Baseball is in good hands. Look no further than Grey’s top 10 for 2021 fantasy baseball, where you can witness the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Mookie Betts ranked ahead of the greatest player of our time, Randy Arozarena. Just kidding, I really do mean Mike Trout. Venture further into the top 20 for 2021 fantasy baseball and you’ll find Christian Yelich (No. 11), Bo Bichette (No. 12), Nolan Arenado (No. 16) and Luis Robert (No. 20). Side note: what a steal Yelich is going to be in 2021, amiright? But the point I’m trying to get to (and I really am trying), is that right now in baseball we have a beautiful mixture of established veterans performing at high levels (dare I say their prime?) at the forefront of the game and a deep group of emerging young players quickly breaking through into the top 20 talents in all of baseball. The sport, as a whole, is in tremendous hands and the picture only improves when one looks to the plethora of talent trickling down the prospect pipeline. Wander Franco, Jarred Kelenic, Adley Rutschman, Julio Rodriguez and Royce Lewis are all pounding on the door, just to mention a few names, and I haven’t even broached the subjecting of pitching talent in baseball today. Long story short: it’s a good time to be a baseball fan, but still a bad time to be short, or tell long stories.

Of the five prospects named above, all could potentially debut in the Majors in 2021. I’m excited about them all. But as I began writing this piece, I realized that despite their varying long-term outlooks, there’s one positional prospect I’m more excited about owning in re-draft leagues this year than any of them — and their name might surprise you.

That player is Andrew VaughnBack in November, Grey gave you his Andrew Vaughn 2021 fantasy outlook for the White Sox first base prospect, writing: “He’s a .300 hitter with power, and every lovey-dovey first baseman-DH hybrid. I watched opposite-field bombs, pulled missiles, jacked jacks. There was nothing not impressive, and I’m sure it will translate to the major leagues, at some point, but he’s at least two months away, and I’m not entirely sure this abhorrent year that was 2020 pushes his timetable back another month or two.” The Itch also likes Vaughn, as most pundits do, ranking him as the No. 1 White Sox prospect for 2021 fantasy baseball. However, I may be even more bullish on the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and I think there is a scenario in which we see Vaughn at the MLB level by May. Dare I be so bold?

At face value, this might seem like a long shot. But remember, at face value Hunter Renfroe is Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman looks like a librarian and Nick Ahmed could pass as your local neighborhood pharmacist. Life isn’t all about looks. Vaughn has just 55 Minor League games under his belt to date, which could indicate that 2021 will solely be a developmental year for him. That said, he was drafted in 2019 as an advanced hitting prospect after three years of premier play at Cal. Three-year college hitters with an advanced feel for hitting historically move relatively quickly through the farm. On top of that, his batter profile tells the story of a player who may be more apt to excel immediately at the MLB level with a significantly reduced learning curve (compared to the average player). To summarize what many already know, Vaughn was a monster in college, owning a .374/.495/.688 slash line with 50 home runs and 35 doubles in 596 career at bats/160 games. As a sophomore in 2018, he slashed .402/.531/.819 and won the Golden Spikes Award. Over the course of his career, he drew substantially more walks (123) than his number of strikeouts (75), which translated to a 16.5 BB% and 10.1 K%. Purty. Along with that, Vaughn received a 65 hit tool grade and a 60 in the raw power department. When a right-handed hitting first baseman who stands at 6-foot-even gets drafted third overall, it says something — the same way it said something when Spencer Torkelson was drafted first last June. It says “Jonathon Mayo should stick to analyzing mayo.” Or something like that. Either that, or it means the player can flat-out hit: with power, to all fields, with an advanced eye at the plate and ability to drive pitches selectively. Vaughn does all these things, so you be the judge of which phrase is more accurate.

After reading Grey’s November article on Vaughn, I decided to freshen up on the 22-year-old and do some digging. For starters, let the age alone soak in. 22. Come April 3, Vaughn will be 23. That is how birthdays work, unless 2020 changed that, too. Yes, he’s young, but I don’t think Chicago wants their prized prospect to get his first taste of big league action at age 24. See: Howard, Ryan. That is, unless Vaughn has his sights focused on a lucrative Subway contract as opposed to a Hall of Fame career. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but with the way teams value aging players and prioritize controlling the prime years, it makes a lot of sense for the White Sox to get a good look at Vaugh in his age 23 season.

