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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Roemer

Student of the Game: Niko Kavadas

The sudden blaring of a train whistle stands out among the various layered noises of kernels popping, hot dog vendors shouting and the chatter of fans enjoying a chilly night at Polar Park. Seemingly unfazed by the noise, a sturdy six-foot-one frame takes long strides towards home plate. 


Widening his stance, the athlete plants his cleats and rests the bat on his shoulder momentarily while taking a few deep breaths before locking eyes with the pitcher. Holding the bat firmly between his fingers, he extends his arms from behind his head and takes an enormous swing.


After hearing a quick crack of the bat, it was no surprise that the ball soared over the heads of the outfielders and out of sight. The last name Kavadas printed on the back of the baseball jersey is noticeable to fans as the infielder for the Worcester Red Sox, Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, rounds the bases. 


Red Sox prospect Niko Kavadas was an 11th round draft pick by Boston back in 2021 and despite being a late selection, he has justified his worth of moving up the system throughout the past three seasons after many successful plate appearances. 


In just his first full year of professional baseball, he managed to compete for Boston’s low-A affiliate all the way to the double-A level, ultimately rounding out the year with a spot on an Arizona Fall League roster, and garnering minor league Offensive Player of the Year honors for the organization. 

Niko in a Salem Red Sox uniform. Photo taken by Danielle DiBenedetto

Through my three years of working in minor league baseball, I have seen the power he holds at the plate in action many, many times. From watching power hitters like David Ortiz to now Niko, it always mesmerized me how an individual could possess the insane amount of strength to launch a ball an incredible distance. I am sure there is a chapter somewhere in a physics textbook that could explain how all of the elements come together to make more sense of this, but I decided to go right to the source instead.


Two years ago I wrote: Kavadas Crushes 2022, to highlight his underdog story and how he looked to build upon such an impressive season. But recently, I made a trip to Worcester and was able to sit down with him to ask about how it is he studies the game to craft these successful plate appearances. 


He’s Got That Hitters Edge 

Though fans can see results of the hard work he puts in day-in and day-out at the professional level, I decided to dig deeper and gain more insight into his initial hitting training. I spoke with Michael Marks, the owner of Hitters Edge, a training facility that focuses on player development. 


Hitters Edge was founded in 2008 in Sturgis, Michigan, roughly an hour outside of Kavadas’ hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Marks started giving Niko instruction when he was in high school, as he would make the trek to the facility a few times a week to train. 


It took little to no time to notice Niko’s stellar work ethic that set him apart from the rest. 


“He was very stubborn in the sense that he did not like to fail even at a young age,” Marks said. “I would have to force him to take water breaks because he never wanted to stop taking reps during training.” 


Some of the aspects Kavadas focused on during his sessions were his rotation, swing plane, bat path and properly using his power. Marks intention was to take all the complicated elements and make them simple. Additionally, he assisted Niko in the college recruiting process. 


The time and dedication Niko put into his training paid off after he verbally committed to play for Notre Dame during the summer of 2016. He left as a very decorated alumni of the Penn High School baseball program after leading the team to the state championship as a sophomore and state runner-up as a senior. Additionally he was named All-State after falling in the state semifinal his junior season. 


“I was so excited when he committed to play college ball,” Marks said. “He was looked over by so many colleges during the recruiting process, but I think that really motivated him.” 


Once Niko concluded a successful four years with the Fighting Irish, he became the first Hitters Edge alum to get drafted alongside Riley Tirotta, who was tabbed by the Blue Jays organization two rounds later. 

Riley Tirotta and Niko at Hitters Edge during the offseason

Even though Niko is now on a big league schedule, he still makes time to go back to Hitters Edge during the offseason to put in more work. Marks has since opened a second location in Osceola, Indiana, which is only about 15 minutes from South Bend, expanding his opportunity to coach more hitters like Niko. 


“The fact that he comes back to the facility makes me happy and shows that he trusts me,” Marks said. “But I am always just so proud of him, there are a ton of people here rooting for him.” 

Knowledge = Power

 As Niko took that step forward in his career and transitioned to college baseball, his knowledge of the game began to advance as well with the help of some of his teammates. 


“I really got into studying the game more deeply when I was at Notre Dame,” Kavadas said. “Matt Vierling and a lot of the upperclassmen really set the expectations for that program which helped.” 


Former Notre Dame standout Matt Vierling was a fifth round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018 after spending three seasons with Notre Dame. He made his Major League debut on June 19, 2021 with Philadelphia, but is now a member of the Detroit Tigers 40-man roster after being traded to the organization in 2023. 


Similar to Marks, Vierling also quickly took notice of Niko’s raw power. 


“I was so impressed with him during his freshman year because he really held his own at the plate,” Vierling said. “Notre Dame competes against some pretty tough opponents, and he handled the opposing pitching well at such a young age.” 


Vierling explained to me that the process of studying was done more so individually than in a group, but that never stopped Niko from getting insight from others. 


“Niko was always asking questions to learn more about anything and everything,” Vierling said. “I really appreciated his willingness to learn because not everyone who comes into the college baseball scene has that type of drive.” 


Niko’s ambition led him down a path of success, as the two-time captain helped the Irish finish the 2021 season just one win short of a College World Series berth. 

Photo by Notre Dame Athletics

“I kept up with the team on their chase to the college world series and I really credit Niko for being one of the leaders in the program that helped the team get that far,” Vierling said. “I believe he is a big league hitter, it's just a matter of time now.” 


Niko left Notre Dame with a resume consisting of four All-American awards, including two first-team honors and first-team All-ACC awards, making him one of the first players to do so since joining the conference in 2014. He was also named to the USA Golden Spikes Midseason watch list and became the first Irish player to earn multiple first-team All-American honors in the same season since Steve Stanley in 2002.

 

Always Learning

Today, Niko is consistently in the lineup for the WooSox and has shined at the plate after struggling towards the end of 2023. Last year he finished the season hitting a combined .206 batting average, after spending the first half of the year in a Sea Dogs uniform before being promoted to Worcester.  

Photo by: Ashley Green, Worcester team photographer

When I spoke with him in 2022, he discussed setting goals for himself once he arrived in Fort Myers for spring training, but now takes a different approach. 


“I think in 2023 I was really hard on myself with the goals I set and that caused some stress when I started to fall behind,” Kavadas said. “Now instead of having yearly goals, I have daily ones that I set for myself and that has helped me attack each day.” 


So far in 2024 he has noticeably been making more contact with the ball. In the month of May alone he has accumulated a batting average near .300 and an OPS that sits in four figures.


“I study the opposing pitchers individually and what they may want to execute against left-handed power hitters,” Kavadas said. “Additionally I will study what the opposing organization may try to accomplish as a whole.” 


Credible media figures who cover the Red Sox have made it known that Niko should be in the running for a shot to make his Major League debut in the near future. So far this season, Boston has sent at least 15 men to the injured list, giving plenty of opportunities for their minor league players to move up the ladder. 


Regardless of all the postings analyzing his every move at the plate, Niko continues to focus on what he can control. 


“I am not really on social media so I don’t always see all of that,” Kavadas said. “But I do not really pay attention to it and just focus on what I need to do.” 

A handful of social media posts about Niko after his stellar performances at the plate.

Currently, he has accumulated 34 runs, 33 RBI, and leads Worcester in home runs with ten through 50 games and 152 plate appearances


Aside from studying and familiarizing himself with everything he may face during the series, I was surprised to learn that he does not have a set pre-game ritual. 


“Really I just wake up and drink a pot of coffee and do a crossword puzzle before getting my hips and body ready to put myself in a good position to launch.” Kavadas said. 

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