“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican and Arizona)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
This was a tough decision as to who the subject of this Deep Dive would be. Adam Eaton, and later Brian Goodwin, were the primary right fielders last year, so to speak, but both struggled and are now free agents. That basically leaves Adam Engel, Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn as potential subjects. Since Vaughn played the most games at right field this year (18) of the three, he’s the guy.
This Deep Dive will focus on Vaughn’s history prior to last year, the 2021 season, and what to expect from him and right field going forward.
How did he get here?
Vaughn enjoyed a spectacular three-year run with the University of California. As a freshman, all he did was slash .349/.414/.555 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs, 19 walks and 24 strikeouts. The next year saw him have arguably his best production (and a Golden Spikes Award as the NCAA’s best player), as he slashed .402/.531/.819 with 14 doubles, 23 homers, 63 RBIs, 44 walks and just 18 strikeouts in 54 games. While his junior season wasn’t quite up to his sophomore standards, it was still sensational as he slashed .374/.539/.704 in 52 games with 14 doubles, 15 homers, 50 RBIs, 60 walks and 33 strikeouts. Thus, in a total of 160 college games — equating to a full major league season, Vaughn slashed .374/.495/.688 with 35 doubles, one triple, 50 homers, 163 RBIs, 123 walks (16.5%) and 75 strikeouts (10.1%). Amazing stuff! As a result of his hitting prowess, Vaughn was selected with the third overall pick by the White Sox in this year’s MLB draft.
After obliterating the AZL in a three-game stretch to start his pro career, Vaughn finished 2019 with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. His numbers weren’t overly impressive for the year, but this was by far the longest season of his life and likely suffered through a bit of fatigue. In 205 at-bats with three teams, Vaughn combined to slash .278/.384/.449 with 17 doubles, six homers, 36 RBIs, 30 walks (12.2%) and 38 strikeouts (15.5%).
Vaughn didn’t enter into any game action due to the pandemic in 2020, but was part of the taxi squad that trained in Schaumburg in preparations for being called up. Despite not partaking in any official contests, he impressed team personnel with his work ethic and professional approach at the dish — GM Rick Hahn admitted that Vaughn was on the verge of getting his shot in the majors in September.
With the White Sox in 2021
Near the end of this year’s spring training, much debate revolved around whether Vaughn would take the huge leap from Winston-Salem to the majors as a designated hitter/first baseman or simply receive additional seasoning and reps with Triple-A Charlotte. That question was answered, however, at the very end of spring traning, when left fielder Eloy Jiménez made an ill-fated attempt at a catch which ultimately cost him close to a four-month stint on the injured list. Due to the team’s lack of depth at that position, especially since Engel was also injured, Vaughn was asked to be the primary starting left fielder until Jiménez’s return. Vaughn hadn’t played the outfield since high school, if that, and had all of two games at the end of spring to ready himself for the assignment.
While not a disaster, Vaughn’s rookie season did not provide the outcome he had hoped for. In 127 games for the Sox totaling 411 at-bats, he slashed .235/.309/.396 with 22 doubles, 15 homers, 48 RBIs, 41 walks (8.7%), 101 strikeouts (21.5%), 0.2 bWAR and 94 wRC+. He was hovering around the .250 mark for much of the year, but a late-season slump (caused in large part to lower back spasms) sunk him. Vaughn, considered at one time to be one of the least versatile players on the roster, happily filled in when needed at all non-battery positions except shortstop and center field. Considering he’d never played beyond A-ball before this year, and juggling new positions on the fly, his numbers were actually respectable in context.
Unsurprisingly, Vaughn’s numbers were better at home, in the hitting-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field, where he slashed .262/.337/.435 as compared to road numbers of .212/.275/.363. Under the lights, he performed fairly well by slashing .262/.329/.446 but struggled in day games by slashing just .187/.275/.307. Vaughn’s best month was in July, when he produced a .308/.347/.516 line with seven doubles and four homers, while his most difficult month by far was September (thanks to the lower back inflammation) when he hit just .079/.146/.079. As one would expect, he fared much better against southpaws (.269/.383/.555) than versus righties (.221/.277/.332).
While Vaughn produced adequate results with nobody on base by hitting .236/.322/.406, he perhaps put too much pressure on himself with runners in scoring position, as he slashed just .196/.264/.268 with two homers in such situations. Ahead in the count, Vaughn produced far better results, as one would expect, by slashing .319/.497/.571. However, he struggled significantly when behind in the count by producing a meager .181/.194/.277 line.
