That would be California sophomore first baseman Andrew Vaughn, whose rise up the college baseball ranks began last season, while his overall story as a budding baseball player began well before he stepped on campus in Berkeley.
California head coach Mike Neu remembers recruiting Vaughn out of high school in Santa Rosa, Calif., well. Neu spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Pacific. However, he was an assistant for the Golden Bears before that and recruited Vaughn as a sophomore. Way back then, Neu, former Cal coach Dave Esquer and other Golden Bears staffers saw impressive potential. They saw a high school hitter with a consistent, mature approach and swing, and they saw a guy they believed would hit for a good average in college.
What Neu didn't see was his ability to hit for big-time power at the collegiate level, something that he mastered last season as a freshman, and continues to make serious strides with as a sophomore so far this season. How so? He hit 12 home runs last season, and after hitting another home run against San Francisco on Tuesday, is tied with NC State's Brett Kinneman for the national lead with 10. He'll easily eclipse last year's mark.
"You know, we recruited him as a sophomore, and the reason we recruited him is we thought he'd have a chance to really hit at the collegiate level," Neu said. "He had a flat swing and great hands at the time, and we honestly kind of compared him to Tony Renda, who excelled here.
"It was a short, flat swing and we knew he'd have a chance to be good. I never thought he'd develop into this, though," Neu continued. "He was a guy, even when he showed up here, who had a chance to hit for a high average. But then that raw power started showing up. In recruiting, you never know for sure what you're going to get, but it's extremely impressive to see what he's developed from a power standpoint. He had some power out of high school, but it wasn't anything like this."
Vaughn was ranked the No. 39 prospect in the 2019 MLB draft class before this season, but he wasn't always this highly touted. As Neu alluded to in our conversation, Vaughn was anything but a high profile guy during his high school days. He wasn't on any Area Code Games rosters, he went undrafted out of high school and he actually flew under the radar a little bit, as some players from the "North Bay" area, as Neu calls it, often do.
But someone else's loss has become California's gain when it comes to Vaughn. He made an instant impact as a freshman last season with a .349 average, .414 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and .969 OPS, along with seven doubles, 12 homers and 50 RBIs. He also had a solid showing with the USA Collegiate National Team over the summer.
"He's a very legitimate power bat who had a strong freshman season and who was really impressive in the fall and coming into the season," a National League scout said. "He has made a huge, huge jump from high school. His lack of position does bother me a little bit, but you can't deny his ability as a hitter."
So far this season, Vaughn has established himself as one of the nation's premier overall hitters. Sure, he co-leads the nation in home runs, but he's such a complete hitter. He's hitting a ridiculously high .472 (fifth nationally) and has a .627 OBP, 1.113 slugging percentage, four doubles, 10 homers and 26 RBIs. Vaughn also has a 1.734 OPS, but most impressive to me and probably others is his control of the zone with a whopping 16 walks versus four strikeouts. The sophomore is three walks away from equaling his total all of last season.
"It's been really impressive to watch. He has such a professional offensive approach. He goes up there and he kind of knows what he wants to do every time," Neu said. "He doesn't chase a lot of pitches out of the zone and he takes his hits. Obviously, he has a lot of raw power, but some of the balls he hits go a long, long way.
"For me, he's just the complete package," Neu continued. "He has a ton of bat speed, he can hit it out of the ballpark every time he steps in the box, he's disciplined and he's a really good teammate. He's honestly everything you want out of one of your best players."
While Vaughn is shining from an offensive standpoint, some have wondered why he hasn't pitched. Last season, he made 10 appearances in 8.1 innings. And while his ERA wasn't good (7.56), he was up to 90-92 with his fastball and proved to be a potential future bullpen weapon.
Neu isn't opposed to pitching the heralded sophomore, but it's not at the top of his priority list at the moment. He'd rather develop other arms, though Vaughn continues to have periodic bullpen sessions. Ideally, the Golden Bears would like to keep him focused on the offensive side of things, with the potential of using him on the mound in a key spot later in the season, and perhaps in the NCAA postseason, which is a safe bet for now with a 12-4 record.
"You know, we've had him throwing bullpens each week. What I had in mind is kind of using him the same way we used Lucas Erceg a few years ago. We pitched Lucas about 10 innings his last year when we went to a regional, so maybe that's the way we'll use him," Neu said. "Andrew is such an offensive weapon and so important to our team as a hitter, that we just haven't used him as a pitcher just yet.
"Honestly, I'd rather go out there and develop some of the younger pitching that we have, while also having the ability to throw him if we need to," he continued. "It's probably an emergency situation with Vaughn for now. It'd be one thing if he was out there like Erceg throwing 94-96 mph, but he's more 89-90, and up to 91-92 with an ability to get some guys out."
It wasn't that long that Vaughn was considered a talented high school hitter who would head to college, maybe hit for a solid average and be a spot reliever.
Now, he's one of the nation's elite hitters with premium power.
"He's got impressive power to all fields and doesn't miss many mistakes," one Pac 12 coach said. "He stays balanced and does a great job of staying inside the ball."
Andrew Vaughn is all about exceeding expectations.
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