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Three Reasons for Optimism

Reese McGuire’s reality, Andrew Vaughn’s possibility, and Luis Robert’s new normal.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Two big pluses four games into the season? Andrew Vaughn and Luis Robert.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Vaughn has a home

Andrew Vaughn is staying on the Chicago White Sox, and thank Keelin’s great pasture in the sky for that.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t love Frankie Montas to re-don a South Side uniform, but Vaughn has found another gear. It would be hard to spin Vaughn’s 2021 as anything other than a struggle. He slashed passably out of the gate, but with no power. By May and June, Vaughn had found some pop, but was striking out at an unsustainable rate. He did rip off a hot streak in July, but plummeted the final month-plus of the season. Prior to a chilly three-game set in Detroit this past weekend, Vaughn’s value was as low as it might ever be, and nobody should blame other front offices for trying to buy cheap.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Except we’re not idiots, thankfully, as Vaughn just spent the first weekend of the season nestling into the top 1% of expected batting average (.474), with plenty of slugging to boot. There are and will be disagreements on how the positional rollercoaster the La Russa Administration has subjected Andy has adversely impacted his plate development, but an AJ Pollock return could find a comfortable steady DH role for Vaughn, with some utility work on days that Yasmani Grandal needs a break behind the plate.

Any way you spin it, Rick Hahn just gave thinly veiled quotes to the media that expressed the best White Sox lineup has Andrew Vaughn in it, and as such he needs to play as much as possible. If that series in Detroit was Vaughn’s opportunity to show he’s flipped the switch, then the message came through loud and clear.

Seattle Mariners v. Chicago White Sox Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Frame it however you like, but: The White Sox have a backup catcher!

Until 10 days ago, backup catcher was somewhere down the list of unaddressed offseason needs, with the assumption we’d run back the well-below league average conglomerate that made up the ’21 depth behind Yasmani Grandal. Then Rick Hahn traded Zack Collins for a fellow former first-rounder-turned-odd man out, Reese McGuire.

So we all googled McGuire and learned a bunch of stuff we really, truly weren’t looking for. Thankfully, understanding McGuire’s on-field impact requires little more than watching the game, as it’s clear to the naked eye what Reese brings that Zack doesn’t: competence as a receiver. There’s practically no sample size to work with this early, but let’s do it just for fun — because Collins likely never strung together two games behind the plate with this metric in the red:

Baseball Savant

Collins’ bat was practically invisible, and McGuire is not likely to return us to the glory days of ’20 when the offensive output from the catcher position featured two All-Stars. That said, Reese picked up a couple of hits in the home opener, both with blistering exit velocities, including a 109.6 mph smash off of Matt Brash and his Nintendo repertoire. We’re practically a moment into the season, but backup catcher appears to be more than adequately addressed, after all. Atta way, Rick.

Seattle Mariners v Chicago White Sox Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Watch out, baseball, La Pantera is back in fifth gear

Luis Robert’s post-injury 2021 was a 43-game assault at the plate, and a tantalizing glimpse at the ceiling. He slashed .350/.389/.622, seemingly always finding barrels in a fashion that could only be reasonably categorized as an extended hot streak. Four games into the ’22 season, and it appears Luis is gearing up to push the bounds of what would be considered reasonable. In 16 at-bats, Robert has had exit velocities on balls in play of 95 mph-plus seven times, with a single K coming vs Brash — against whom he adjusted to then tag for balls in play of 111.7 mph and 110.4 mph in his subsequent ABs. Recall that absurd .474 xBA of Vaughn’s? Well it appears Luis has broken the game, crashing through the season’s gate with an expected batting average of .475.

Blink and you also may have missed the fact that Luis has swiped four bases following just six total in 2021. It appeared that the club advised him to keep the motor in third gear on sprints after his hip injury last season, but the reins have clearly been removed in ’22, perhaps in an effort to also address José Abreu’s typical GIDP issues. Robert was still terrific in his 25 games prior to injury last year, slashing .316/.359/.463, but with each game of eye-popping plate results, Luis has thus far picked up his unbelievable late ’21 hot streak right where he left off.

Honorable mentions: Dylan Cease’s top-of-zone slider. Josh Harrison’s energy. The new guys in the pen. Lasik Rey’s role.