up here. You see different pitching sequences. It’s a challenge. These guys throw harder and come at you more than in college.”
When Andrew Vaughn saunters toward home plate to take his hacks, there is a different tenor reverberating throughout the Kannapolis faithful. Part of the charm of baseball is the social aspect of the game and the meandering pace at which it is played. However, when Vaughn is at bat, there is a perceptible difference in the air, as fans are transfixed on the pitcher-versus-hitter matchup.
Savvy Kanny fans have quickly come to recognize that any solitary swing from Vaughn’s right-handed bat may result in a refresh of the stadium scoreboard. His reputation precedes him, as opposing pitchers seem very cognizant of Vaughn’s baseball resume. The presence of the 2018 Golden Spikes Award recipient (and two-time finalist) seems to rattle pitchers and force them to bear down.
While Vaughn aims to prove himself as a key component in the White Sox rebuild, likewise the pitcher wants to be able to put a notch in his belt as a slayer of first round draft picks. These battles are comparable to wild western gunfights, with neither hitter nor pitcher relenting until the outcome is determined.
In Vaughn’s first home game as a member of the Intimidators, he displayed his game-changer profile. After walking on four consecutive pitches in his first at-bat, he came to the plate against Augusta starting pitcher Colin Selby in the third inning. Selby quickly got ahead in the count, 0-2, before Vaughn displayed his quick wrists by holding back a check swing against a biting breaking ball in the dirt. He then proceeded to foul off some tough pitches while working the count even.
Finally, it happened: Selby threw a fastball that caught the center of the plate, and Vaughn jumped on it. With no hesitation, his cobra-like strike resulted in a loud crack of the bat as the baseball took off like a rocket headed for the pull side power alley. As the ball touched down on the other side of the wall, Vaughn rounded the bases with his first Single-A home run.
In the batter’s box, the solidly-built, six-foot, 214-pound Vaughn stands with his feet in a neutral position. His pre-swing routine represents a minimalist approach, without a lot of superfluous movement. He keeps his hands in a high position, resting the bat handle on his shoulder before putting it in the attack position at about a 45° as the pitcher initiates the windup.
When Vaughn decides to swing, he picks up his lead foot bringing his knee to the belt-high position, and takes a short stride into the pitch. This fluid action seems to keep Vaughn in a balanced position, while allowing him to trigger very aggressive swings at the baseball. In my looks, he hasn’t taken any “excuse-me” swipes at the baseball or been caught off balance out on his front foot.
When asked to explain his swing thoughts, Vaughn is all business.
“The biggest thing for me is finding a pitch to hit, and when I see something I can put a drive on, I commit to it,” Vaughn shared with South Side Sox. “Putting your best move on the ball gives you your best chances of getting a hit.”
And while many major leaguers take a no-nonsense approach into the batter’s box, Vaughn is his own hitter.
“I stay in my own lane,” Vaughn confidently tells us. “I’m myself. Everybody else is already taken. I just want to be the best version of me that I can be.”
In spite of his unparalleled amateur baseball accomplishments, being a relative small statured, right-handed first basemen placed a lot of scrutiny on Vaughn prior to the draft. The track record of highly-drafted first base-only prospects hasn’t exactly been an overwhelming success story. Vaughn says that such criticisms help fuel his desire to silence the naysayers.
“It puts a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “Once I get in the box height doesn’t matter, position, right-handedness. It’s just me against the pitcher.”
That mano-a-mano approach is reflected by the best baseball advice he has ever been given: “Nobody is guarding you at the plate, or blocking you like in basketball or football. It’s just you and the baseball.”
Along with becoming acclimated to the grind of the minor league baseball schedule, Vaughn recognizes areas in which he would like to improve his game: “The biggest thing for me is getting better defensively.” And Vaughn’s not just paying lip service to that goal; he explains in detail how he is trying to develop a faster lateral first step to the ball and trying to improve the timing of his hop in anticipation of batted balls.
And although the newly-minted millionaire has seemingly been on a whirlwind tour since the draft, Vaughn isn’t ready for the season to end yet.
“I am very excited to be here and play every day,” he smiles. “I’m happy to be part of the rebuild, and the goal is to bring a championship to the city … to the South Side of Chicago.”
We definitely like the sound of that, Andrew.