Andrew Vaughn Could Become The Highest Drafted College First Baseman Ever
California first baseman Andrew Vaughn is once again lighting the college baseball world on fire. A year after winning the 2018 Golden Spikes Award with a .402/.531/.819 season that included 23 home runs, Vaughn has upped the ante.
It’s still early, and conference play in the Pac-12 won’t get started until next weekend, but so far Vaughn is hitting a scorching .529/.680/1.176 with seven home runs and 15 walks to five strikeouts through games played through March 7. Vaughn has long been considered the top hitter in the 2019 draft class, but scouts are now saying that he is playing his way into being a viable candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, even if Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman is still the top prospect in the class.
While there’s still plenty of time for the No. 1 pick debate to pan out for itself, there’s also a legitimate shot that Vaughn will become the highest-drafted college first baseman of all time. If Vaughn goes first overall, he will be.
Only three college first basemen have been selected as high as No. 2 or No. 3, and each was taken in the 1980s or 1990s. Mississippi State's Will Clark was taken No. 2 by the Giants in 1985, Stanford's David McCarty was taken No. 3 by the Twins in 1991 and San Diego State's Travis Lee was taken No. 2 overall by the Twins in 1996.
While the first base profile is generally a difficult one for players to overcome, when teams select a player of that demographic at the top of the draft, they tend to work out well.
There have been 14 college first basemen drafted among the top-10 picks, including, most recently, Brendan McKay (who was also drafted as a lefthanded pitcher) and Pavin Smith in 2017. Putting those two aside, as they are still at the beginning of their professional career, the success rate among this group is impressive.
Here’s how the group looks statistically, ranked by Fangraphs WAR.
Eight of the 12 players went on to be above-average hitters at the major league level, while three of the four who are below-average fall in the 90-100 wRC+ range. Just two players of the group played fewer than 250 major league games and one of the two—Dan Thomas—showed plenty of offensive promise before his career was derailed because of addiction issues and a refusal to play baseball on Sabbath days.
Tim Wallach was a college first baseman who played third base almost exclusively in pro ball. Matt LaPorta was a college first baseman who was immediately moved to the outfield in pro ball. Pat Burrell, who played third base in college and primarily left field in pro ball, is not included, although the Phillies did consider moving him to first base when they drafted him.
So, generally speaking, college first basemen taken among the top 10 picks go on to produce at the big league level. The group as a whole combined to average just over 3.0 WAR per season when WAR totals were prorated for the total number of games played.
2019 College Baseball Watch Lists
Here is an early look at the Player and Freshman of the Year races, five surprise teams and five teams who have questions to answer in the second half.
But how good a hitter do you have to be to be selected among the elite players of any given draft year? And, more importantly in the case of Vaughn, how good do you have to be to be taken among the top three picks of the draft, where Vaughn is currently projected to go? How good do you have to be to go among the elite of the elite in any given year?
Thanks to Baseball Cube, it’s fairly easy to figure that out. Below are the college statistics for the three players selected third or higher, with Vaughn’s career stats through games on March 7 also included as a comparison.
Vaughn fits well statistically with this group, although admittedly it’s hard to compare hitters over vastly different college eras and different hitting environments.
While Vaughn fits in well on a statistical basis, he does stand out for his size. As J.J. Cooper noted in our most recent issue of the Baseball America magazine, Vaughn’s 5-foot-11 listed height is very short for a first baseman—particularly a righthanded hitter. Each of the players above are at least 6-foot-2, while there have been just four, righthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing first basemen under 6-foot to play more than 20 games in the integration era beginning in 1947.
Vaughn will be challenged this weekend against No. 10 Louisiana State in perhaps his toughest matchup this season, but he's opened plenty of eyes already and has put himself in a position to potentially make history in the draft. He would also be the first player to win back-to-back Golden Spikes Awards.