Red Sox MiLB Player of the Year Niko Kavadas Crushes Baseballs

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Niko Kavadas climbed multiple levels in his first full professional season. Moreover, he was one of the best hitters in the minors. Drafted in the 11th round last year by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound first baseman slashed .280/.442/.547 with 26 home runs, those numbers coming between Low-A Salem, High-A Greenville, and Double-A Portland. His 170 wRC+ ranked third highest among MLB farmhands who logged at least 300 plate appearances.

I recently asked Portland Sea Dogs development coach Katie Krall what makes Boston’s 2022 Minor League Player of the Year as good as he is.

“Niko understands his thumbprint as a hitter,” she said of Kavadas, who came to the plate 515 times and augmented his 110 hits with 102 walks. “He knows where he does damage. He’s got a disciplined approach in terms of the types of pitches he’s looking to hit and doesn’t chase a lot. If you look at his heat map, he does most of his damage belt to below, so a message we’ve tried to hammer home with him is to focus on that. He’s really bought into it. Even here in Double-A, where he hasn’t had the same results that he did in Greenville, the underlying processes are trending in the right direction.”

Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham offered a similar assessment. Citing Kavadas’ combination of power and plate discipline, he expressed that the left-handed hitter is unique in that he “almost has a contact approach that produces power.”

Asked if he could provide a comp for Kavadas, Abraham chewed on the question before answering: “Maybe Luke Voit?”

Krall, meanwhile, offered an eyebrow-raising comp.

“If you look at his base, he’s actually very similar to Albert Pujols,” she told me. “It’s really quiet. He’s got a strong foundation. He’s solid, he isn’t fidgety, and that allows him to stay within himself. That’s probably where the comp ends — we’re talking about a Hall of Famer — but if you watch him in the box, the way that he bends, the way that he holds himself, his posture, even his bat path. That’s someone our hitting coaches and I have identified. If you close your eyes, and if Niko [were] a little bit bigger, you can see Albert hitting.”

While he was initially hesitant to admit it, Kavadas said the Pujols comparison is one that he’s heard. Again, it’s based on what he looks like in the box, and not, despite a future that looks promising, his chances of one day joining baseball’s newest 700-home-run hitter in Cooperstown.

“He and I are very still and quiet early on, and then there’s a little bit of a leg lift as a timing mechanism,” Kavadas explained. “He’s a little more direct to the ball than I am — that’s something I’m working on — and he’s obviously right-handed while I’m left-handed. The comps I’ve heard most often are Max Muncy and Kyle Schwarber. Especially with Schwarber, it would be the patience at the plate and then when you do decide to let the swing go, you really let it go. That’s one way he and I are similar.”

The ability to hit baseballs long distances is another similarity. Kavadas hit a 430-foot-plus moonshot in Game One of the Eastern League playoffs last week, and he reportedly more than matched that distance multiple times at Notre Dame. He also reached base at an impressive clip. In his final collegiate season, he paired 22 home runs in 220 plate appearances with a .473 OBP. That he didn’t go higher in the draft put a chip on his shoulder.

“There was a lot of frustration that came with that process,” said Kavadas, who heard 315 names called before his own. “I felt like I had proven enough to go prior to the 11th round. I was still sitting there at the end of the 10th round, and going to bed that evening I told myself that I wasn’t going to let it deter me. I know that I can swing it, and I know I can swing it at the highest level. So the round, whether it was the 11th or the third, wasn’t going to matter. I decided that I was going to come out here and show the entire country that I can swing the bat.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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