Niko Kavadas says that he feels good at the plate now.
That should come as bad news to future opponents of the Notre Dame baseball team.
Kavadas, a former star at Penn High School, has found his swing the past few weeks.
“I’m feeling really good now,” said Kavadas prior to an exhibition game versus the South Bend Cubs Wednesday night at Four Winds Field. “I feel locked in at the plate. I feel like I’m going to hammer every ball now.”
Kavadas, a sophomore, is hitting .224 this season and has started all 26 games. The third baseman has eight homers, 24 RBIs and a .510 slugging percentage. The 6-0, 240-pounder crushed a homer Tuesday night in a 17-7 home loss to Central Michigan.
“I like the way that Niko is trending now,” said Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki. “Early on this season he struggled with his timing and some mechanical things. He’s a lot better now with his timing and his mechanics. He’s been really good the last two weeks.”
“I never doubted that he was going to hit. Niko’s a hitter.”
Kavadas, who helped Penn win a state title, made 38 starts a year ago. He hit .299 with five homers and 20 RBIs.
“I did start slow this year,” Kavadas remarked. “I was trying to do too much and was flying off the ball. I felt like I had to make my presence known early after a good year last year. Now, I’m staying within myself. I feel like I’m going to hammer every ball.”
Kavadas has done some nice work with the glove this season.
“Defensively, we’re dealing with a whole new person this season,” Aoki commented. “He’s played a really good third base for us this year.”
Kavadas said that a focus on his physique has paid off big time this season on defense.
“Last year I was a big, clunky kid,” said Kavadas with a smile. “Playing the infield was unchartered waters for me (Kavadas played outfield at Penn). This year I’m a lot more trimmer. I focused big on my nutrition in the offseason. Now I’m super confident in the field.”
The Irish are 11-15 overall and 6-6 in the ACC with a young roster.
“We have a lot of potential on this team,” emphasized Kavadas. “We have beaten Clemson and Florida State. We are capable of beating anyone when we play to the best of our ability. We just can’t step out there and expect to win because we are Notre Dame.”
Kavadas, the lone player from Indiana on the Irish roster, did get two at-bats Wednesday night in what turned out to be a 1-0 Cubs win in a five-inning contest. He popped up to third and flew out to short left from his No. 4 spot in the Irish lineup.
The Irish will host ACC foe Virginia Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoon as they continue a current nine-game homestand.
Kavadas is set to have a huge opportunity this summer.
He will play for Harwich (Mass) in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
“I’m extremely blessed and happy to get the chance to play in the Cape Cod League this summer,” noted Kavadas. “It’s a dream come true.
“My ultimate goal is to play pro ball and I think that this exposure will definitely help me.”
The big winner Wednesday night were a pair of local charities.
The exhibition game, which was canceled due to weather the past two years, had proceeds go to the Center for the Homeless and the Samantha Hickey Foundation, which raises money for the Pediatric Care Center at Memorial Hospital.
“This is just a win-win situation,” said Aoki. “It’s an opportunity to raise money for the Samantha Hickey Foundation. “It’s also a pretty cool opportunity for our guys. All of them want this opportunity (to play pro baseball).
“Joe Hart (South Bend Cubs president) has just done a phenomenal job here.”
The contest, played in front of a good-sized crowd, saw the debut of highly-touted Cubs prospect Brailyn Marquez. The 20-year old left-hander, who pitched in South Bend late last season, worked the first three innings. The 6-4, 180-pounder from the Dominican Republic is the No. 3 rated prospect in the organization.
Marquez walked the first two hitters he faced, but consistently hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
“This is probably the coldest weather that he has pitched in,” said first-year Cubs skipper Buddy Bailey of Marquez. “The weather has been good here the past two days, but a lot of these guys have never played in colder weather.
“He’s a young kid and it’s a learning process. He will make some adjustments and I expect him to progress and get better as the season goes like all of our players here.”
Cole Roederer, the No. 5 prospect in the organization, started in center field Wednesday night and hit second in the Cubs lineup. Roederer, who hails from California, is just 19.
Bailey enters his 31st year as a minor league manager. He is in his 14th season in the Cubs organization and has 2,064 wins, just the 11th manager with 2,000 wins. He previously spent time in the Braves and Red Sox organizations.
“There’s going to be a learning curve, but so far so good,” said Bailey of his new team. “I expect our guys to put in a good day’s work and make a commitment to it every day. The only way you get better is by putting in 100 percent every day.”
Notre Dame, which has just three seniors on its roster this season, gave a lot of young guys an opportunity to play Wednesday night.
“It’s an opportunity to see how they react and it’s also an evaluation thing for us too,” Aoki said.
A trio of freshmen, Alex Rao, Evan Tenuta and Henry Gladson, pitched for the Irish.
The Cubs, who have seven players who played in South Bend at one time last season, are scheduled to open the season Thursday night.
South Bend is slated to host West Michigan Thursday at 7:05 p.m. The homestand concludes Friday with a 7:35 game with West Michigan before the Cubs then play at West Michigan Saturday and Sunday.
The Cubs, who will host the Midwest League All-Star game this summer, are 1-12 on Opening Day since 2006.