Sox pleased with Andrew Vaughn's defense in left field originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The first results from the Andrew Vaughn left field experiment are in, and the White Sox are pleased.
The White Sox, in search of a replacement for the injured Eloy Jiménez, made the surprising decision to include Vaughn, the top ranked prospect in the organization who was ticketed for the everyday DH job, in the mix of players Tony La Russa would deploy in left field. That Vaughn never played the position before, at least not since a Team USA tournament as a teenager, didn't seem to matter. They believed he could handle it.
Five games into the season, Vaughn has spent three games in left field, getting his fourth start there in the White Sox sixth game of the year Tuesday night in Seattle.
And he's done the job. While he hasn't needed to make any spectacular plays — and to prevent disaster, he probably won't try — he has made the plays he's needed to. As planned, he's yielded to Gold Glove center fielder Luis Robert on occasion, but he's also handled the few fly balls that have come his way.
Never was he asked to do more, from a play-making standpoint, than in the fifth inning of Monday night's White Sox win in Seattle.
With one out and a runner on first, Vaughn backtracked to the left-field wall and made a stretching catch on a deep fly ball, easily his most impressive play to date, that earned emphatic applause from starting pitcher Carlos Rodón, who might have seen extra bases and an end to his shutout bid without the grab. Humorously, Vaughn then fired a throw back toward first base in an effort to nab the base runner, a surprising heave that caught Rodón off guard and produced this wonderful reaction.
On the very next play, Vaughn was tested again, and he passed again, making a running grab on a ball hit between him and Robert in the left-center field gap.
All in all, his performance received rave reviews.
"It's a testament to his hard work," La Russa said after Monday's game. "There's an old saying ... you can become at least an average defensive player if you're willing to work. ... We made Skip Schumaker a second baseman (with the St. Louis Cardinals) in 2011 — he was an outfielder — because he was willing to work. And that's what Andrew is.
"It's taken a little bit, but ever since Eloy got hurt, (Vaughn has) dedicated himself to it. ... And knock on wood, but right now, the way he's playing, he's getting better than average jumps. That's not an average left fielder out there. So a testament to his work ethic."
The White Sox might not have designs on Vaughn being the everyday left fielder for the remainder of Jiménez's absence. Things are stretched thin at this specific moment, with Adam Engel on the injured list and Leury García filling in at shortstop while Tim Anderson sits during this series.
Vaughn sure seemed to have earned an everyday shot, offensively, with what he did during the spring. Three games into his big league career, he's still looking for his first hit, though he did drive in his first run when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded Monday.
Still, La Russa has a lot to choose from, and that pool will only get bigger once Engel and Anderson return to full strength.
But Vaughn has impressed everyone defensively. His accepting of the challenge was unsurprising. His steady performance to this point has answered questions about whether or not he could handle such a seemingly monumental task while dipping his toes into big league waters for the first time.
"He made a couple good plays last night," White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton said Tuesday. "I think, just in a couple of days that he's been out there, he's made some really good adjustments. The speed of runners, the speed of the game, he's done a really good job. He's made some really good, noticeable adjustments.
"He's a student of the game. I really enjoy the way he goes about his business. He's going to pick up on it as quickly as anybody can and try to apply it in games. I think the guys have a lot of confidence out there that he's, first of all, going to give it 110 percent and he's going to use the lessons he's learned to better himself."
It's obviously still very early in the season. But if Vaughn continues to show he can handle left field, and if the offense comes around how it's expected to, it's not difficult to see La Russa leaning on the rookie. Just like Yermín Mercedes has helped the White Sox pick up the slack with Jiménez gone, so too could Vaughn.
"The other thing that's really important, he's such a proud hitter," La Russa said. "The really, really outstanding players, they separate their offense and defense. And he had a strikeout I know upset him, he goes out there and makes a play (in the outfield). He's got great insights. He's got a great head for this game."