White Sox home opener: Why Andrew Vaughn isn't in starting lineup

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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Why Andrew Vaughn isn't in Sox lineup for home opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Andrew Vaughn figured to assume an everyday role for the White Sox.

Prior to Eloy Jiménez's injury, it looked like Vaughn would be the team's primary designated hitter, and he did everything he could during the spring to show he could handle such an assignment, earning rave reviews at every turn.

But after Jiménez got hurt, Vaughn became a key part of the White Sox by-committee plan to fill in for their injured left fielder.

RELATED: La Russa takes blame for Sox loss: 'I did a really lousy job'

Eight games into the 2021 campaign, Vaughn has started just half those games, all of them in left field and three against left-handed starting pitchers. The White Sox faced a right-handed starting pitcher in all four games that Vaughn has not started.

That included in Thursday's home opener at Guaranteed Rate Field. Vaughn was not in Tony La Russa's starting lineup, his second straight day not starting. The White Sox squared off against right-handed Brad Keller and the Kansas City Royals.

In left field, La Russa started Nick Williams, who was just called up from the alternate training site in Schaumburg on Thursday with Billy Hamilton going on the injured list.

That was surprising. And La Russa was asked about Vaughn not starting on an everyday basis.

"He's part of the team, so he gets assignments like everybody else does," La Russa said. "Right now, he's not in the core where, where it's Tim (Anderson), José (Abreu), Yoán (Moncada), (Yasmani) Grandal, guys like that, Adam (Eaton). But he's playing enough.

"There were a couple of games there where I thought he was pressing and giving him a day off would be helpful. But I really think here in the last couple, three games, his at-bats have more looked like himself. Gladly pinch-hit him today or play him (Saturday)."

La Russa is obviously talking about a different "core," but Vaughn is most definitely part of the White Sox long-term plans, their "core" of young players. And the team has, over the course of its rebuilding project, brought top-rated prospects up when they were ready to assume regular at-bats, Rick Hahn fond of saying the White Sox aimed to promote players when they weren't able to just survive at the major league level, but thrive. And Vaughn showed with his bat during the spring that he looked ready to do just that.

But things are obviously different now than they were in years past, the White Sox clearly attempting to achieve championship-level goals this season. Vaughn only has two hits so far. He's been on base six times in 17 trips to the plate. Meanwhile, players like Yermín Mercedes and Zack Collins have produced, soaking up playing time at the DH position, while guys like Leury García and Billy Hamilton bring a veteran know-how that Vaughn, because of his lack of experience, does not possess.

And, it should be noted, Vaughn's lefty-righty splits while in the minor leagues in 2019 were dramatic: He had a .941 OPS against lefties versus an .800 OPS against righties.

Most importantly, though, Vaughn is seeing major league pitching in game situations while simultaneously playing a brand new position. And that, Hahn said Thursday, seems to be the contributing factor to more sporadic playing time than might have been imagined.

"Eventually, he’ll get to that point (of being an everyday player)," Hahn said. "I know Tony is breaking him in cautiously and using matchups accordingly. I think were we not asking him to also learn a new position, I think his usage might have been a little bit different.

"I certainly understand the notion of easing him in. It’s different than he had been slated to be the everyday DH to start the season. I do suspect, over time, we are going to see his name in there more and more frequently as his performance merits."

His performance seemed to do that based on what we saw during the spring. But the curveball of the Jiménez injury changed a lot for the White Sox, and Vaughn's playing time is one of the ripple effects. Not only is Vaughn being relied on more at a position he never played before, but the emergence of Mercedes and Collins might not have happened at all with a healthy Jiménez. They might not have even been on the Opening Day roster, who knows.

And there's La Russa, who, while not shy to give at-bats to those who are producing, remains cognizant that Vaughn is playing in his first games above A-ball. Plus, he's trying to win a game for a contending team every day, playing the matchups that go along with every spot in the batting order.

"It's not the minor leagues, where you're developing players. The only playing time Andrew's got is spring training," La Russa said. "(We're) putting together our best winning combination, which means there are some times the combination goes against him.

"As long as he's getting at-bats, this is a really good experience for him. What I think is great about him, the day he doesn't start he really works. ... The responsibility when you come to the big leagues is to win games, and a lot of times it comes together with a young player: You give him a lot of at-bats, he helps you win. But not all the at-bats."

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