Ask a Boston Red Sox fan about first-base prospects in the minor league pipeline and the name Tristan Casas is sure to be mentioned. Now at Triple-A Worcester, the former Sea Dogs slugger is on the cusp of joining the parent club at Fenway Park.
Beyond Casas, however, there’s another intriguing prospect. Niko Kavadas has been with Portland for only nine games and on Saturday belted his first Double-A home run. At 23, he’s a year older than Casas, who was a first-round pick in 2018 out of high school.
Kavadas, by contrast, played four years at Notre Dame and was passed over in the abbreviated five-round draft in 2020 after a junior year shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Red Sox drafted him in the 11th round in 2021, following a senior season in which he hit 22 home runs in 47 games for the Irish.
He broke camp with low Class A Salem in April for his first full professional season and by late June was averaging nearly a walk a game while also hitting 14 home runs. He earned a promotion to high-A Greenville and homered 10 more times over six weeks while continuing to display impressive plate discipline.
“He has a unique package of power and approach,” said Brian Abraham, Boston’s director of player development. “He does a really good job of not missing pitches in the zone that he can handle. He also does a good job of not expanding the strike zone.”
Including his short stint with the Sea Dogs, Kavadas has amassed an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1,043 this season. That’s the highest of any hitter in the Red Sox system. He has 92 walks to go along with 25 home runs. More than half of his 98 hits from him have gone for extra bases.
Sea Dogs hitting coach Doug Clark knew little about Kavadas in spring training, but heard plenty through the early months of the season from colleagues in Class A.
“We communicate up and down the levels,” Clark said, “so you hear the tremors of how he’s doing down there. You’re always looking forward to somebody who’s had success at the lower levels to get their chance to prove themselves at the next level.”
Clark calls Kavadas a cerebral player, someone who works hard, pays attention to detail and uses the whole field.
“We know that he can hit the ball hard,” Clark said. “We know that he has a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. … We’re always looking for someone who can impact the game in a big way and the home run is definitely a game-changer.”
Growing up in Indiana not far from the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Kavadas had two big sports dreams. One was to play professional baseball and the other was to play for Notre Dame, where he saw such future pros as Aaron Heilman and Jeff Samardzija pitch.
As a high school freshman, Kavadas took a spring break trip to watch his dad’s alma mater, Indiana University, a team featuring future big league hitters Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, both of whom spent time with the Red Sox. At 235 pounds, Kavadas has a build similar to that of the stocky Schwarber.
“Being 6-foot-1 and not 6-foot-4, my levers are a little shorter,” Kavadas said before a recent Sea Dogs game. “There’s not quite as much leverage, but I think there’s more barrel control. So I can swing with a little more aggression. It doesn’t have to be as perfect because the levers aren’t as long.”
In college, Kavadas played two seasons at third base before moving across the diamond to first. In high school, he played shortstop and center field before putting on “good weight” from a dedicated lifting program.
So the infield is still relatively new, and he continues to learn.
“He’s certainly a bigger guy but he moves around well,” said Abraham, the farm director. “There are some small things we’ve been able to clean up, that first step, being in good position. I see continued improvements in that area.”
As for moving up to Triple-A or the big leagues, Kavadas has learned to keep his focus between the white lines.
“Those are things that are completely uncontrollable, where you start and where you finish,” he said. ” You’re not going to promote yourself by worrying about where you are. You’re going to promote yourself by performing under the lights.”
The Sea Dogs open a six-game series at New Hampshire Tuesday before returning to Hadlock Field next week for the final scheduled homestand of the season, against Binghamton. They hold a half-game lead over first-half champ Somerset in the second-half playoff chase.
Should Somerset prevail in the second-half standings, the other divisional playoff berth would go to the team with the next-best overall record, likely Hartford.