PHOENIX — The Andrew Vaughn-in-left-field experiment began Friday, six days before the White Sox, with their depleted outfield, open a season with their highest expectations in recent memory.
A day after it was learned that Eloy Jimenez — potentially the team’s most potent, powerful bat — would be lost for most or all of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Vaughn found himself in left field at American Family Fields in the Sox’ Cactus League game against the Brewers. Aside from working there at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg last summer and taking fly balls during camp, it was Vaughn’s first experience patrolling such a large piece of grass and first time playing left field in a game since he was 15.
But he might be in left when the Sox open the season Thursday at Angel Stadium.
“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,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Vaughn wasn’t tested with any challenging plays, routinely handling an uneventful nine innings in the Sox’ 7-5 victory. He caught a fly ball hit in his vicinity and fielded a double that rolled to the corner and a soft single.
“If the opportunity comes, I think I would be able to do it,” Vaughn said of being ready by the opener.
“I was trying to make myself comfortable, just catch it if it’s in the air and throw it to the right base if it’s on the ground.”
Vaughn, who has not played above Class A, is batting .269/.377/.462 in Cactus League games. With a polished approach at the plate and good results to boot, he had been pegged to make his major-league debut on Opening Day as the designated hitter. A first baseman by trade, he very well might be the DH. But the Sox are exploring all options because Adam Engel likely will miss at least a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain.
La Russa seems confident Vaughn can handle it, predicting he’ll be “above-average.”
The Sox would take that in a heartbeat.
“I’ve been watching him in the workouts,” La Russa said.
Vaughn said it helped having Luis Robert in center field to his left. That would be especially key in the much bigger spaces of the Angels’ and Mariners’ ballparks, where the Sox open the season.
“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. If it’s to my right, I’m going to get it. If it’s three steps or more to my left, I think you got it. Just be loud and let me know. He’s awesome about it.”
La Russa was optimistic about Vaughn ‘‘because he can concentrate. Infielders are used to jumps. It’s not unique to him or foreign to him. He’ll be fine.”
Zack Collins, a left-handed-hitting catcher who is having a good spring, was in Vaughn’s DH slot and homered in his first at-bat against Freddy Peralta. It was his second opposite-field homer in two days. Besides Vaughn, La Russa also has Leury Garcia, a faster and more experienced option. Billy Hamilton and Nick Williams are also in camp.
“We have some choices to make with the last couple of spots,” La Russa said. “One of them has to do with an outfielder, so it may be the outfielder is a better choice for it.”
So the options remain open. Vaughn likely will get more time to show what he can do in the last three spring games.
“I’d be confident playing him,” La Russa said. “But it may be somebody else.”