White Sox’ Andrew Vaughn has three pairs of big shoes to fill, ‘but I just have to be me’

Vaughn is entering his third major-league season and his first with the first-base job.

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Andrew Vaughn (25) in Arizona last year. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

Andrew Vaughn high fives a teammate during spring training last year. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There’s no getting around the lineage of first basemen Andrew Vaughn is stepping into.

Hall of Famer Frank Thomas played first base and designated hitter for the White Sox in 1990-2005. Paul Konerko manned the position in 1999-2014. And Jose Abreu was there in 2014-22.

Thomas, Konerko and Abreu are the top three home-run hitters in Sox history.

Vaughn, who was drafted third overall in 2019, is next in line at first. He mostly has played out of position in the outfield since arriving in the majors in 2021, with Abreu at first and the Sox needing a fill-in outfielder because of injuries and other factors.

But now that Abreu left in free agency, Vaughn is where he belongs and answering questions about big cleats to fill. The questions have substance not only because of the aforementioned trio’s prowess but because of Vaughn’s hitting talent, too.

‘‘If you play for the White Sox, you know we’ve had Hall of Fame-caliber first basemen for the last 30 years, but I just have to be me,’’ Vaughn said. ‘‘I can’t go out there and try to fill anyone else’s shoes; I can only fill mine.’’

After batting .235/.309/.396 with 15 home runs and a .705 OPS in 127 games as a rookie in 2021, Vaughn batted .271/.321/.429 with 17 homers and a .750 OPS in 134 games last season. A polished hitter, Vaughn’s challenge was navigating a position change and the toll it took on his body.

‘‘Learning the outfield was definitely tough,’’ Vaughn said. ‘‘It was different. It’s completely opposite from the infield, which is what I played since I was 5 years old. It’s what I know best. I’m ready to go this year.’’

‘‘He’s just coming back home,’’ manager Pedro Grifol said. ‘‘He feels comfortable there. He feels loose. When you get thrown into a new position without ever playing it at the major-league level, it’s tough. And then you’re told, ‘We need your bat,’ that’s even tougher. He’s coming back home into his comfort zone, and that should help his all-around game.’’

Vaughn finished with an impressive 113 weighted runs created plus last season, a metric that sizes up run production with factors such as ballparks factored in. That number was 89 during the second half, however, and fatigue and soreness from playing a position he was unaccustomed to might have been a factor. He said his offseason was devoted to his hitting, as well as endurance.

‘‘Getting the legs ready and just being able to play 162; that’s the goal,’’ Vaughn said.

Vaughn, whose hitting ability caught Konerko’s attention is 2021, said he’s merely fine-tuning some things in his swing.

‘‘High ceiling with him,’’ hitting coach Jose Castro said. ‘‘This kid hits the ball everywhere. We’re trying to keep him off the ground to the pull side. He’s been working on that, and he’s getting some really good work in.’’

Ask Vaughn about replacing Abreu, and he keeps the answer simple.

‘‘My mentality is show up every day and be the best version of myself,’’ he said. ‘‘I can only do what I do night in and night out.’’

When Vaughn first heard Abreu had signed with the Astros, he assumed first base was his.

‘‘At first, it stung a little bit,’’ he said of Abreu’s departure. ‘‘Everybody knows what he meant to the White Sox. He was here his whole career. But baseball is another business. Now he’s on another team, and we have to go beat him.’’

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