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Major-league debut ‘surreal’ for White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn

Andrew Vaughn started in left field against the Angels in the Sox’ second game of the season.

Andrew Vaughn connects in a Cactus League game against the Cubs. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times).

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Andrew Vaughn had to wait through a day — Opening Day — to make his major-league debut.

But it was worth the wait.

“Every kid dreams about this growing up playing in the backyard, going through Little League,” Vaughn, the White Sox’ top-rated prospect, said before playing in his first major-league game. “The dream is to get to the big leagues. It’s pretty surreal.”

Batting fifth in manager Tony La Russa’s lineup, Vaughn went 0-for-3 with a walk in Friday’s late game in which the Sox led 7-6 in the seventh inning behind Jose Abreu’s grand slam against Andrew Heaney and a two-run single by Yermin Mercedes.

Vaughn, who scored his first major-league run on Adam Eaton’s single in the fourth, probably didn’t envision being in left field when this dream-come-true moment happened, but that’s where he was at Angel Stadium after nine days of crash-course training in the wake of Eloy Jimenez’s pectoral injury March 24.

It was an eventful spring training for Vaughn, who entered as the Sox’ knighted Opening Day designated hitter despite not having played above Class A. Everyone from the general manager to the director of player development to the manager bent a knee to Vaughn’s hitting approach and swing.

He had to earn the job, though, and he produced consistently, posting a .279/.375/.459 hitting line with two homers, three doubles and a triple in a team-high 72 Cactus League plate appearances and a team-high 25 games. For weeks, rumors floated of a possible contract extension, the type of thing that has affected players in the past, but Vaughn seemed unfazed by the speculation.

“I just want to go out and play every day; I love this game,” Vaughn said. “It is my job, but going to the field and strapping it on and being ready for every pitch, that’s the biggest thing. Enjoying your teammates and the atmosphere we have here, the winning vibe.”

La Russa didn’t seem worried about Vaughn in left.

“I hope the balls are hit to him; I think he’ll do fine,” he said.

A lifetime first baseman, Vaughn said reading the ball off the bat is the biggest thing. He got a good read on Dexter Fowler’s liner in the third, going back a few steps and making it look easy.

In three Cactus League games, Vaughn held his own in left field. He has been playing deep and giving Gold Glove center fielder Luis Robert every inch of grass he can cover.

La Russa gave the left-handed-hitting Zack Collins the Opening Day start at DH with Leury Garcia in left field and saved Vaughn for Heaney, a lefty, perhaps with the intention of giving both the best chance to succeed but also wanting to keep all 13 position players active. Right-handed-hitting Mercedes, his No. 3 catcher who had one major-league at-bat last season, was at DH with Garcia on the bench Friday. Mercedes got his first three major-league hits, all singles, in his first three at-bats.

The Sox needed all the offense they could muster with left-hander Dallas Keuchel unable to limit damage after being staked to a 7-1 lead. Albert Pujols’ three-run homer in the fourth cut the Sox’ lead to 7-4. The Angels made it 7-6 in the fifth when Eaton misplayed a fly ball near the line in right. Matt Foster, in relief of Keuchel with two runners. on, struck out Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Justin Upton around the three-base, two-run error.

Vaughn, who turns 23 Saturday, is wearing No. 25. He was taken out of the game for a defensive replacement — Billy Hamilton — in the seventh.

“I’m just so honored to be here, and everybody that has helped me on this path to get here so far is in my life for the better, and I’m pretty excited,” he said.