Where do you put him in the lineup? While hitting everywhere except leadoff, Vaughn spent most of his time batting fifth through eighth. His best results were in the seventh spot, where he slashed .268/.324/.528 while producing an OPS of just .534 by hitting .209/.280/.254 one spot lower. Despite producing an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph, which was nearly three mph faster than the league average (42nd-best overall), Vaughn produced a surprisingly low .271 BABIP. No doubt, grounders played a factor. He hit them at a 43.9% clip this year, which didn’t coincide well with his slow sprint speed (389th among all major leaguers).
It was that lack of sprint speed, more than anything, that gave him a -1.3 defensive rating per Baseball-Reference. Unsurprisingly, due to his lack of familiarity with most positions he played this year, Vaughn’s reaction times were slow when balls were hit his way. That, combined with his low burst and sprint speeds, gave Vaughn one of the most modest jumps in the game. To be fair, Vaughn handled nearly every ball he fielded, as he committed just four errors (one at first, two at left and one in right). Thus, despite his lack of range, Vaughn provided an adequate amount of stability wherever he played — in positions he really shouldn’t have been playing in the first place.
Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million on the free agent market per FanGraphs, and Vaughn earned just $570,000 this year, he provided the White Sox with a surplus value of $970,000. Expect that surplus to increase once he settles on just one defensive position, while getting more comfortable at the dish.
What does the future have in store?
With last year being the first year he was placed on the 40-man roster, Andrew Vaughn won’t even be eligible for arbitration until the 2024 season, and won’t become a free agent until 2027. This means, unless there’s significant changes with the new collective bargaining agreement, he will be earning the league minimum of $570,500 in 2022, unless granted an extension.
Frankly, Vaughn provided more than should’ve been asked of him in 2021. He truly is best suited at first base, but with veteran José Abreu manning the position, Vaughn’s next-best role would be as designated hitter. It’s great to know that he could help out the outfield corners, as well as third and second bases in a pinch, but that would take him out of his (and perhaps the team’s) comfort level. Vaughn’s been noted by scouts in the past to be terrific at making adjustments, and no doubt, he’ll be spending much of his offseason spending time at the batting cages. He still should have the trajectory of a consistent 30-homer, 100-RBI producer for many years to come. It simply seems more logical that, once Vaughn settles in at any one position, that his focus then would be upon improving his offensive game and relentlessly terrorizing pitchers with his silky-smooth swing.
While Vaughn played the most games at right field among returning Sox players, he’s got plenty of competition:
- Gavin Sheets provides the left-handed bat that the team covets, but like Vaughn, is really better suited for the first base/DH role due to his limited range.
- Adam Engel is clearly the best defensive option when compared to Vaughn and Sheets, but he’s missed much of the past two seasons due to injury and may not be viewed as an every-day starter.
- Micker Adolfo, who is out of options, is the best Triple-A depth at the position due to his combination of big-time power, cannon arm and adequate defensive abilities; however, his .246 average and high strikeout totals last year indicate he may have his struggles against the most advanced pitching in the game.
- Yoelqui Céspedes played fairly well in Birmingham last year, but his struggles in the Arizona Fall League indicate he needs to improve his overall plate discipline.
- Blake Rutherford has never produced at a high level in the minors, and even if he starts producing, would be better suited at left field due to a lack of arm strength.
- Tyler Neslony, a Rule 5 candidate, played primarily left field with Birmingham last year and wielded a particularly strong left-handed bat. However, it’s unclear if this late bloomer is the real deal.
- Luis Basabe recently re-signed with the Sox on a minor league deal, and could be able to help in a pinch as well.
- Craig Dedelow has produced numerous extra-base hits as a lefty bat in the minors, but hasn’t advanced beyond Double-A due to his low batting average and high strikeout totals.
- Other longer-range options include Oscar Colás (whose signing won’t be official until January), Luis Mieses, Chase Krogman and Misael González. However, none of these players have advanced beyond A-ball, and won’t likely be considered for a major league spot until 2023 at the absolute earliest.
Of course, the White Sox don’t have to think internally for the right-field spot. Certainly, the Sox could pursue a trade to obtain either a short-term or long-term option at the position. While they didn’t strongly pursue current NL MVP Bryce Harper when he was eligible for free agency a couple years ago, that doesn’t mean that the window is entirely closed for this year’s free agent class. Many right field options were mentioned in previous free-agent Deep Dives, based upon the positions they played the most in 2021. As for those who played mostly in right, those players will be detailed in the next post.