Long before major league clubs started heavily prioritizing defense, speed, and versatility during the analytical revolution, scouting directors everywhere eschewed bat-first prospects with limited defensive versatility in search of the rare five-tool prospect. These players, well-rounded athletes with the potential to do everything at a star level on the baseball diamond, are nearly impossible to find. Even can’t miss players who look the part as prospects — Justin Upton and Delmon Young are two recent examples — often fall short of lofty expectations.
Perhaps just as rare, though, is the lumbering slugger talented enough to get teams to forget about all those athletic wunderkinds. More often than not, those players tumble down draft boards, eventually to be picked up in the mid-to-late first round. Case in point: the only two first basemen to be selected in the top 10 in the past decade are Brendan McKay, a two-way player whose future likely resides on the mound, and Pavin Smith, who is also playing some outfield in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system. The last non-two way first baseman to be drafted in the top five was Eric Hosmer (2008). Adrian Gonzalez (2000) is the only one to go first overall since the Detroit Tigers won their last World Series.
Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn is poised to break that streak (well, maybe not the last one) in 2019. The 21-year-old is described as “perhaps” the best pure hitter in this year’s draft class often enough around the internet that it’s probably safe to say he deserves the title. He was the first non-draft-eligible Golden Spikes winner in two decades after batting .402/.531/.819 with 23 home runs and 63 RBI for the Golden Bears in 2018. This year, Vaughn has taken a step back, “only” producing a 1.241 OPS with 13 home runs in 42 games.
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 3
Previously drafted: N/A
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: 1B Andrew Vaughn
[gestures wildly toward the tweet below]
If you haven’t guessed by now, Vaughn’s bat is the draw here. MLB Pipeline handed him plus grades for both his hit and power tools, and praised the fact that he doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other in their evaluation — he’s their No. 3 prospect in this year’s class.
He has a very advanced approach at the plate, one that has allowed him to walk much more than he has struck out throughout his Cal career, with a knack for barreling up the baseball. He doesn’t sacrifice power as a result, showing the ability to hit the ball out to all fields, profiling as a true middle-of-the-order run producer in the future.
Baseball America has him at No. 2 on their list, behind only catcher Adley Rutschman. They described Vaughn’s plate approach as “a preternatural feel for the strike zone” and also praise his “tremendous raw power.” They continued, saying “scouts and coaches alike rave about Vaughn’s feel to hit.” FanGraphs has Vaughn listed fourth on their board, with a succinct “no one doubts he’ll hit” concluding their brief evaluation. 2080 Baseball’s Burke Granger echoed those comments in a viewing last June, saying Vaughn has “a penchant for barreling balls with a compact yet powerful swing.”
The Athletes Hub even predicted a potential hook-up between Vaughn and the Tigers — though more of in “heir apparent to Miguel Cabrera” fashion. Their comments on Vaughn’s bat will start to sound like a broken record.
Vaughn has a knack for barreling up the ball. He has an advanced approach to the plate, which resulted in more walks than punch outs. He doesn’t sacrifice power either, and looks like a prototypical middle-of-the-order run producer.
There is little doubt that Vaughn will hit at the next level. Despite standing just 5’11, Vaughn’s raw power has not been called into question anywhere I have seen, and his feel for the strike zone draws rave reviews. Scouts have also praised his bat speed, which you don’t always see written about a slugger like him. Even ESPN’s Keith Law is on board, saying “I don’t hear any skepticism about his hit tool from scouts” when he ranked Vaughn second on his draft board.
The two biggest critiques that Vaughn has faced since arriving at Cal have been his size and speed — or lack thereof. Vaughn is listed at just 5’11, which might give some teams (but not many) pause when projecting his power at the pro level. His speed could be a real issue, though. Vaughn does not run well, earning just a 30 grade in that department from MLB Pipeline. He is just 7-for-13 in stolen base attempts in his career, and will be little more than a station-to-station runner at the MLB level.
That speed also puts a damper on what he can offer defensively. While some think he might be athletic enough to handle third base or a corner outfield spot at the pro level, he will likely slow down as he ages. Plus, as Baseball America noted, it might be in a team’s best interest to leave him at first base and let him rocket through the minors. Vaughn appears to be a capable first baseman defensively, with “decent hands and a solid arm” according to MLB Pipeline.
Draft position: top five (or higher)
For a while, Vaughn was a lock to go third overall to the White Sox. Several mock drafts still have him in that position. However, as Baseball America notes in their latest mock, the White Sox like what they see in uber-athletic shortstop C.J. Abrams. If the Sox go that route, though, don’t expect Vaughn to fall too far. Baseball America’s experts don’t think he would get past the Marlins, and it’s hard to see the Tigers — who are very interested in other bat-first prospects like Riley Greene and J.J. Bleday — passing on the best hitter in the draft.