Despite a major league pedigree and respect for his tools (Baseball America Top 15 organizational prospect three years running), Binghamton Mets outfielder Cory Vaughn had yet to put all his tools together. His power and speed didn’t show up until 2012, but he hit .243. In St. Lucie in 2011, Vaughn hit .286 before his promotion, but only four home runs. After the promotion, he more than doubled his home run total, but the batting average dipped to .219.
That’s all changed, however. Vaughn’s tearing it up to the tune of .307/.392/.500 with five home runs in 130 plate appearances and is fresh off an Eastern League Player of the Week award. He’s got five stolen bases in six chances, and this is all in his first season at AA Binghamton. One would expect an adjustment period after the jump from High A, and even though you couldn’t tell by the numbers, Vaughn has had a lot to adjust to.
“There’s been a lot of adjustments going on, from the weather to this past off season to working with our hitting coach Luis [Natera],” explained Vaughn. “Basically just go out there and play the game hard and never stop working and never stop grinding, you know? So it’s been paying off, but you still have to work hard no matter what.”
Binghamton Manager Pedro Lopez agrees. “I would say that he’s been making adjustments as he goes along. I think he’s got the right mindset right now in order for him to get better. You’re looking at somebody who’s on a mission right now. Every chance that he gets, he’s making the best out of it. The thing is, especially when you get to this level, is to make sure that you got your ears open for any suggestions.”
Vaughn also made an adjustment to his batting stance. He attributes a mechanical adjustment he made to the placement of his hands to his success. The bat used to stand straight up with his hands by his ear, but keeping the bat flatter and lower has helped him stay through the ball.
“I really just kind of sit the bat on my shoulder so my hands would be more in the slot. You know, A to B,” explains Vaughn. “The quickest way to one point is a straight line. So I just try to “A to B” it and it’s been working out pretty well.”
Hitting Coach Luis Natera explains that with the longer swing, he was in an out of the zone too quickly and tended to hook everything. “Now he’s working to stay through the zone a little longer and his lower half is working much better. He was landing with his front foot on his heel. It made him pull off everything. Now he made that transition to landing on his toes and it leaves the front heel up that keeps him through the zone a little longer. Now those balls that he hooked foul are in the left-center gap.”
Both Lopez and Natera also commend his approach at the plate. “One thing he’s doing well to this point is trying to get a good pitch to hit and when he gets it, he’s not missing many,” said Lopez. “That goes with our whole hitting philosophy. Try to get a good pitch to hit and right now he’s doing a good job at it.”
Coach Natera has also been impressed with his new student. “He’s got a lot of confidence. What I hear from other coaches is that he was afraid to hit with two strikes. Now he’s not afraid to take a borderline strike to get to his pitch.”
When asked directly if looking to take borderline strikes detract from Vaughn’s natural aggressiveness, Natera refutes the idea. “Any hitter, if he’s afraid of hitting with two strikes, is going to swing at a pitcher’s pitch [early in the count] and that’s tough to hit. And now he’s not afraid to take those pitches on the corner and wait for that pitcher to make a mistake.”
And despite the fact that Vaughn has improved his slugging percentage steadily over the last three seasons, Coach Natera is still being patient on that front. “Power in young hitters is the last to come,” he explains. “Now he has to work on being a hitter. The power is there. He just has to work the strike zone like he’s been working and keep his hands back through the zone. He’ll hit for power on pitcher’s mistakes and I think everything now is coming together.”
Lopez agrees. “It’s paying off for him to this point and I hope he continues to do what he’s doing.”