The top of the 2019 draft is pretty hitter-heavy, and while the Royals seem inclined to go for a prep player like Bobby Witt, Jr. or C.J. Abrams, there is a chance they could pull the trigger on a more polished collegiate hitter like Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman if he somehow slips past the Orioles with the first overall pick.
Even if Rutschman is off the board, the Royals can get perhaps the best college hitter in the nation this year, California-Berkeley first baseman Andrew Vaughn. The 5’11’’ 215 pound right-handed hitter already tied the Bears single-season home run record with 23 home runs in 2018, hitting .402/.531/.819, striking out just 18 times in 256 plate appearances with 44 walks. He won the Golden Spikes Award for college player of the year and was also named National Player of the Year by Perfect Game and Rawlings. As a junior this year, he has shown that power was no fluke, hitting .377/.531/.725 with 15 home runs in 47 games.
One word to describe this beauty of a swing from Andrew Vaughn?— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 31, 2019
MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #3 prospect in the draft, writing he may be the “best all-around hitter” available. He is said to have an “advanced approach” with a good eye for walks without sacrificing power. Buck Granger at 2080 Baseball writes Vaughn has “quick hands with a penchant for barreling balls with a compact yet powerful swing and exceptional feel for the strike zone.” Vaughn has worked hard on his pitch recognition and has become a power hitter without being a free-swinger.
Baseball America describes Vaughn as having “an idyllic righthanded swing with the requisite bat speed and strength needed to allow scouts to peg him as a plus hitter with 80-grade raw power”. They note he can go to all fields and is not just a pull-hitter. He slammed five home runs in just 14 games, hitting .308 in the wood-bat Cape Cod League last summer before getting called up to play for the USA National Collegiate Team where he struggled, hitting .224 with one home run in 13 games.
Vaughn is a bit undersized for a power hitter, but Gary Sheffield, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Beltre were all power hitters who didn’t break the six-foot tall barrier. Keith Law concedes that Vaughn’s numbers came against underwhelming Pac-12 pitching, but that he doesn’t “hear any skepticism about his hit tool from scouts.”
MLB Pipeline pegs him as a “first-base only”, but notes his defense at that position is adequate. Vaughn is open to moving to third or outfield, but first base is likely his quickest shot to the big leagues. A former pitcher, Vaughn has a good arm and soft hands, but is a well below-average runner. Vaughn was undrated out of Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, California, where he was known more for his work on the mound than at the plate.
The Royals have a reputation for preferring high school hitters, but they have taken a few college hitters in the first round, namely Christian Colon in 2010 and Hunter Dozier in 2013. Still, Vaughn does not profile as the kind of player they typically favor, with the team instead preferring the first basemen to be more athletic with plus defense. Because his value is all tied up in his bat, Vaughn will have to hit to justify taking him second-overall, whereas a more athletic speedster could still produce value with speed and defense even if the bat doesn’t develop much. Vaughn’s lack of positional versatility could come in play as well, especially if the team is invested in first base prospect Nick Pratto as the future at that position.
A college first baseman hasn’t been selected among the first two picks since Travis Lee was taken by the Twins out of San Diego State in 1996. The White Sox at #3 and Tigers at #5 have been linked to him, but there is a scenario where he could fall in this draft. Vaughn does not seem like a Royals-type pick, but his numbers and power could be too enticing for even them to pass up.