When Garrett Mitchell connected off Garrett Crochet, Vaughn got in position and made the routine play to end the frame. It was a pretty nondescript day overall for the No. 1 White Sox prospect, per MLB Pipeline, in his professional outfield debut.
“I was waiting to get one, but our pitchers were doing a good job out there, so I was just out there doing my job,” said Vaughn on a postgame Zoom from Phoenix, Ariz. “When it came to me, I took care of it.
“That was the main goal, just to catch it if it’s in the air and throw it to the right base if it’s on the ground. Just keep it basic and simple and be ready for every pitch. Get the best jump you can and go for the ball.”
Vaughn, 22, handled a total of four plays without an issue, including playing a Manny Piña double down the left-field line leading off the fourth. The first baseman/designated hitter was pressed into service in left after Eloy Jiménez was diagnosed with a ruptured left pectoral tendon after going after a Sean Murphy home run in Wednesday’s contest against the A’s.
The White Sox worked Vaughn in the outfield at the team’s alternate site in Schaumburg, Ill., last season, and he has done early work on the Camelback Ranch backfields during Spring Training this year. Otherwise, Vaughn has not played left since he was on a U-15 national team winning a gold medal during play in Colombia.
An initial Spring Training discussion focused upon Vaughn’s preparedness for the designated hitter’s role with only 245 Minor League plate appearances and none above High-A Winston-Salem. Now, he could be the left fielder for a team with World Series designs on Opening Day in Anaheim, Calif., on April 1.
“If the opportunity comes I think I would be able to do it,” Vaughn said. “Every challenge excites me because it’s competition, you versus what you are doing, and you want to be the best at it and learn the most you can and just become the best version of yourself in that position.”
“I’m certain that the worst he'll be is a little above-average. I think he'll be above-average,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “He can concentrate. Infielders are used to jumps. It's not unique to him or foreign to him. He'll be fine.”
La Russa added if Vaughn proves to be the best Opening Day choice over these final few days of Spring Training, he’ll start him in left field. That decision also is based partially on the look of the final 26-man roster.
Replacing Jiménez’s middle-of-the-order power and production remains La Russa’s biggest concern and having a hitter such as Vaughn somewhere in the mix will only help the offense. Vaughn’s mature demeanor has impressed the White Sox, dating back to his collegiate days at Cal when he was being looked at by the amateur scouting staff, and that outlook should help for a smooth outfield transition.
“He’s a guy that’s always under control, there’s no panic,” said White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz, of Vaughn. “He’s very even-keeled and can handle adversity well, and that’s why we are willing to challenge him with whatever is in front of him.”
“You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Vaughn said. “I haven’t played too much outfield in my whole life so just go out there and learn the ropes and just do my best and [take] it one day at a time.”
Extra work will continue to be put in by Vaughn with Daryl Boston, the team’s first base and outfield coach. The prospect also has the benefit of playing next to Luis Robert, the 2020 American League Gold Glove winner in center field. Having Robert in the same outfield greatly reduces the ground an inexperienced Vaughn needs to cover.
“I told him, ‘Don’t run me over.’ He’s a giant human being,” said a smiling Vaughn. “I told him, ‘If you say you got it, you got it. I’m going to give it to you. 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.”