Cal Baseball: Andrew Vaughn's Ongoing Education as a Big League Hitter

Former Cal Slugger Also Got His First Chance to Play Left Field at Fenway Park
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Willie Mays famously began his Hall of Fame career by going 0-for-12 before hitting a home run off Warren Spahn for his first major league hit back in 1951.

The start of Andrew Vaughn’s career wasn’t quite as dramatic — and we’re not here to suggest he will follow the same career arc as the Say Hey Kid.

But in the opening chapter of his rookie season with the Chicago White Sox, Vaughn started 0-for-9 at the plate before doubling off Seattle left-hander Nick Margevicius on April 6.

For Vaughn, the former Cal slugger, becoming an effective major league hitter continues to be a work in progress. He wasn’t in the starting lineup for the White Sox on Monday at Boston, but through his first 10 games he is batting .179.

Vaughn, the college player of the year for the Bears in 2018, is 5-for-28 with three doubles, four runs scored, one RBI and 11 strikeouts.

Manager Tony La Russa continues to show confidence in the organization’s top prospect. Vaughn is taking things one step at a time.

“Just slow it down, take it pitch by pitch and stick to my approach and just keep going,” Vaughn told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday when asked about his approach at the plate. “It’s definitely a learning curve. This game ain’t easy. It’s going to get you and you’ve just got to keep going, battling and trusting yourself, trusting the process and just go out there and try to win ball games.”

Not even a month ago an ESPN writer predicted the 23-year-old would win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Vaughn’s focus is on developing a rhythm at the plate.

“You’ve got to go in there and be ready every single at-bat. It doesn’t matter when you get put in,” he said.” We don’t write the lineup, we go out and play. That’s our goal, to win ballgames, and you’ve just got to keep going.

“You’ve got to stay in that routine. Every day I come to the field, you’ve got to pretend you are starting, even if you’re not. You’ve got to be ready to go, doing your thing, getting your swings in the cage, doing extra outfield work, just to stay ready, get your lifts in. Take it serious.”

If adjusting to big league pitching isn’t enough on his plate, Vaughn is also learning to play left field. He was a first baseman at Cal and arrived at spring training expecting to compete for the designated hitter position.

But when White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez ruptured his left pectoral tendon late in spring training — an injury expected to sideline him for up to six months — Vaughn was given the chance to try the position.

He has played all 10 of his games in left — no DH assignments yet — and has handled the minimal work he’s gotten. Five fielding chances, five putouts, no errors.

But this weekend brought a unique challenge — Fenway Park and the 37-foot tall left-field fence known as the Green Monster. No other MLB park has anything quite like it.

To prepare, Vaughn spent time before Saturday’s game working with coach Daryl Boston, taking balls off the wall and soaking in advice on how to play at Fenway.

Vaughn learned he doesn’t have to play as deep because if the ball goes over his head it will hit the wall. He practiced reading the carom off the wall and saw that there is limited foul ground along the left-field line.

“It’s amazing,” he said in an interview before the team’s 7-4 loss on Saturday. “This is a field that’s historic. I’ve watched games here all the time as a little kid. I actually got to come here when I was in the Cape (Cod League in 2018) and we did a little tour of the field, which was pretty cool.

“It’s humbling, you get to be here and be on the big stage. Just got to take it one day at a time and enjoy it.”

The assignment in left is made somewhat easier by the fact that center fielder Luis Robert is a Gold Glove winner with good speed.

“He has unbelievable range, so when a ball goes to my left, I’ve learned that if I look at him and he is not looking at me, he is going for it, he’s got it,” Vaughn said. “And if he looks at me, and I look at him, then I know it could be my ball. It’s learning your teammates. That’s a big part too.

“Every day I’m just trying to get better, getting out and doing early work with (Boston). Just getting live reads in the game I feel has been really beneficial to me, just starting to get good jumps to the ball and getting it much better.”

Cover photo of Andrew Vaughn by Kamil Krzaczynski, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo