The White Sox are set at every position on the field, and most starters are bona fide stars.
Jose Abreu is the first baseman. He has led the American League in RBI in each of the last two seasons and is the reigning MVP.
Nick Madrigal is the second base. As a rookie, he hit a cool .340.
Tim Anderson is the shortstop. He won the batting AL title in 2019 (.335) and was second last year at .322 before hitting .643 (9-for-14) in the playoffs.
Yoan Moncada is at third base and feeling back to normal after a nasty bout with COVID-19 last season.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal is a two-time all star.
In the outfield, Eloy Jimenez is a rising star in left and Luis Robert has legitimate MVP aspirations in center. Adam Eaton, back in right field, was a dangerous No. 2 hitter for the Nationals when they won the World Series in 2019.
That is quite a lineup the Sox are rolling out, but the designated hitter is still a question mark.
Instead of fixing the problem by signing a free agent such as Nelson Cruz or Marcell Ozuna, the White Sox are filling the job in-house for now.
Andrew Vaughn looks to be the likely DH at this point, even though he has not played professional baseball above the high Class A level.
The Sox are confident Vaughn — the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft — can hold his own in the difficult role.
There’s another reason the natural first baseman and former collegiate star at Cal is getting a look.
“If we are going to build something that has a chance to compete annually, part of that is the introduction of young players at the big-league level,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “You look back at those Braves teams in the (19)90s and I don’t know if we are ever going to see a run like the one they were able to put together, the consecutive decade-plus of division championships, but that’s certainly a good goal. One of the things they tended to do on an annual basis was introduce young players.
“Each year there was a rookie or two who was getting their legs under them at the big-league level and they sort of joined that core. We want to be able to do that, and that’s part of creating a run like that, adding young players. So there’s not always going to be a veteran answer for every perceived need or hole on our roster in part because we want to give these young guys a chance to show what they are capable of doing and introduce that to the core we put together.”
Vaughn, who hit a combined .278/.384/.449 with six home runs and 36 RBI in 55 games with the AZL White Sox, low Class A Kannapolis and high A Winston-Salem in 2019, did not get a chance to play last season due to COVID-19.
He did keep his swing sharp at the Sox’s alternate training site in Schaumburg and came into spring training with high confidence.
“You have to go up there and have trust,” Vaughn said. “Trust the work I’ve put in, trust the work we’ve been doing here and just know that if we go out and play the game right, take everything seriously, it will all work out. Trust the process.”
At Schaumburg, Vaughn said he was able to take up to 10 live at-bats a day, many against pitchers who went on to join the White Sox.
That’s what you call making the most of a tough situation, and the 6-foot, 215-pounder has a similar attitude about his approach to being a DH.
“I was taught this a few years ago, you have to play it like you are at a position,” Vaughn said. “You can’t be a guy who takes his at-bats, takes his gloves off and just goes and sits down in the dugout. You have to be mentally focused, you have to be able to get rid of that at-bat right after it happens. You think about it for a little bit you can’t sit there and just soak in it.”
New manager Tony La Russa has been impressed with Vaughn in the early days of training camp, but he’s not ready to name him the Sox’s full-time DH just yet.
“Very impressive,” La Russa said. “He’s being viewed as having an opportunity to make the club. But when we start putting down the guys you expect to make the club, the guys that have an opportunity, one’s in pencil, one’s in ink. He’s in pencil.”