Dreaming of one day reaching the Major Leagues, Steven Kwan knew while growing up that he wasn’t ever going to be a hulking slugger. So, he had to adapt his game to suit his frame.
“I think I saw very early that I wasn’t gonna be one of the bigger kids, hitting home runs out of the ballpark and everything,” Kwan told MLB Network Radio on Thursday. “My dad always kind of hammered in my head that you’ve gotta find other ways to impact the game, whether that’s baserunning, defense -- he loved the cliché ‘defense never slumps.’”
Kwan’s young career has served as a testament to his dad’s mantra. The left fielder, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, has won two Gold Glove Awards in two big league seasons for the Guardians, while also posting a 111 OPS+ at the plate.
If impacting the game in ways other than launching homers was the goal, Kwan has certainly achieved it so far. He's also become one of the most important players on Cleveland’s roster, both at the plate and in the field.
For the Guards to get back to where they want to be after missing the postseason in 2023, they’ll need Kwan to continue being the low-strikeout/high-walk machine he’s been over his first two seasons. If you ask Kwan, he'll say he fell below his standards in those departments last year -- but those standards, particularly for today’s game, are pretty high.
“This last year was my first year I’ve ever fallen under that 1:1 ratio [of strikeouts to walks],” Kwan said. “ … That was the first time I struck out more than I was walking, so … these things compound in your head. It’s not a healthy way to play the game. I think letting go of that stigma was super important, but that was definitely something I held very close to my chest.”
The Guardians took a step back last season, finishing 76-86 after winning the American League Central in 2022. On top of that, Cleveland is in the midst of the longest World Series title drought in the Majors -- 75 years. And longtime manager Terry Francona, one of the most beloved skippers in the game’s history, retired after the ’23 campaign.
But Kwan, along with superstar third baseman José Ramírez, former Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase and the rest of the club, will have a new manager at the helm who inspires confidence that Cleveland can turn things around in a hurry.
As Stephen Vogt takes the reins, Kwan’s enthusiasm for welcoming the new manager goes deeper than just his resume and personality.
“I’m super excited,” Kwan said. “Obviously, he was an All-Star a couple times with the A’s, and I grew up in the Bay Area … Stephen Vogt is always in the news, he’s always out there. So I definitely knew the name. I was a fan before all of it. … He seems super genuine, super authentic.”
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