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Figuring It Out: Is Andrew Vaughn Taking the "Next Step"?

Andrew Vaughn's initial taste of the Major Leagues has been a bit of a roller coaster, but there are signs that the highly touted prospect is evolving before our eyes.
Chicago White Sox Andrew Vaughn

Andrew Vaughn

It's been a tumultuous two years for Andrew Vaughn since being drafted 3rd overall by the White Sox in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft out of Cal-Berkley. He had an uneventful start to his professional career in 2019 playing across three lower levels of affiliated ball, with results that didn't jump off the stat page.

Vaughn was billed as the most advanced hitter in the 2019 draft class, with a plate approach that would cause him to be a quick riser through the White Sox system. The power didn't really manifest itself in his first glimpse of pro ball, but that's not atypical for many collegiate players who get drafted. Many have to endure the longest season of baseball in their lives against pitching that is better than anything they've previously seen, and that's not an easy adjustment.

Vaughn was ticketed for Double-A Birmingham in 2020, which is the ultimate test for White Sox positional prospects given the quality of pitching in the Southern League and the offensive suppressing environment at Regions Field. Then a global pandemic happened, and Vaughn just like about every other prospect in the sport lost a crucial year of development on the road to his big league dream. Vaughn was selected to participate at the White Sox alternate training site in Schaumburg last year, allowing him to continue seeing pitching. Although the quality of pitchers the Sox had in Schaumburg doesn't compare to that of the Southern League, it still allowed him to continue getting professional instruction and continuing his development.

Fast forward to this February, and the White Sox inactivity over the winter led to rampant speculation that Vaughn could break camp as the club's Opening Day designated hitter. Then Eloy Jimenez did what Eloy Jimenez does anytime he grabs a glove. Vaughn immediately found himself thrust into a new position, left field, while trying to adapt to facing Major League pitching without the luxury of growing against upper level minor league competition. To say this was a lot to ask of the highly touted slugger, would be an understatement.

Early Returns

If we are being honest, Andrew Vaughn has gone through some significant highs and lows through the first half of his initial Major League season. Through June 10 in his first 177 PA's, Vaughn slashed a modest: .226/.305/.400 good for a 95 wRC+. When you consider the fact that he wasn't afforded the luxury of facing pitching above Class-A Winston-Salem before April 1, I think it's safe to say that Vaughn held his own. The power wasn't there consistently, as he only produced five home runs, but it did show up in a few pivotal spots. Most notably, Vaughn showed up against Aroldis Chapman in New York and against the Toronto Blue Jays in a mid-June series at home.

Heading into the season, I was critical of the Sox handling of Vaughn believing that it would be best for his long-term development to find an external DH/LF option. This would have allowed Vaughn to go to Birmingham or Charlotte to further develop before being thrust into the lineup on a team with World Series aspirations. Things obviously didn't play out that way, and Vaughn took his lumps early on being exposed by veteran pitchers with by far the most explosive stuff the youngster had ever seen.

Through all of that, Vaughn's approach has never wavered as he has displayed the type of advanced hitting approach that scouts raved about heading into his draft year. The early returns weren't great, but if you knew what you were watching you could see there was something there and that this was a player that would eventually figure it out in the batter's box.

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A Corner Turned?

Something has clicked for Andrew Vaughn in the last 30 days. In his last 95 PAs, his slash line has been a stellar: .302/.347/.547 good for a 142 wRC+ while seeing his home run total double. Vaughn has seen his K% dip a full 4% in the last month, so it's not just that he's making quality contact, he's making it more frequently. Yes, I'm aware 95 PAs is a small sample size, but again this is a player that was billed as having an advanced plate approach that has now spent half a season seeing the best pitching the planet has to offer, and there are notable adjustments being made.

One of the most significant improvements for Vaughn has been his handedness splits:

4/1 - 6/10

6/11 - 7/11

vs RHP

.200/.263/.267 50 wRC+

.283/.308/.550 128 wRC+

vs LHP

.280/.390/.680 186 wRC+

.346/.433/.538 171 wRC+

One of the early criticisms of Vaughn was his pedestrian performance against RHP, while looking like a veteran lefty masher. This caused some within the fanbase to suggest that in 2021, he may be nothing more than a platoon bat in order for this team to try and optimize its success rates. However in the last month, Vaughn's performance against same handed hurlers has given a cause for great optimism. Granted, it was buoyed by a strong weekend series against the lowly Orioles that included a two homer assault on Sunday, but that hasn't been the only sign of life for Vaughn against righties of late.

If, and yes this is still a big if, Andrew Vaughn can continue producing the type of quality offensive output we have seen in the last month regardless of pitcher handedness, the Sox will be able to stay on course to a division title while waiting for the eventual returns of Eloy Jimenez, and hopefully Luis Robert. It will also negate the needs of the team to go out and acquire a potential OF/DH reinforcement, allowing the team to allocate its limited prospect capital to more pressing needs *cough right-handed relievers cough.*

How Does He Stack Up?

For comparison sake, I wanted to see how Andrew Vaughn stacked up against the Sox last highly touted slugging prospect, Eloy Jimenez. When I dug into the numbers, I found some interesting similarities.

Jimenez (270 PA)

.241/.304/.478 17 HR 103 wRC+

7.8 BB% 27.0 K%

Vaughn (272 PA)

.253/.320/.452 10 HR 112 wRC+

8.1 BB% 25.0 K%

As you can see, Vaughn isn't that far off of the production that Eloy Jimenez produced after breaking camp with the team to begin the 2019 season. Jimenez's power production has dwarfed that of Vaughn to this point, but the rest of the numbers are very much in line. To harp on it one final time, I think this is a pretty good sign considering Eloy Jimenez was allowed to dominate pitchers in Birmingham and Charlotte before getting to the game's highest level, which is something Vaughn wasn't allowed to do for reasons outside of his control.

We saw the significant jump Eloy Jimenez made in the second half of his rookie season as he acclimated himself to the Major Leagues and began to develop a more complete understanding of how opposing pitchers were attacking him. I have little doubt that Andrew Vaughn will see a similar upward progression in his performance as he continues to mature and feel more comfortable at the big league level. If Vaughn is able to see the upward trajectory in his performance continue in the second half, coupled with the returns of offensive threats like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, the second half could promise to provide a lot of fireworks at the corner of 35th/Shields.