Cal star Andrew Vaughn not concerned about topping last year

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — As California baseball got started again, Andrew Vaughn wanted no part of putting pressure on himself to top a sophomore season during which he had one of the best years in college baseball and won the Golden Spikes award as the top player in the country.

His encore has been downright mindboggling.

The slugging first baseman is batting .426 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs, has an .894 slugging percentage and .603 on-base percentage through 14 games heading into the start of Pac-12 play this weekend against USC in Berkeley. He has drawn 20 walks to seven strikeouts.

“You’ve got to look at it, it was a great moment in my life but you’ve really got to leave it in the past and build upon going about (the) next season. It’s a new one,” Vaughn said. “I’ve just got to be myself and go out every day as who I am, not as what I did.”

Now, he’s a projected high first-round pick in this June’s amateur draft. Scouts are flocking to Berkeley and beyond to watch Vaughn from every angle.

As a junior, Vaughn batted .402 with 23 home runs, 14 doubles and 63 RBIs in 199 at-bats and had 59 runs scored. He had an .819 slugging percentage, .531 on-base percentage, struck out just 18 times while drawing 44 walks and was hit by 12 pitches. Vaughn was Pac-12 Player of the Year and became the first player in Cal history to win the Golden Spikes Award.

He has become accustomed to having all eyes on him.

“You do notice it but you’ve really just got to push that off,” he said of the scouts. “They’re doing their job, you’re doing your job on the field, so you’ve just got to kind of separate both.”

Vaughn has plenty to keep him focused: school, baseball, and even supporting freshman teammate Grant Holman by dyeing his strawberry blond hair pink as Holman’s mother goes through breast cancer treatment.

It’s tough to miss his production.

In a two-game stretch on March 1 and 3 against Saint Mary’s, Vaughn had four home runs with an opposite-field grand slam and drove in nine runs spanning eight plate appearances.

A one-time big league pitcher himself, second-year Cal coach Mike Neu realizes the caliber of player he gets to write into the lineup each game.

Neu’s challenge before the season was deciding where to hit Vaughn in the order to get the most from his production. Vaughn has been in the No. 2 hole behind left-handed-hitting sophomore Darren Baker — son of former major league manager Dusty Baker — in the leadoff spot.

“Andrew Vaughn is obviously one of the best players in the country. Really proud of what he did a year ago and after being with him for a year, not surprising,” said Stanford coach David Esquer, who recruited Vaughn to Cal before switching jobs to return to his alma mater. “He’s just a class act on and off the field. He makes people better because he kind of pulls people with him with his work ethic.”

Neu, who grew up in the Napa wine country and made 33 career appearances in the majors between 2003-04 with Oakland and the Marlins, was hired away from his head coaching duties at Pacific to replace Esquer after working as the Golden Bears‘ pitching coach from 2012-15. The continuity meant a lot to Vaughn, who was recruited by Esquer and Neu starting when Vaughn was about 15 and a high school sophomore.

“I came onto campus and talked to both of them and fell in love right there. I knew I wanted to come here,” Vaughn said, noting that when Neu was hired, “It was the same culture I committed to, it’s what I really loved and I wanted to play for Cal baseball, whether it was for Esquey or for Mike. It’s just a great place to be and a great place to play baseball.”

Watching Vaughn years ago, Neu quickly realized he had special potential. Vaughn attended Cal’s camps and the coaches watched his high school games.

“He was also a pitcher, and at the time he was playing shortstop. So we felt like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a guy who’s got a chance to pitch for us, we feel like he’s really going to hit and could maybe play somewhere, second base, third base,’” Neu said. “He’s obviously evolved into a premier power hitter and probably more than you could imagine. We felt like in that class we got a guy we knew was going to be an impact player for us, to this degree I don’t think anyone could say that.”

Vaughn is among college baseball’s most feared hitters.

Still, don’t expect Vaughn to give much notice to the fanfare around him or the constant attention he will command as the draft nears.

“I’m just me,” he said, “I’m just a normal guy that loves to go out and play baseball, truly every day. It doesn’t matter the outcome. I just love going and having fun doing it.”

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