Getting back to those first 55 games in the Minors (all in 2019), Vaughn batted .278/.384/.449 with six home runs and 17 doubles across 205 at bats. The power wasn’t other-worldly, but it’s going to translate at the MLB level eventually, especially after another year devoted to weight training and offseason workouts with an MLB organization. What we’re really looking at is Vaughn’s approach, strike zone awareness and ability to recognize and track pitches as he progresses his way up the ladder. In those 55 games, Vaughn posted a 12.2 BB% and 15.5 K%, which are pretty respectable marks for a young player getting their first taste of professional pitching, let alone an elite power prospect like Vaughn. And that power has rhythm in it.

That’s Exhibit A. I absolutely love Vaughn’s timing mechanism and load, and how he subsequently explodes and extends through the ball. But, I don’t want to fall in love too quickly and end up poisoning myself in a tomb, so let’s be skeptical for a moment.

Cooked in with Vaughn’s 2019 stats is his brief, three-game cameo in rookie ball where he hit .600/.625/.933. It’s only a three-game sample size, but Vaughn did go 9-for-15, and quite frankly, I don’t put any stock into how well an elite prospect fares against rookie level pitching. So, I threw those 15 at bats out, and here’s what you get: .253/.367/.411, 13.1 BB%, 15.2 K%. Basically, Vaughn’s 2019 slash line is definitely bolstered by those 15 rookie level at bats, but as evidenced by Vaughn’s three strikeouts in 16 plate appearances, his BB% and K% actually improve when you look at his performance against strictly Single-A and High-A pitching. What’s more impressive is that Vaughn actually struck out less at the High-A level (13.5%) than he did at the Single-A level (17.5%), which bodes well when looking ahead to his future MLB tendencies.

Vaughn profiles as a hitter who we can expect to draw walks above a 12% clip and perhaps even push upwards of 15% as he matures throughout his MLB career. If he can hold his strikeouts below 20% or even right around 20%, the profile is there for this to be a potentially elite hitter from the get go, even before his ratios begin to normalize and he gains more experience tracking pitches at the MLB level. Which, to be fair, he’s already doing with relative ease against names like Gio Gonzalez

And Devin Williams

One: Vaughn’s ability to drive that down-and-away breaking ball out of the park against Gonzalez is not only an impressive piece of hitting, but a mature one. Second: the way in which Vaughn stays inside the pitch to line a hard-hit single to center field against Williams, the eventual 2020 NL Reliever of the Year, represents a feat many seasoned veterans failed to accomplish last season. He’s good. He might be closer than many ‘perts’ think. If he’s on fire at Double-A in May, and the White Sox are playing good baseball, why wait?

In conclusion, I’m not telling you to go out and draft Vaughn at the back-end of drafts in re-draft leagues. However, I do think there is a stronger possibility that Vaughn plays two-thirds (or close to it) of 2021 at the MLB level and if he does, he will need to be owned in 100% of all leagues. Even if the power lags behind, which it won’t with whatever kind of baseball Rob Manfred puts out there this year, his approach and ability to hit to all fields in a strong lineup will allow him to contribute positively to four categories in 5×5 mixed AVG leagues. In points leagues, he should have even greater value based on the power upside he possesses with the lack of strikeouts.

Personally, I try not to get too caught up in the sheer beauty of a prospect’s swing in college and the lower minors, but this is nearly impossible with Vaughn. Everything about his load, stride, hands, bat path and extension through the ball scream future 30/100 bat. I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up, because Andrew is just too damn beautiful. For 2021, Razzball Steamer Projections have Vaughn for a .215/.278/.360 batting line with 6.8 home runs, 23.1 RBI and 24.1 runs. I’m taking the over on every component of that stat line. If judging based off the long-term, complete outlook, I’d likely consider other names (Kelenic, Franco) ahead of Vaughn, but for 2021 alone, I’m taking the over here. The situation in Chicago projects “win now” from the bottom to the top of Tony La Russa’s beer pyramid — and I’m buying on Vaughn to be one of the primary beneficiaries in 2021.

 
  1. Moon Shots says:
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    Great read Hobbs. Im very happy to have Vaughn on my 30 team dynasty.

    If i might ask, are you as high on Hebert Perez (that makes it sound like there is a drug called Hedbert Perez) as Mr Itch? Im considering trading him for my Pete Crow and curious for your opinion. Thanks!

    • Hobbs

      Hobbs says:
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      Thanks for the read! I’m sure someone out there is getting high off Hedbert at this exact moment.

      I can’t say that I’m as high on Hedbert Perez as Itch, simply because there is still so much unknown as he heads into his first professional season. I know reviews out of Milwaukee’s alternate site worked largely in his favor, but that still doesn’t provide us with anything measurable.

