Sox spring observations: Vaughn showing ‘he's the real deal'


Andrew Vaughn didn't unleash the kind of power he's been known to put on display, didn't hit any home runs, didn't get any hits at all in the White Sox first Cactus League game of the spring.

But Vaughn showed why the White Sox think he's ready for an everyday job at the major league level.

So many questions have swirled throughout the winter and early days of the spring regarding Vaughn's frontrunner status for the White Sox vacant DH job, considering he's got all of 55 games on his professional resume and he's never played a game above A-ball. All along the team has raved about him, touting the advanced nature of his bat and the benefits he took from training at the alternate site in Schaumburg last year as a case for him to be thrown into the deep end of the pool, asked to play a sizable role for a team with World Series aspirations.

RELATED: Sox keep raving about Andrew Vaughn: 'The full package'

Well, Vaughn didn't go deep against the Milwaukee Brewers in Sunday's spring opener, a 7-2 White Sox loss, but he drew a pair of walks, showing off another aspect of his offensive game that had team brass raving once again.

"When I was trying to get familiar with the roster and when I talked to everybody up top, ... there wasn't anybody that was on the fence about Andrew," La Russa said after Sunday's game. "I got to see him in January, and he's for real.

"I don't have a crystal ball about whether he's on the squad April 1, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to play his way on to the this team. And today was the kind start you expected: really good at-bats, nice defensive play. He doesn't take an inning off. He's the real deal."

On that nice defensive play, a diving snag at first base, Vaughn doesn't figure to see a ton of time in the field in 2021, not with reigning AL MVP José Abreu manning that position. But the White Sox have talked often about their desire to get Abreu some rest every once in a while, and even if that means a day of Abreu sliding over to DH, Vaughn could certainly see some time filling in for the big guy.

Even if La Russa isn't ready to move Vaughn from the "in pencil" group to the "in ink" one, it's obvious from every time he's asked about Vaughn just how impressed he is with the 22-year-old.

Adam Engel, home run hitter

Even though Vaughn didn't bust out the power stroke Sunday, the White Sox did get one round-tripper.

Adam Engel launched a two-run dinger in the first inning, picking up where he left off in 2020 with some positive offensive production. So long viewed as a defense-first — if not defense-only — player in the outfield, Engel had a nice season at the plate last year, blossoming into a more well rounded player.

With that came some more power. His slugging percentage jumped up nearly .100 points, from .383 in 2019 to .477 in 2020. He hit a home run in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Oakland Athletics, the first postseason home run by a White Sox hitter since 2008.

"Just being able to contribute offensively to the team," Engel said last week, "that’s something that’s kind of followed me around as a question mark throughout my career. I’ve always felt like I’ve got a lot to offer from the defensive side of the ball, and also base running. Last year, it helped prove to myself that I can help the team from the batter’s box, as well."

Who hit the first White Sox playoff homer in 2020? Engel. Who hit the first White Sox spring homer in 2021? Also Engel.

There's a reason he was batting third in La Russa's lineup Sunday.

'Wheels' Moncada

Yoán Moncada said he was feeling much better following his COVID-impacted 2020 season. He showed a little bit of extra energy Sunday.

The White Sox third baseman described his 2020 campaign as a "daily battle" to find the energy necessary to do just about anything on the baseball field, and it showed, particularly when he was running the bases. At one point, after running the bases in Cleveland, he was spotted being fanned in the dugout by former manager Rick Renteria. In the moment, White Sox coaches didn't know if Moncada would be able to return to the field.

Fast forward to spring 2021, and Moncada stole a base in the first inning of his first spring game. He didn't attempt a single swiped bag in 2020 after going 3-for-10 in stolen-base attempts during his breakout 2019 season.

That's a positive sign backing up Moncada's talk that he's back to good health after struggling through the aftereffects of his COVID-19 infection last year.

"I have the chance to prove that I am the kind of player that I was in 2019, that that is the kind of player that I am," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo last week. "And I think I can do better."

La Russa back in the dugout — and in it to win it

The NBC Sports Chicago graphics crew flashed a pretty stunning one at the start of Sunday's broadcast:

This is Tony La Russa's ninth season managing the White Sox and his first since 1986.

If that doesn't say it all.

La Russa expressed happiness to be back in the dugout after nearly a decade away Sunday. After all, this is the guy who's desire to be there, after spending time in front offices he referred to as "torture," can hardly be questioned.

Oh, and even though it was a six-inning game that didn't count, he wanted to win.

"Familiar. Nervous about the competition," he said, asked what it was like to make his return. "I think you've got to practice winning. You get 30 chances (during the spring), so you don't want to wait until Opening Day.

"Whether the team or a manager, you're supposed to be using those games to anticipate and make decisions. That's why I like it, in the sense that when I get to Opening Day or October, there really isn't any difference in the concentration and the process."

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