Sox Reporter

Abreu: No doubt Sox top prospect Vaughn ready for bigs

Sox Reporter

Lucas Giolito said he called it.

Andrew Vaughn's first at-bat of the spring as the White Sox designated hitter, the job he could very well hold when the regular season starts April 1, ended in a three-run homer, as big a statement as could have been made three days into the Cactus League schedule that the organization's top prospect is ready for the major leagues.

"I called that homer," Giolito boasted after the South Siders' latest spring tie, a 5-all final in six innings of play against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not afraid to tell you guys I did call that homer. Before he even stepped in the box, I said, 'Vaughnie's going deep.' And then he did."

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Giolito's been among Vaughn's biggest backers, dating all the way back to last summer, when during "Summer Camp," he called the young slugger "a pain in my ass" after having to pitch to him in an intrasquad game. Recently, talking with Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast, Giolito called Vaughn "the full package."

But the fiercest competition at White Sox camp might actually be for the title of Vaughn's biggest backer, and Tuesday's long ball out to left field provided the best moment yet for the rave reviews to keep pouring in.

 

None, however, might carry as much weight as the one that came down from the reigning American League MVP.

"I don't have any doubt in my mind that he's ready to play in the majors and ready to help us at the major league level," José Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "He's a guy that respects the game, he's a guy that works hard, and I think those two factors are big factors to have success in the majors."

If Vaughn keeps this up, he'll soon be right there in the middle of the White Sox batting order alongside the MVP, as well as a couple Silver Sluggers and other eye-popping offensive talents. Certainly he's done everything he can in this exhibition setting to answer the mountain of questions about his big league readiness in light of his minimal experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the minor league season in 2020, keeping Vaughn's professional game count at just 55, none of those coming above A-ball. And so the queries piled up during the offseason, with a couple big-name veteran DHs on the free-agent market: Would Vaughn be able to handle a sizable role as the everyday designated hitter on a team with World Series expectations?

Those questions were valid. But the White Sox drafted Vaughn with the third overall pick in the 2019 draft while touting an advanced bat that was college baseball's best. They haven't stopped raving about him since. And while the 2020 second-half struggles of even the uber talented Luis Robert foreshadow that 2021 won't be exclusively smooth sailing for Vaughn, the White Sox are brimming with confidence anyway.

"He’s going to go through lumps like every other rookie," White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said before Tuesday's game. "He’s going to have to make adjustments like everybody has. Vaughnie knows this. ... I already explained to him he’s going to have make some adjustments and it’s going to come quick. ... 'Be ready for it. Embrace the challenge. Embrace the pressure.'

"He has no fear, he has his own approach, he knows what works. And it’s just going to be getting reps up here. And I don’t doubt he’ll be able to make adjustments."

Well, so far, so good.

In his first two Cactus League games this spring, Vaughn homered, drove in three runs, scored two runs and walked three times in his six trips to the plate.

"At this point, it's pretty much expected out of him," Giolito said. "He's really, really impressed me, impressed the organization, for sure. He's a professional hitter. I know he hasn't played above High A, but he's big league ready. ... I'm all for Andrew to just keep doing his thing, and he'll be helping our club."

Indeed, it seems almost a foregone conclusion at the moment that Vaughn will be the White Sox starting DH in 2021. Heck, it seemed that way when the offseason came to a close and the White Sox hadn't added any veteran heft to even compete for the spot, showing how much faith they had in Vaughn all along.

 

General manager Rick Hahn said at the start of the spring that Vaughn was "in the mix" to make the Opening Day roster. Manager Tony La Russa described Vaughn as part of the "in-pencil" group as opposed to the "in-ink" one.

But the way everyone's talking about Vaughn, La Russa's going to need something new to write with. A chisel, maybe?

"Had there been a season last year," Hahn said at the start of camp, "I don’t think there would have been any question in anyone’s mind that Andrew Vaughn was prepared to contribute at the big league level over the course of the 2021 season."

That's starting to become more obvious by the day.

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