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Jim Thome on Andrew Vaughn's 'special' potential with Sox

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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"When you see Vaughny come to home plate, I don't know, there's just these special feelings you get like he's going to do something really good."

Jim Thome knows a thing or two about special things happening at the plate.

Thome's currently working in the Chicago White Sox front office, a role that includes helping out as an instructor during spring training. Earlier this year, he got to work with Andrew Vaughn, the White Sox much discussed rookie masher, who's on one heck of a hot streak of late, batting .346 with seven doubles, five homers, 14 RBIs and a .985 OPS in his last 23 games.

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Thome saw something special during the spring, too.

"I think the first thing, when you look at Andrew, he's an advanced hitter, right? ... And then when you meet him and you listen to him talk about hitting and his approach and his confidence, it's really impressive. He's kind of how it should look, for me," Thome said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "He has a great approach in BP. He stays through the middle the other way. He'll hit balls out to left center. When he needs to, get the bat head out there and go ahead and get after it and hit balls with authority.

"What I love about him, though, is he's a hitter first. At the college level, when you come up, when you're a high schooler, you want to be a hitter, right? And you learn this power as you go. And I think that's what we're seeing right now with him is he's got a great knack of staying on the baseball, but if you make a mistake, he can turn on you and he's got enough in there that he can leave the ballpark, which is a great thing.

 

"But his No. 1 strength, for me, is his ability to hit the ball the other way, especially with guys in scoring position."

It makes sense that Thome would talk in such a, for lack of a better term, hitter-ish way about Vaughn. The two seem to share that laser focus on what happens in the batter's box.

Vaughn was impressing White Sox manager Tony La Russa during the spring, too, with his mental approach and the maturity and calmness he displayed before even getting his first taste of the big leagues. Since making his major league debut in April, he's shown those attributes on a nightly basis against major league pitching.

That also struck Thome, and it's perhaps the driving force of the continued excitement over what's to come in Vaughn's big league career.

"We can talk all about what he does physically," Thome said. "Mentally, for what this kid's been through in a little bit of the ups and downs that he's went through, he remains so even-keeled across the board that I think that's what's really going to make him a good big leaguer at the end of the day.

"I love the kid, I love the young man. He's polite, he's a gentleman. I love that he asks questions. I love that he's alert. ... He's just very aware of who he is, what his environment is, who the guys around him are. He's a quiet kid, to a degree that he doesn't talk too much.

"He gets it. He's a big leaguer."

The mental side of Vaughn's game has helped him quickly master left field, a position he was thrust into after Eloy Jiménez was injured late in spring training. Vaughn's been excellent in left, in addition to being excellent at the plate, with La Russa assuring that Jiménez's recent return will have no impact on Vaughn's playing time.

In fact, Vaughn has handled left field so well that with Jiménez making his return to left field Tuesday night in Kansas City, La Russa deployed Vaughn in right field.

"I mean, this kid can do anything," Thome said. "If you ask him, he's not going to hesitate, and he'll just answer you, 'Yes, I'll do it.' And you look up and you go, 'Wow.'

"He's been really, really solid in left field, and it's a tribute to his work, to his confidence and to his baseball ability that he's able to adjust like he does."

For Vaughn, the spring was a chance to learn from one of the best to ever swing a bat. You can tell by the rave reviews that plenty of Vaughn's success has been due to his existing talent and his existing approach. But working with Thome had its benefits, Vaughn said, and it's easy to see how he can improve over time by his willingness to adopt some of the habits that made Thome an all-time great.

 

"Work hard," Vaughn told NBC Sports Chicago, asked what was his biggest takeaway from what Thome was preaching. "That's the biggest thing is he's a hard worker, and he preaches that ethic.

"When he was doing spring training (as a player), he'd go do nine-inning games, then he'd go take at-bats on the back field and do another drill on the back field. It was always getting those extra reps in, which he preached and I found a liking to in spring training. We would play a game and then go back on the back fields and do one of his hitting drills.

"Just that mindset he has, tried to instill it in a lot of our guys, and I think it was important."

Vaughn is still just four months into his big league career, and there's time to grow before he's the guy everyone stops what they're doing to watch. The White Sox hope their lineup is full of those kinds of hitters in the not too distant future, when Jiménez, José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert, Yasmani Grandal and Tim Anderson can team to make nearly every at-bat must-see TV.

And Vaughn could definitely be part of that group. That's what the White Sox see. That's what Thome sees.

Who knows if Vaughn will ever hit a homer as important to White Sox lore as the one Thome launched to plate the lone run in the Blackout Game in 2008. But the White Sox have had those kinds of visions since they drafted Vaughn in 2019.

"There's a reason why he was highly touted out of college," Thome said, "and I say good for us for getting the opportunity to get this kid."

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