Andrew Vaughn’s swing “is a beautiful swing,” White Sox assistant hitting coach Howie Clark says.
But it’s how Vaughn has gotten the most out of it this season — with a relatively tiny base of minor-league at-bats to prepare him for the majors — that has him up there among the best rookies in baseball.
“A lot of it is between the ears,” Clark said. “He’s far and away ahead of his age.”
Vaughn, who homered against left-hander Kris Bubic in the second inning of the Sox’ 7-1 victory against the Royals on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, entered with a .258/.321/.444 hitting line with 11 homers, 22 doubles and 32 RBI. He played only 55 games in the minor leagues.
The numbers aren’t staggering, but they are as solid as the swing and demeanor Vaughn brings to the park every day — more than serviceable for the 23-year-old first baseman who picked up playing left field like a new hobby. And the numbers are on the rise. In July, Vaughn was a candidate for American League Rookie of the Month after batting .308/.347/.516 with four homers, 12 RBI and an .853 OPS.
With no experience above
High-A Winston-Salem, Vaughn was trusted to be the Sox’ desig-nated hitter coming out of spring training. When Eloy Jimenez went down with a serious injury in March, he converted to left, another big ask, and took on major-league pitching for the first time.
The learning curve on both levels was considerable, but Vaughn managed it gracefully and was a steady presence in a lineup stricken by the injury bug in the first half.
“He’s had to deal with things at this level where the [scouting] information travels fast and the opposing pitchers can execute,” Clark said. “He’s had to adjust at this level where other guys have had a level of AA and AAA. He’s been thrown into the fire. But he’s a very mature hitter.”
It didn’t take long before pitchers got Vaughn chasing breaking pitches out of the strike zone. But he’s adjusting.
“You kind of figure out how guys are pitching you, and if you can combat that, it’s the most important thing in hitting,” Vaughn said. “It’s knowing your weaknesses. They would just attack, and I would kind of chase a few pitches I shouldn’t. And I had to slow everything down, just be in the moment.”
Vaughn talks to veteran teammates about hitting and logs and assesses his at-bats. He can think on his feet and adjust to situations as he’s walking from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, Clark said.
And he’s open-minded about his craft and “doesn’t think he knows it all,” Clark added.
Perhaps the nicest compliment is that former Sox first basemen Jim Thome and Paul Konerko are big fans.
“Konerko hit the ball to all fields — not just a power guy but a complete hitter,” Clark said. “And you see that with Vaughny. He doesn’t want to just be a power hitter. There is success in line drives. The best hitters hit the ball on a line.”
Over his last 28 games, Vaughn was batting .330/.368/.557 with five home runs, 15 RBI and 16 runs scored. The .330 average since June 30 was third-best in the AL.
“There are times when you feel like you’re seeing a volleyball,” Vaughn said.
With Jimenez back in the lineup Tuesday and Luis Robert due back in a matter of days, the Sox’ lineup is getting deeper. Vaughn helped hold the fort down in their absence, and with them back, some of the pressure will be lifted.
“It’s all about winning. That’s what we’re here for,” Vaughn said. “We’re getting guys back. We got Eloy back, Robert is on his way, and we’ve got [Yasmani Grandal] hopefully back sooner rather than later. It’s a good thing we’ve got going.”