GLENDALE, Ariz. — The way hitting coach Frank Menechino sees it, rookie Andrew Vaughn is beyond his years as a hitter.
So maybe, just maybe, the worries about the White Sox handing the designated-hitter role to a 22-year-old who hasn’t played above Class A aren’t as warranted as some might believe.
“He has no fear, he has his own approach, he knows what works and it’s just going to be getting reps up here,” Menechino said. “And I don’t doubt he’ll be able to make adjustments.”
About an hour after Menechino said that, Vaughn, batting fourth in the Sox’ third Cactus League game of the season, drove a pitch from right-hander Kohei Arihara over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.
Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito was not surprised.
“I’m not afraid to tell you guys I did call that homer,” Giolito said. “Before he even stepped in the box, I said, ‘Vaughny’s going deep,’ and then he did it. At this point, it’s pretty much expected out of him.”
The expectations are growing by the day, a couple of weeks into spring training.
“I don’t have any doubt he’s ready to play in the majors and help us at this level,” teammate Jose Abreu said. “He respects the game and works hard. Those are two factors to have success in the majors.”
That said, few are the rookies who get through a season without the customary bumps and lumps and getting down in the dumps trying to navigate the rigors of major-league hitting. But Menechino expects Vaughn to demonstrate the mentality to handle the long haul.
“He’s going to go through lumps like every other rookie,” Menechino said. “He’s going to have to make adjustments like everybody has. Vaughny knows this. . . . Embrace the challenge. Embrace the pressure. And just know right now that it’s going to be a grind, and you are going to have ups and downs, and we are going to have fun with it. You have to embrace it.”
Manager Tony La Russa has already noted Vaughn’s fearlessness, as he put it, and his approach and ability to drive the ball to both gaps.
Those who’ve been around him notice Vaughn’s serious nature. To visualize a conversation between Vaughn, a man of few words, and Menechino is to see Vaughn doing a lot of listening.
“Just progress and learn from mistakes and learn from things you did,” Vaughn said. “You have to think the mentality in here right now is World Series or bust, so everybody is behind you if you are behind everybody else.”
Vaughn, a right-handed hitter, also grounded sharply to shortstop and worked a walk in his two other plate appearances in the six-inning game that ended in a 5-5 tie Tuesday. He walked twice against the Brewers in the Sox’ Cactus League opener Sunday.
“The biggest thing rookies do is they try to do too much, they try to impress, try to show the world, but this guy is not afraid, and that is No. 1,” Menechino said. “This guy is going to go up there, he’s going to attack and the adjustments will follow.”
A No. 3 overall pick out of Cal in 2019, Vaughn was viewed as the most polished hitter in college that year. Because there was no minor-league season in 2020, his prelude to what looks like a major-league season was part of spring training and summer camp.
Perhaps it will be enough, but time will tell, as Vaughn put it, because “I’ve never played 162 games.”
“I think it’s just a challenge,” he said of his craft. “It’s a battle every day.”