The White Sox have very few interesting story lines this spring training in my humble opinion. Yes, there is a the Tony La Russa story line, which, for my money, is over played right now. I don’t think we’ll learn much about that situation until some shit happens. There is the 5th starter and back up catcher positional battles, but both lack intrigue as they lack interesting external options for stirring the proverbial pot. That leaves us with one Andrew Vaughn.
Okay, people are clearly smitten with Andrew Vaughn. Even in our FIRST CALL show from yesterday, the most slurped White Sox player during the show as Vaughn. Not even close.
This is probably all natural of course, Vaughn has skullfucked the plumbers and pipe fitters that have pitched to him this spring training to the tune of a .364 / .500 / .545 slash line (going into Sunday’s action). The White Sox as an organization have…..1) Done nothing but hype the shit out of him since he was drafted 3rd overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. 2) Rick Hahn specifically has spoken of him being ready to contribute to the 2021 team. 3) And most importantly, there are no other alternatives. This isn’t no Coke vs Pepsi challenge. You got Coke and dats it. It’s fine, they aren’t the only ones rocking a semi over ole Andrew. See below for the collectively overall prospects rankings for Andrew Vaughn across the major websites.
Keith Law (the Athletic) – Andrew Vaughn #10 overall
Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs) – Andrew Vaughn #14 overall
Kiley McDaniel (ESPN) – Andrew Vaughn #8 overall
Baseball Prospectus – Andrew Vaughn #14 overall
MLB Pipeline – Andrew Vaughn #13 overall
Baseball America (I don’t have a sub, but someone blogged about it) – Andrew Vaughn #21 overall
Got-damn!! I need a cigarette. What do rankings mean for future performance, and more specifically that current year’s performance? I have no clue. Further, what about if the player has barely played in the minors at all. Seems like a complicated question, but let’s narrow this discussion down a bit. Let’s draw some proverbially lines in the sand to get a better grip on the problem, shall we? Let’s focus on top 15 overall prospects, that are BAT-ONLY players. The “Bat-Only” part will be quite subjective, so YMMV and feel free to quibble with me on the internets about it.
When I say “BAT-ONLY” players, I mean those players with very little defensive value. Generally these will be 1b / LF type players, but it could also be other positions, where it is obvious that the player was a bad defender everywhere and materially all of their value was based on their hitting. That’s how we should look at Vaughn for the purpose of this analysis.
Bat-Only Prospects Ranked
For this first data set, I am going to use Kevin Goldstein’sprospect rankings from Baseball Prospectus. I am going to use them for several reasons. 1) They are very easy to find with a subscription to BP 2) Kevin was known to be good enough at his job at BP that the Houston Astros poached him in 2012 and he was part of the regime that brought a title to Houston in 2017. 3) He’s extremely influential to me personally on how we do the 108 Podcast. Kevin’s old podcast back at Baseball Prospectus withJason Parkscalled “Up and In” was my first exposure to prospects really and I still don’t have that much interest in prospect overall, but their podcast was outstanding. It had tangents into interesting topics, it had cool music, they talked about booze, they made you laugh. For my money it had all of the elements of what a podcast should be. It’s probably the one real influence that I can track on our podcast. Anyways, let’s get to the gritty details.
2007 Baseball Prospectus Rankings
Imho, the 2007 rankings contain 3 very clear Bat-Only prospects, #3 Delmon Young (OOPS!), #9 Jay Bruce (Okay, okay) and #12 Ryan Braun (terrific hitter, jag of a dude, but lol at him being a 3b, I kinda sorta remember those days). We’ll give this 2 outta 3. Bruce was good enough in his prime to be a HIT!
2008 Baseball Prospectus Rankings
2008 has Bruce back at #1 overall and then Travis Snider at #7 overall. Travis Snider was a perennial Chorizy fantasy baseball pick. SIDE NOTE: Don’t trust any of Chorizy’s fantasy baseball advice. We’ll say 1 out of 2 here.
