How to describe the month of June put together by slugging Red Sox prospect Niko Kavadas? The all-caps response by Salem manager Luke Montz left little room for misinterpretation.
“AS LOCKED IN AS ONE COULD BE,” Montz texted.
The performance suggests as much. Through Wednesday, the 23-year-old Kavadas, whom the Red Sox drafted out of Notre Dame in the 11th round last year, had posted a mind-blowing line in 24 June games: a .397 average, .529 on-base percentage, .987 slugging percentage, and 1.516 OPS with 13 homers and 20 extra-base hits.
Chris Hatfield of SoxProspects.com identified Kavadas as having a month-long OPS that was 200 points better than anyone else in the Red Sox system over at least the past 15 years.
Niko Kavadas is hitting .400/.526/.1.013 in June. 1.539 OPS w/ 2 g left.— Chris Hatfield (@SPChrisHatfield) June 29, 2022
Best month I could find from 2008 on is Nick Yorke last August. He hit .414/.500/.816 for a 1.316 OPS. Only >1.300 month I saw.
Kavadas is ~200 points of OPS above any Red Sox MiLB hitter month in 15 yrs.
Beyond the numbers, Kavadas has been launching balls into orbit from foul pole to foul pole.
“It’s light-tower power,” said farm director Brian Abraham. “He hits them high. He hits them far.”
The epic month unfolded with Salem for 19 games and then with High A Greenville (8 for 17, 3 homers, a .471/.550/1.118 line in his first five games).
“Someone that is confident at the plate, he’s seeing the ball well, goes up there with a plan and is not afraid to let it fly once in a while,” said Greenville manager Iggy Suarez. “Fun to watch right now.”
So who is Kavadas and why did someone who crushed 22 homers in 47 games as a senior at Notre Dame remain on the board into the 11th round?
Kavadas looks like a player drawn from a casting call in a different era. As a teenager, the 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound first baseman was drawn to Indiana University slugger Kyle Schwarber, a player whose build and attitude in some ways reflected his own.
“He’s a stocky Midwest guy, lefthanded bat, [and scouts] didn’t know if he could stick or not behind the plate [in college],” said Kavadas. “I loved that teams would ask him if he could stick and he would be absolutely pissed if they told him that he couldn’t.
“I love that about him. He’s a hard-nosed guy, and I think he’s been a great guy for me to look up to.”
Kavadas has a plate approach that is simultaneously sophisticated and blunt. At Notre Dame, he cut the plate into thirds to work on his pitch selection. He studies the tendencies of pitchers i to identify where they’re likely to attack him, and focuses on two-thirds of the plate — middle-in or middle-away — where he can identify a pitch to drive.
Because he has the strength to leave the yard to all fields, he concerns himself less with pitch type than location, feeling that he can catch a breaking ball in front of the plate and pull it with power or catch a fastball deeper and drive it to center or left.
The thought process stood out for its advancement.
“Every time I step into the box, I think I’m going to leave the yard,” said Kavadas.
He did that with tremendous frequency in college, particularly once he reconfigured his swing to feature a leg lift for Harwich in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2019. There, against top competition, the willingness to pursue power yielded impressive results.
Yet he went unselected in the abbreviated five-round draft of 2020. And even after launching 22 homers in 47 games in 2021, he stayed on the board until Day 3, when the Sox plucked him. He dropped in no small part because of questions about his position — some teams viewed him as a DH, though Kavadas has impressed others with his agility and hands at first base this year — and questions about whether his swing-for-the-fences approach would result in excessive holes.
“I was really frustrated,” he said. “I honestly thought that I had higher value coming into the draft. But I guess being a 22-year-old at the time, being a corner infielder, that’s all things that people can hold against you in that style of a draft.
“It was disappointing, but it’s just another chip on my shoulder, just something to motivate me and something that hopefully when you make it to the big leagues is a cool story.
““A lot of it’s personal. I wasn’t very highly recruited out of high school even. I had, like, two or three offers. I basically walked on at Notre Dame.
“No one has ever looked at me and said, ‘That’s a professional baseball player.’ But from the time I was 5 years old, I knew that I was a professional baseball player. Showing up every day and knowing that they don’t look at you like you’re a professional baseball player, what can you do today to change their mind? That’s kind of the goal.”
In his first full professional season, he’s doing just that, hitting .294 overall with a .458 OBP (sixth among minor leaguers with 200 plate appearances), .623 slugging mark (seventh), and 1.081 OPS (fifth) — an all-caps performance that suggests defiance of those who would overlook him.
▪ Lefthander Chris Murphy, just promoted to Worcester, has the second-lowest batting average allowed (.169) in all of minor league baseball (60 innings minimum) and ranks in the top 25 in ERA (2.58) and strikeout rate (29.8 percent).
▪ Righthander Thaddeus Ward, roughly 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, is slated to pitch in a Florida Complex League game this weekend. He has been throwing 92-94 m.p.h. while building up to games.
▪ Righthander Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz, a fourth-round pick in 2021, opened his career by posting a 0.00 ERA through his first three outings in the FCL, amassing 14 strikeouts while walking just two in 11 innings.
▪ Second baseman Nick Yorke has looked rusty in his return from a pair of injuries (turf toe and knee), hitting .188/.257/.281 with a shocking 14-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight games for High A Greenville.
▪ Worcester utilityman Ryan Fitzgerald, one of the most consistent performers in the system through the first two months of the season, saw his production tail off in June, hitting .196/.275/.326.
▪ Though righthander Chih-Jung Liu flashed improved stuff early this year, he has a 6.80 ERA while allowing an .889 OPS in his last 11 outings, spanning 42⅓ innings.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.