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Tony La Russa’s review latest sign Andrew Vaughn is White Sox top DH candidate

The new Sox manager likes Vaughn’s “hitter-ish” attitude.

Andrew Vaughn goes through fielding drills at first base at White Sox spring training camp Monday.
Andrew Vaughn goes through fielding drills at first base at White Sox spring training camp Monday.
For The Sun-Times/Jon Antonoff

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox didn’t sign or trade for anyone this offseason to be their designated hitter, and barring an acquisition this spring, it looks like rookie Andrew Vaughn will be their Opening Day designated hitter.

The latest show of support came from manager Tony La Russa on Tuesday, although La Russa said Vaughn’s name is in pencil, not in ink. That is what you would expect a manager to say of a player who has 55 minor-league games under his belt, none above advanced-Class A Winston-Salem.

“Probably the three most important things a hitter has to have,” La Russa said of Vaughn, who will turn 23 two days after Opening Day. “First of all, if it’s in a cage or if he’s taking live batting practice — and I’m sure it would be the same in a game — he doesn’t ever step in there where he’s not ready to do damage. He’s got that hitter-ish attitude.

“Second, he’s got no fear. And third, he works left-center, right-center, which is what high-average hitters do, produce a lot of RBI, a lot of home runs, they start a lot of rallies.

“In other words, what I’m saying is very impressive.”

La Russa mentioned first baseman Gavin Sheets and third baseman Jake Burger as other possibilities and neither of them, while well-regarded as good prospects, also don’t have major-league experience.

“I’ll do a little dance with you,” La Russa said. “Yeah, it’s fair to say he’s the leading candidate and then I’ll say thanks for the dance and walk away and say he’s tied for first with the other guys that are the leading candidates.”

La Russa wants Vaughn, a first baseman who has worked at third base and even in the outfield to potentially expand his value, to earn the job. He made a strong case, player development director Chris Getz said, with professional at-bats during the team’s summer camp at Schaumburg where he faced pitchers with major-league experience.

“Getting to see that pitching was a huge benefit to just get to see that level that those guys bring,” Vaughn said. “Everybody throws hard these days. And the guys at the major-league level, they can pinpoint. You have to be within yourself. Get my pitches, take my at-bats, take every pitch very seriously. It helped me a lot.”

The 6-foot, 215-pound Vaughn was drafted third overall in 2019 and is the Sox’ highest-ranked prospect at No. 14 by MLB Pipeline. He has 18 games of DH experience in the minor leagues.

“I was taught this a few years ago, you have to play it like you are in a position,” Vaughn said. “You can’t be a guy who takes his at-bats, takes his gloves off and just goes and sits down in the dugout. It’s a thing you have to be mentally focused, you have to be able to get rid of that at-bat right after it happens.”

This and that

Liam Hendriks and Adam Eaton were in midseason competition mode during live batting practice Tuesday. Hendriks yelled at himself after pitches and ran to the first-base dugout to catch an Adam Engel foul pop-up (there were no position players behind him). Eaton complained to catcher Yasmani Grandal about a called third strike.

Dylan Cease, Codi Heuer and Evan Marshall also threw live BP. Tim Anderson hit an 0-2 fastball from Heuer over the center-field fence.