      That said, I think you might be able to get more for Pete Crow-Armstrong in addition to Perez. Either way, I’m willing to put my faith in Itch on this one. Just make sure you get fair value for Crow-Armstrong and sweeten the package if at all possible.

      • Moon Shots says:
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        Thank you Hobbs!

        Where do you weigh in on PCA/Alek Thomas for Hedbert/Heliot Ramos? Giants fan over here…

  2. Woolly the Mammoth says:
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    Which prospect are you second most excited about?

    • Hobbs

      Hobbs says:
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      The creative answer is Josh Jung. Was one of my favorite players in that entire draft class. I’m much higher on him than consensus.

      The real answer is Kelenic. If he gets the call, he’s the true answer to that question.

  3. Dong Show says:
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    Hobbs,

    What’s your take on a Lynn for Arozarena swap in dynasty? Biggest concern for me is finding aces (I’m trading Lynn) and RA being just another hype filled guy who ends up like Laureano or Aquino. Don’t need RA for next year but understand his value could sky rocket.
    For some context, 10 teams 7×6

    I would say I’m a top 2 team easy in our league

    Yadi
    1b FF
    2b Whit
    3b JRam
    SS Correa/Mondesi
    OF Mookie, Harper, Blackmon
    UTL Voit

    Right now my rotation is

    Sonny
    Lynn
    Alcantara
    Framber
    Bundy
    Civale
    Montgomery
    Musgrove
    Davies
    Eduardo Rodriguez
    Wainwright

    I think it’s just me trying to be greedy and buy long term value instead of prioritizing my strong win now window I have open right now.

    What side would you take here based on my situation?

    Thanks in advance Hobbs!

    • packers2018 says:
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      I would hold Lynn.

      There is plenty of outfielders who can put the same or better numbers up as RA, so in a win now mode you should be looking at this year as a priority.

      With starting only 3 outfielders in a 10 teamer there should be guys on the wire if you need someone or a particular category in the standings.

    • Hobbs

      Hobbs says:
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      I like where your head is at in a dynasty format like this, trying to stay creative and bolster your team long-term. However, for starters, I don’t think this is the right time to acquire Arozarena. I doubt his value will ever be higher, which means you’re highly unlikely to find value in a potential deal.

      I like the depth in your rotation provided by Framber, Bundy, Musgrove… but you’re going to need those two staples (Gray, Lynn) at the top if you’re truly pushing for a championship in 2021. I would hold if you’re looking to win this thing. I would pursue deals only if you decide to weigh long-term stability over the short-term.

      If you read my stuff, you know I’m more of a Dave Dombrowski type in dynasty than I am a stockpiler. I would take a team like this into the regular season, see how performance and injuries play out, and then trade a quality prospect for another high-end starter to help push you over the top. Far too often, these leagues become a competition of “I can identify prospects better than you” and people forget to value veterans when the proper time comes.

      • Dong Show says:
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        Unreal answer Hobbs, I’ve been so back and forth on this one and this is definitely some very very good advice moving forward (for this trade and future ones as season goes on.

        Always appreciate the response and help from you (and anyone else who chimes in on these things). I’m glad you see how I was approaching this. I guess it’s a FOMO I’m missing out on Randy if he ends up being for real (I know his power showing is NOT to be expected like that).

        This is forever my problem in dynasty; selling older guys at peak value for a ting possible stud (done many of these deals to get the team I have) but I’ve never had a team THIS good on paper before.

  4. macuzo says:
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    veeeeh first pitch was a meatball that any righty could have pulled to the left field. Second breaking pitch drove to the opposite side. It is stunning!!! ?

    • Hobbs

      Hobbs says:
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      Yes, first pitch was a meat ball. But we’re trying to predict two things here: 1) how steep will Vaughn’s MLB learning curve be and 2) how long will we wait for him in 2021? That first pitch came in Spring Training, showing evidence he’s performing when he truly has a chance to battle for a job and accelerate his time line. And it isn’t the fact that he’s able to bang the hanger, but that he looks beautiful doing it, and stays connected like a veteran. You can tell when you’re watching a future perennial all star connect on a hanger.

      That same point translates into the second clip. You can see a split second where Vaughn’s hands stay back as he recognizes the pitch and drives it to right-center. There is absolutely nothing wrong with driving a breaking ball to the opposite side, especially if it’s with that much power. And again, the fact that Vaughn has impressed in these situations against MLB caliber pitching bodes well for his 2021 timeline.

      It’s the polish from the beginning to the swing to the end, and who he’s shown an ability to do it against, that we need to key in on here.

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