GLENDALE, Ariz. — Imagine being Andrew Vaughn, a college first baseman drafted for his bat and not his defense, having a conversation with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa about from a change of position during spring training last year.

“When [left fielder] Eloy [Jimenez] went down with that unfortunate injury, it was a terrible blow for the team,” Vaughn recalled Friday. “We needed a guy to fill that spot and Tony came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re playing outfield. ”

It wasn’t a what do you think of doing that? It was you who did that.

Vaughn’s response: “I have very little experience.”

Response from La Russa: “You want bats?”

Vaughn: “Yeah.”

La Russa: “Okay”.

And that was it.

Vaughn borrowed an outfielder’s glove and immediately started taking fly balls and, to the surprise of almost everyone except maybe La Russa himself, turned into a decent outfielder. Not the Gold Glove caliber, but the one that made most routine plays and once in a while made a good one.

“Crazy,” said Adam Engel, a former Gold Glove finalist in center field. “In college and in the minor leagues, I’ve seen a lot of infielders trying to make the outfield and it’s not a tough, crazy transition, but most guys have a period of struggle, and it’s “It’s at a lower level. And Vaughny stepped in and he was never a liability there. And he made it to the big league level. Which to me is hugely impressive. Played a lot of big innings for us.

Considering he’s never played on the pitch, Engel called him “incredible”.

“It kind of blew my mind,” he said.

With Jimenez healthy again, Vaughn is now a candidate to play a lot in right field, alongside left-handed hitter Gavin Sheets and Engel, who underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder after the season. , but says it will be ready to go on opening day. Vaughn will also be at bat as the designated hitter and can play third base as well. He played second base once last year – another one of those “you do that” moments at La Russa – and now brings four gloves to the field every day.

Right field will have its own learning curve, with balls from right-handed hitters’ bats clipping Vaughn’s left-handed and left-handed hitters driving him wide.

La Russa, who scoffed when asked if he asked Vaughn to transition to the outfield — “Come on, man,” La Russa said — told Vaughn last spring that he played outfield, sticking to his belief that he would be no worse than average if he worked hard. And Vaughn went after it right away last spring.

“From that start, I started working,” Vaughn said. “I fucked as many balls as I could at BP, getting my feet wet, doing whatever I could do and trying to let my pitcher know that I could make the plays there, that I want to make the games over there I was working my butt off. Just be an athlete, go out there and play baseball.

Vaughn, who played just 55 minor league games, all in 2019 after being drafted third overall that year, and no higher than High-A Winston-Salem, hit .235/.309 /.396 with 15 homers in 127 games in his rookie season. It was an admirable performance considering his limited prep time for the majors.

His polite and professional approach, compact swing and acquired experience bode well for better things in 2022.

“You want to keep progressing,” Vaughn said. “It was nice to have a full offseason where I could work on my craft – the most important thing was to simplify everything. Create less movement and be more direct with the baseball.

During his fits in 2021, Vaughn said he learned the ups and downs.

“I had to fight sometimes,” he said.

While learning a new position on the job. It wasn’t something anyone saw coming a year ago around this time.

“That’s why they get paid to make decisions,” Engel said of decision makers like La Russa. “But Vaughn is a smart kid and a hard worker. You get that makeup and teaching a new position speeds up the learning curve.