White Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn is a victim of perpetually high expectations.
As the third overall pick in the 2019 draft, Vaughn was immediately ticketed to be the White Sox’s first baseman/DH of the future. He enjoyed an illustrious college career at Cal that included a Golden Spikes Award, and 50 homers over 160 games. By 2020, a year after he was drafted, he was the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox organization, and a consensus Top 100 prospect in all of baseball. And in 2021, after scant experience in the minors muddled by the pandemic cancellation of the minors in 2020, Vaughn got his first call to join the big-league club.
Nearly three years into his major-league career, however, the touted future star has little to show for his projected status and raw hitting ability. He has accounted for a paltry 0.3 WAR to this point, with a 102 OPS+ and an average of about 15 homers a season. Average is sure to be a recurring theme in this piece, as it perfectly describes Vaughn’s performance as a White Sox player.
The same can not be said for his predecessor José Abreu, a nine-year fan favorite on the South Side and one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball during his tenure with the Sox. Vaughn had more than just high draft expectations to live up to — he also had insanely big shoes to fill. And while that type of pressure is sure to be intimidating to even the most hardened of baseball personalities, White Sox fans have already begun to sour on the former first-round pick.
Andrew Vaughn is just not a good baseball player.— TWINS ARE POVERTY (@ihatethetwins1) July 19, 2023
Would be best to move Burger to first and trade vaughn to a rebuilding team.
Andrew Vaughn another bust of a pick from the White Sox— Joe Gazzi (@thegreatgazzi) July 19, 2023
How has Vaughn been so disappointing to this point, and is there any hope for the former top prospect to live up to his exceptional potential and fill the shoes of one of the best White Sox to ever play the game?
Among some not-so-encouraging underlying metrics, there are some signs of progress.
While Vaughn has enjoyed little in the way of success, he has consistently hit the ball hard and showed respectable plate discipline. Last year, however, he put the ball on the ground nearly 48% of the time, which is significantly higher than the league average. Vaughn has never been the most athletic infielder, and his sprint speed has steadily declined in each of the past three years. When you’re one of the slowest players in the game and can’t beat out grounders, it’s best to not hit the ball on the ground — and Vaughn struggled with execution of that principle in 2022.
Vaughn has consistently ranked as one of the worst defensive players in all of baseball. While his bat was meant to be his calling card, few expected his defensive performance to this point to be so disastrous.
Last year, out of 682 qualified fielders, Vaughn ranked dead-last in the big leagues in terms of fielding run value. The modest offensive value Vaughn brought to the plate was promptly offset by his atrocious performance in the field.
Andrew Vaughn is one of the worst fielding first basemen I've ever seen. https://t.co/PhAHaJ89C1— Maker Bayfield (@Jozefowski) July 15, 2023
While Vaughn’s first two seasons with the big-league club have been remarkably subpar, there is modest cause for optimism for the Sox’s young first baseman. Since transitioning to a full-time role at first base with the departure of Abreu, Vaughn has been merely below-average at first, owning a -3 fielding run value to this point in the season. While an improvement, he is still in the bottom-fifth percentile in the majors in Outs Above Average (OAA), showing that he still has some work to do before becoming a passable fielder. His long-term spot, it seems, is destined to be at DH.
An additional silver lining for the underwhelming righty is a significant decrease in his ground-ball rate. In 2023, he’s hit the ball on the ground 43% of the time, which is one percent higher than last year’s MLB average, but a 5% decrease compared to his ground-ball percentage last year. Simply put, Vaughn is hitting the ball in the air with more regularity, which can only benefit him given his archetype as an unathletic, power-hitting first baseman.
If he can continue this trend and put his hard-hit balls in the air more consistently, there’s a chance that Vaughn — still only 25 years old — can become an above-average major league hitter. While that isn’t the ceiling the White Sox envisioned for him when they took him third overall in 2019, it’s certainly an improvement. With few explosive first base prospects in the upper levels of the minors, Vaughn appears poised to continue as the White Sox's primary first baseman for the foreseeable future.