Introducing Steven Kwan, Your New Favorite Baseball Guy
10:37 AM EDT on April 12, 2022
Open your lists, my friends, and prepare yourself to add a name, for I have found your new favorite baseball guy. His name is Steven Kwan, he is a 24-year-old rookie outfielder, and he rules. He rules enough that I do not even feel all that bad noting, here, that he plays for the sickening Cleveland Guardians.
Kwan was added to Cleveland's opening-day roster for the 2022 season following his first career big-league spring training. Right away you are thinking this is because the Guardians do not intend to be good. And, sure, perhaps a team willing to spend to within $85 million of league-average payroll would not have an outfield spot available for a guy with 32 total spring at-bats on his résumé. That is not the concern of this blog! Besides, Kwan went 15-for-32 in spring training, with two walks and zero strikeouts, because his ability to put his bat onto any pitch is downright freakish.
How freakish? How about this: Kwan, playing the first four games of his big-league career, has made contact on each and every one of his first 26 swings of the season. And this is not baloney contact: Kwan isn't much of a dinger-smasher, but he's already got nine hits, including two doubles and a triple, in 19 plate appearances. And when he's not smacking the ball all over and hoofing it for extra bases, he's showing the patience and selectivity of a wise old veteran: Kwan walked five times in Cleveland's opening series, good for second-most in the majors. Here is Kwan smoking a bases-clearing triple in Monday's* 10–7 win in Kansas City:
Your gears are now turning. Nine hits plus five walks in 19 plate appearances ... are you telling me this man got on base 14 times in four games, with a .737 on-base percentage??? No, I am not telling you that! Kwan also was hit by a pitch on Saturday. I am telling you that this man got on base 15 times in four games, with a .789 on-base percentage. I am furthermore telling you that he is batting .692 and slugging 1.000, and that according to ESPN his 15 appearances on base over his first four career games are the most for any player in the majors since at least 1901.
The sample size is vanishingly tiny, but we are not here to forecast greatness for Steven Kwan. We are here to say that we would happily lie down in front of a steamroller and allow it to crush us flatter than a pancake as a show of devotion to this young hero. And anyway, what he's doing to major-league pitching isn't entirely out of character. MLB has a prospect report on Kwan that notes his "disciplined approach" [check], "uncanny hand-eye coordination" [check], and "elite contact skills" [hell yes], and projects him as "a leadoff type who can provide high on-base percentages." Someone buy that scout a damn beer! Kwan's manager, Terry Francona, noted that "there are a lot of player development people who have their chest out right now, as they should," following Kwan's insane, unprecedented start. No shit! If I had profiled young Kwan as a future OBP beast with "uncanny" contact hitting ability, right now I would be marching around my town's main street wearing a huge velvet cape and a crown on my head.
To me, the absolute most exciting thing baseball can burp up in the era of three true outcomes is a speedy guy who commands the strike zone and smacks the ball all over the field. Baseball has more than enough beefmen with big uppercut swings, who strike out 100 times but make up for it almost exclusively with fly-ball rates. Give me a guy who never strikes out and who has a preternatural ability to line a ball through the infield and the wheels to stretch the hit for extra bases. Steven Kwan has hit 18 dingers in 1,700 plate appearances across six-plus years as a college and professional baseball player. Power simply isn't part of his deal. But at every level he's managed to hit for a high average and an even higher on-base percentage, because he is extremely good at identifying pitches and smashing them to places where there is not a fielder. To me that is a player type of which MLB desperately needs more.
Kwan told the Plain Dealer he still "can't even believe he's standing here" as a member of a big-league club, and that his big start has "surpassed any fever dream I’ve ever had. I’m afraid I’m going to wake up pretty soon. This whole experience has been amazing.” That was before he went out Sunday and drove in the first three runs of his career, personally accounting for five of Cleveland's 10 runs on the day. The Guardians are now in Cincinnati for a quick-two game series, before heading back to Cleveland for their home-opener on Friday, meaning there is still time for the people of Cleveland to plan and execute a parade in Steven Kwan's honor. It's the least they can do!