When the minor league baseball season was unceremoniously canceled in 2020, many players were left in the lurch, with nowhere to train or hone their skills if they weren’t invited to their teams’ alternate sites.
Many players, that is, except one who happens to co-own a baseball training facility as a family business.
That minor leaguer is O’s infield prospect Terrin Vavra. That business is Triple Threat Training, which he runs with his two older brothers, about 10 minutes from their hometown in Wisconsin.
“It’s a hitting facility where we’ve got cages, and it’s all turfed up, and we’ve got machines,” Vavra said in an interview on MASN All Access. “And it was kind of my saving grace throughout this crazy time because I was able to go in and get my work in and still get better in a time where a lot of people were out of a spot to do that.”
Terrin’s brothers preceded him in professional baseball. Tanner and Trey Vavra were both drafted by the Minnesota Twins one year apart — Tanner in the 30th round in 2013, Trey a 33rd-rounder in 2014 — but neither rose further than High-A Fort Myers. Both are now assistant baseball coaches at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
It’s no surprise that baseball runs in their blood. Their dad, Joe, spent five years in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system in the early ’80s, topping out at Triple-A, before becoming a minor league manager and major league coach. He served as the Detroit Tigers’ hitting coach as recently as last year before being let go after the season (he was replaced, ironically enough, by former Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh).
“When you grow up around the game, you kind of gravitate towards it,” Terrin said. “So I’ve been very fortunate to have my dad and my brothers to kind of lead the way and set a good foundation for me, and it worked out.”
While Vavra, who turns 24 next month, has yet to play above High-A, he’s already achieved the kind of prospect status that none of his family members did. He’s ranked the Orioles’ ninth best prospect by FanGraphs and 12th by MLB Pipeline. Before the O’s acquired him last August in the Mychal Givens trade (along with Tyler Nevin, a fellow son of a pro baseball player), Vavra was a top-10 prospect in the Colorado Rockies’ system, too, peaking at No. 7 on MLB Pipeline’s list in 2020.
Vavra is a native of Menomonie, Wis., a town you’ve probably never heard of but is delightfully fun to say. (I like to sing it to the tune of “Mah Na Mah Na” from The Muppet Show.) A standout high school baseball career landed him a scholarship at the University of Minnesota, where he served as the Golden Gophers’ starting shortstop for three years. Though back injuries limited him early, he was a quality hitter from the get-go, showing stellar on-base skills. In his junior year, fully healthy, he added power to the mix for a full-fledged offensive breakout. That season, he batted .386/.455/.614 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in 58 games, earning team MVP and First Team All American honors while leading Minnesota to the best record in the Big Ten.
The Rockies made him a third round pick in 2018. Vavra continued to flash his offensive potential in two seasons in Colorado’s organization, first at short-season Boise in 2018 (.302/.396/.467 in 44 games), then High-A Asheville in 2019 (.318/.409/.489 in 102 games). The latter season, which also included 10 home runs, 52 RBIs, 18 steals, and as many walks as strikeouts (62 each), won Vavra the South Atlantic League MVP award.
“He works counts and knows the strike zone extremely well,” writes MLB Pipeline. “The switch-hitter manipulates the bat head and doesn’t get fooled, consistently squaring up the baseball and spraying line drives to all fields from both sides of the plate. It is a hit-first profile with fringe to average power, though he’s shown more from the left side of the plate thus far.”
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen is similarly bullish on Vavra’s hitting talent. “I love how athletic his swing is and how well he tracks pitches deep into the hitting zone ... He is adept at picking out pitches he can drive until he has to expand with two strikes, peppering the middle of the diamond with liners.”
“I think I live up the middle,” Vavra said. “The middle is kind of where I’m trying to hit the ball every time, line drive up the middle. That way you can react to pitches inside, outside, wherever they are, and try to do damage wherever the ball’s pitched.”
While Vavra is adept at making contact, questions persist about whether the 6-foot-1 middle infielder will develop much power. His excellent 2019 minor league numbers were in part inflated by a very friendly home ballpark, as Jeff Aberle of SBNation’s Rockies blog Purple Row pointed out: “Asheville is a great home park for left-handed hitters and Vavra took full advantage: Vavra’s monster 1.124 home OPS dwarfed his pedestrian .636 road OPS.”
Defensively, Vavra has split his time between shortstop (81 games) and second base (57 games) in his two year pro career, and the Orioles also worked him out in center field after acquiring him last year. “I think they saw me move around out on the field and they saw that it might be a good opportunity for me to be able to contribute and get in the lineup and help the team win,” Vavra said.
That defensive versatility could help him if he doesn’t project as a regular at one position. MLB Pipeline says “he could easily be an offensive-minded utility type who hits his way into the lineup every day,” while Longenhagen projects him as “a valuable multi-positional role player in the Eric Sogard mold.”
Perhaps the Eric Sogard comparison doesn’t excite you, but he’s an 11-year veteran who has carved out a nice career for himself, and Vavra might have a higher offensive ceiling than Sogard (though he can’t come close to matching him in #nerdpower). Vavra could make a play in a couple of years for the everyday second base job, where the O’s currently have a gaping hole, but even if he’s more of a bench guy, he could still become a useful contributor to a winning team.
Vavra was a camp reserve at spring training, appearing in 10 Grapefruit League games but getting only five at-bats, with one hit and four strikeouts. He’s likely ticketed for Double-A Bowie to open the minor league season in May, where he’ll get his first taste of professional competition since joining the organization. How he fares in his new hitting environment will go a long way in determining his future role with the Birds.