Former Cal star Andrew Vaughn was looking good to make the Chicago White Sox opening day roster as the team’s designated hitter.
Out of necessity, the White Sox are now giving him a look at a new position: left field.
After starting left fielder Eloy Jimenez suffered a ruptured pictorial tendon on Wednesday, manager Tony La Russa is scrambling to fill that defensive hole.
“I don’t assume anything but I’m certain that the worst he’ll be is a little above average,” La Russa told reporters on Friday, when he gave Vaughn his first start in left. “I think he’ll be above average. Because he can concentrate. Infielders are used to jumps. It’s not unique to him or foreign to him. He’ll be fine.”
Vaughn played first base at Cal and took some turns at third base during the club’s extended camp for top prospect last summer when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the minor league season.
The No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, Vaughn has earned rave reviews from La Russa for his work at the plate during spring training. Vaughn’s chances of making the major league roster seemed fairly strong but he was expected to DH and occasionally play first base.
On Friday, he had just fly ball hit his way and handled his business without incident.
“I was waiting to get one but our pitchers were doing a good job out there so I was just out there doing my job and when it came to me I took care of it,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said he has confidence knowing he has a superb center fielder in Luis Robert flanked to his left.
“I was trying to make myself comfortable knowing that I had a Gold Glover to my left in Luis Robert,” Vaughn said. “If the ball gets hit to my left, I kind of know he’s got it. I know I have to cover the line and just catch it. That was the main goal — just to catch it if it’s in the air and throw it to the right base if it’s on the ground.
“Just keep it basic and simple and be ready for every pitch. Get the best jump you can and go for the ball.”
Vaughn joked that the 6-foot-2 Robert has first call on every ball hit in the left-center field gap.
“I told him don’t run me over,” Vaughn said. “He’s a giant human being. I told him if you say you got it, you got it.”
Jimenez, a big bat but hardly a defensive whiz in left, suffered the injury while reaching over the fence to try to make a catch. He is expected to be sidelined for five to six months, meaning the White Sox need more than a Band-Aid fix at the position.
Vaughn says he feels a bit more prepared after taking some practice reps in the outfield at the alternate training camp last summer.
“It helps out a lot,” Vaughn said. “As you get higher in levels, you field batting practice out there and you see the difference in how the ball spins and how it carries. Getting to see our elite hitters in the gaps and tracking them down, getting to see that was able to help me get better jumps and know what the baseball is going to do off the bat.”
Chris Getz, the assistant general manager/player development for the Sox, told the Chicago Tribune he’s confident Vaughn has the right mindset to handle it.
“The makeup of Andrew Vaughn, and this goes back to the evaluations with our amateur scouts, was that not only does he have an advanced approach at the plate but just the makeup in general,” Getz said. “He’s a guy that’s always under control. There’s no panic. That’s why we feel he’s going to be successful in the box.
“That will bode well defensively as well. He’s very even keeled and can handle adversity well, and that’s why we are willing to challenge him with whatever is in front of him.”
La Russa said no final decision on left field has been made and there are other options within the organization.
“I really believe based on what I’m going to see the next few days that if he’s the best choice for opening day in left field, I’d play him,” La Russa said of Vaughn. “It depends on what the roster looks like.
“We have some choices to make with the last couple of spots. One of them has to do with an outfielder, so it may be the outfielder is a better choice for it. In this case, I’d be confident playing him. But it may be somebody else.”
Cover photo of Andrew Vaughn by Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo