Gonzales: Andrew Vaughn has plenty of value for White Sox, even when Eloy Jimenez returns

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Andrew Vaughn has proved to be a valuable player for the Chicago White Sox.

    Andrew Vaughn has proved to be a valuable player for the Chicago White Sox. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Andrew Vaughn triples during the fourth inning of a spring training game against Arizona.

    Andrew Vaughn triples during the fourth inning of a spring training game against Arizona. ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
Updated 7/22/2021 12:19 PM

Andrew Vaughn wasn't basking over his 77.2 percent contact rate, nor was he fretting over a recent 1-for-17 slump.

"I'm not a numbers guy at all," Vaughn said Tuesday. "You look at them at the end of the year. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs."

 

For Vaughn, the highly anticipated return of Eloy Jimenez will diminish Vaughn's time in left field. But that could be offset by the quality of Vaughn's performances, such as his pinch-hit game-tying single Tuesday night that helped spark the White Sox to a dramatic 9-5 victory over the Twins.

Usually when a prized rookie sees his playing time about to be trimmed, there's a fear that his development will be stunted and that he's better served in the minor leagues. But Vaughn, 23, adequately handled the sudden assignment of playing left field after Jimenez suffered a severe shoulder injury with one week left in spring training.

And handling one of the toughest roles -- pinch-hitting -- will increase his value as the Sox step closer to an American League Central title and a potential run to the World Series.

"You put a stamp on that one," said manager Tony La Russa, admiring that Vaughn worked the count in his favor before smacking a low-and-away slider into center field off reliever Hansel Robles.

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"That shows you the potential for his career. He's got the ability to drive in important runs like Jose Abreu. He's done that for us already. And pinch-hitting, he's got great guts. What a future."

Vaughn is 2-for-4 as a pinch-hitter, with his other hit a game-tying home run off All-Star left-hander Aroldis Chapman at Yankee Stadium on May 23.

Where Vaughn's future lies is a curious question. Jimenez, for now, will return to left field. First baseman Jose Abreu, 34, is signed through 2022 but ran with the passion of an 18-year-old on a triple Tuesday.

The Sox, however, have been preparing for different roles for Vaughn well before Jimenez's return became more realistic.

The process started last summer at the Alternate Site in Schaumburg, where instructors acclimated Vaughn to left field after spending virtually his entire college career at first base at Cal.

"Right now we're talking about making sure he (fields) balls in batting practice in right field," coach Daryl Boston said. "With Eloy returning soon, you never know where (Vaughn) may end up. We got to make sure he has that versatility where he can swing from left field to right field and first base at the same time."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Even as general manager Rick Hahn and his scouts scour the majors for help before the July 30 trade deadline, La Russa has valued the importance of versatility since his first stint with the Sox 40 years ago, especially with the demands of a 162-game schedule and providing starting position players with an occasional rest to alleviate their minor aches.

Two Sox scouts were spotted at Tuesday's game between the Cubs and Cardinals, and the Sox are examining upgrades at several areas.

Third baseman Yoan Moncada's recent power surge supports his case that he feels healthy, but his right shoulder requires scrutiny after missing time earlier this month.

It wouldn't be a reach to see Vaughn play third, albeit on a limited basis. Vaughn recalls a brief stint at third during fall ball at Cal, and he played four innings at third on July 1 against the Twins,

"I could play him (at third) today or tomorrow," La Russa said.

Perhaps the Sox's greatest attribute this season is their refusal to dwell on their extensive list of injuries to key players. Vaughn has held his own at the plate and in left field despite dime-sized professional experience. He hasn't committed an error in 73 games in left, although he has a minus 3 grade in Defensive Runs Saved, according to The Fielding Bible.

"It's been a lot of next man up this year," Vaughn said. "We've had a lot of guys coming up due to a lot of unfortunate injuries. We're all doing the best we can to help the team win."

And no time to worry about when Jimenez returns.

"It's not the time to think ahead," Vaughn said.

• Mark Gonzales is a veteran sports writer who covered the White Sox from 2005-2012 and the Cubs from 2013-2020 for the Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MDGonzales

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