2009 Baseball Prospectus Rankings
Alvarez and Snider at 3 & 4 is quite the tandem. Both former Chorizy faves in fantasy baseball. If Vaughn turns into either of those, I wonder to what lengths the #Hahnbots will work to defend the pick. Lastly, at 14, is a man who definitely fits this bill and definitely hit 59 HR’s on the way to an MVP, you can now call him Giancarlo (1 for 3 this year).
2010 Baseball Prospectus Rankings
The 2010 list is by far the most interesting, Stanton is back who obviously became a superstar, so is Alvarez who turned out to be a scrub. We also have two Catchers that aren’t really catchers and therefore fit the bill imho. Jesus Montero, who is LEGENDARY in all my favorite #108ing ways and Carlos Santana (not that one) who became a very good and productive hitter in the majors for a long time. We’ll call this 2 for 4 right now. Then there is Chris Carter who lead the league in home runs one year and was never heard from again. We’ll call that a “HIT” just based on his career OPS+ of 108. Lastly and not part of the analysis is a prospect I truly didn’t remember Ryan Westmoreland and there is an EXTRAORDINARY reason for that….he had brain surgery and was out of baseball shortly after being drafted.
2011 Baseball Prospectus Rankings
2011…..Bryce Harper has entered the conversation. We’ll count him as bat only, even though I’d say he has some tools, I want to be benevolent where I can. Montero and Dominic Brown are also here *FART NOISE*. Joined by two Royals prospects, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who I would consider HITS, however, I doubt White Sox fans would be thrilled with either’s early career performance being transposed onto the 2021 White Sox. In fact, as good as Moustakas has been later in his career, his OPS+ is still only 101. He did improve his defense vastly at 3b, which I don’t think is a likely outcome for Vaughn, but wtf do I know?
What did we learn about Andrew Vaughn?
Well, we didn’t learn anything specifically about Vaughn, but we did learn something about the inherent risk of Bat-Only prospects in the very top of the 100 best prospect rankings. It would seem to be less of a given that the player makes it and provides you a top notch performance. Instead of just being content with this conclusion, I think we should dig a little deeper. What if prospect analysts as a whole have learned quite a bit since the rankings I provided above. Like any industry, knowledge tends to evolve. What if we take a look at some more recent rankings (not by Mr. Goldstein because he was plying his trade with the Astros for the last decade). Let’s try it.
Let’s bring in Fangraphs top 100 from 2017-2019, using THE BOARD, which is probably my favorite feature on the website. I like the BOARD because it provides a rating for all players that can be used universally to compare prospects across team lists. What it lacks in precision it provides in practicality. It’s my first stop when digging around to look at and compare prospects.
This 2017 list only has 1 true BAT-ONLY prospect on it and that would be Eloy Jimenez who I would consider…a HIT. Now it did take Eloy a couple tree months to be like Stella, he did eventually get there, so we’ll put that on the good side.
This list has Vladito (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), who was one of the most highly touted prospects in a long time, and absolutely destroyed the minors at young ages. So far as a major leaguer he has a 109 OPS+ across basically a full season of plate appearances, which is pretty decent, but far from a stud. Eloy is in here, we’ve already mentioned him. Miguel Andujar being the final BAT ONLY prospect in the crowd, who was outstanding as a rookie in 2018 and then hurt and bad since. A mixed bag for 2018.
2019 runs back Vladito, Eloy and adds a new player to the list in Keston Hiura who was so good at the keystone that the Brewers have moved him to 1B, hoping that the universal DH is passed soon. Hiura is actually pretty similar to Vaughn in that he was an advanced college bat that didn’t play much in the minors (although Hiura played a lot more minors than Vaughn, it’s the closest comparison I could get). Hiura smashed in half a season in 2019 138 OPS+ and sucked eggs last year in the COVID season at 88 OPS+. I’d still consider him a good hitter.
My main takeaway from the 2017-2019 examples is that these lists are more skeptical of BAT-ONLY prospects and don’t include as many as with the prior period’s lists. It’s possible that the marketplace as a whole has changed course on this particular profile of player and now when those players are included that you can more reliably assume you will get quality major league production. Still, I’d consider this analysis inconclusive. I’m behind the market of White Sox fans on my certainty that Andrew Vaughn will be a stud, but I’m hopeful, because while I’m a skeptic by nature, my glass is always half full.