Whether it’s Dylan Cease or Luis Robert or Nick Madrigal, the No. 1 question on the minds of White Sox fans is always the same: How soon will they be playing their ball on the South Side?
The sooner these prospects reach the big leagues, the sooner the White Sox can shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode. That’s the idea, at least, and it looks plenty realistic as the three aforementioned prospects continue to tear things up in the minors, all while positive signs abound at the major league level.
Well, there’s a new star prospect in the mix. According to a report from the Tribune's Mark Gonzales, the White Sox agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Andrew Vaughn, the power-hitting first baseman they spent the No. 3 pick on earlier this month.
Vaughn had White Sox fans real excited on draft night, and they had a right to be giddy. Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award last year as college baseball’s best player. He launched 50 home runs in his three seasons at Cal. And he was talked up as potentially the best all-around hitter in the draft (with only No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman generally considered the better all-around bat).
So with Vaughn’s much ballyhooed power and his status as a college player, could it make for a rapid rise through the farm system?
“I think he's probably one of the guys that a lot of people would say could be the 'quickest to the big leagues,' someone that could advance fast,” White Sox scouting director Nick Hostetler said on draft night. “The big thing for him is getting his feet wet and acclimated to professional baseball first before we rush him and declare him our starting first baseman. Get him acclimated first and make sure that he's gotten tested at different levels. I think that's going to be big for him.
“He is a guy who is advanced at the plate, so you would like to think that skill set would offer the ability for him to move through our system more quickly than someone who might need a swing overhaul or someone that is just a pure athlete and needs time to work on the bat. I would expect him to move probably a little bit quicker than a normal progression.
“But at the same time, until he gets out there and shows us what he can do offensively in the pro setting, that will be left up to (director of player development Chris Getz).”
Obviously, Vaughn is behind the schedules of Cease, Robert and even Madrigal, who the White Sox took with the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft. The team’s window looks like it could start to open during the 2020 season, which wouldn’t be surprising if those three are all on the Opening Day roster. Cease is expected to be up this summer. Robert started the year at Class A Winston-Salem, so playing at four levels in one season could be unrealistic. But Robert is swinging such a hot bat that projecting him to make the big league team by Opening Day 2020 is hardly radical.
Madrigal is the least likely of the three to be on next season’s Opening Day roster, though after a slowish start, he’s been red hot since his promotion to Double-A Birmingham, with a .393/.456/.472 slash line in 16 games there. He’s not going to hit around .400 the remainder of the season, but if he continues to have success, his rise would figure to speed up.
And if Madrigal could be a potential big leaguer a year and a half after being drafted, could the same be true for Vaughn? It depends on how he performs, obviously, but it will also depend on what the White Sox want to see out of Vaughn. If he really had the most polished power bat in draft and one of the finest all-around bats, there might not be much he needs to improve on offensively, he might merely need to show mastery of the pitching he faces as he rises from one level to the next.
"We think we got one of the best bats in the draft," Getz said on a recent edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast. "He can hit, he can hit with power. Very strong understanding of hitting. We think he's going to transition well right out of the gate.
"A guy like that, he's just an ultra-talented guy that needs to go out there and perform. The sky's the limit here."
Defensively, though, it could be a different story. Hostetler had good things to say about Vaughn’s defense on draft night. But while fans bemoaned Rick Hahn’s defense-related explanations for why Eloy Jimenez didn’t leap to the bigs in 2018, it’s been plenty apparent during Jimenez’s rookie season that he is not a finished product in left field.
We have to wait to see what ends up being the case with Vaughn. But the discussion of his bat as an advanced one is a good sign that he could be on a faster track than most. And with the White Sox nearing contention mode, a quick rise by Vaughn could make the difference in a playoff race sometime in the near future.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.