GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andrew Vaughn is ready to play right field for the 2022 White Sox, either as a starter or at the very least as a regular contributor.
Preparing for that corner outfield spot has been much smoother for the 23-year-old this year, having an entire offseason and spring to get acclimated. That's opposed to the little more than a week he had last year to basically learn a new position during Spring Training.
“Not even 10 [days],” Vaughn said with a smile. “I think it was about three.”
As a rookie with 55 games and 205 at-bats of Minor League experience on his resume, Vaughn’s challenge to make the 2021 roster was great enough as the team’s potential designated hitter. That plan changed when left fielder Eloy Jiménez ruptured his left pectoral tendon making an ill-fated defensive attempt on a home run and didn’t return to the White Sox until July 26.
Vaughn had worked in the outfield at the alternate training site during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season. But with a few words from manager Tony La Russa, he quickly had a new job description.
“It was so unfortunate when Eloy got hurt,” Vaughn said. “That was just a terrible moment, but the next day or the day after that, La Russa came up and said, ‘Hey, have you ever done outfield work?’ I told him I’ve done a little bit, and he said, ‘All right. Let’s go out to the field and hit some fly balls.’ The next day we played at Salt River, and I was in left field.
“I was coming in here fighting for a spot, didn’t know what that spot was. That was my goal. Tony brought it up the first couple of days. He said, ‘You are out here to fight for a spot.’ I was like, ‘Yes, sir. Let’s go. Let’s get to work.’”
While trying to understand a new position last year, Vaughn slashed .235/.309/.396 with 15 home runs, 22 doubles and 48 RBIs. He finished 4-for-42 without an extra-base hit in the final month of 2021, but anyone who had watched Vaughn’s approach and swing believed that slump represented a rookie exception before a long-term run of success.
“Yeah, there’s no excuses. It was definitely a rough patch,” Vaughn said. “I definitely felt like I was squaring the ball up pretty decently. I had a lot of good swings and a couple of poor at-bats, but I feel like that’s something I can improve on. Getting to learn that 162 is a grind and you can’t just play off the beginning.
“My approach changed throughout the year getting used to Major League pitching. Scouting reports are unbelievable up here. They got you to a T. You have to know your weaknesses and know what you gotta battle and then hunt your zones.”
If Vaughn is not in right field, he could spell José Abreu at first base or move to designated hitter. Vaughn even appeared in one game at second and in two at third for the ’21 American League Central champs.
Adam Engel -- who made his 2022 Cactus League debut in right against the Giants on Thursday -- Leury García, Gavin Sheets and Josh Harrison are other possibilities for right field. Don’t completely rule out an outside addition, with general manager Rick Hahn having spoken of that one-more-move feeling for a team with World Series title goals.
But La Russa feels comfortable if Vaughn is Chicago's regular right fielder.
“He’s a plus defender. And he’s really got a good, strong, accurate arm,” La Russa said. “You can’t give him enough credit because of his lack of experience in the big leagues. He’s trying to make it, prove he belongs here as a hitter, and you get unfair and move him defensively and he handles it.
“His mental strength is a huge difference maker for his career. The guys that are productive, they have that thing about them mentally. They know how to grind and rise to the occasion. He’s proven it.”
Describing last season as “kind of a whirlwind,” Vaughn took time this offseason “to look back and reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly." He also prepared across the diamond, with an eye toward right field while staying ready for anything.
“At first, I was just grateful to have a full season in the big leagues under my belt,” Vaughn said. “That’s what you dream of when you are a little kid.
“Now it was a focus of what I was doing last year that I could improve upon. It was what I could show up this season with more in my tank and kind of have that feeling under my belt knowing what 162 is like.”