Open your lists, my friends, and get ready to add a name, because I found your new favorite baseball player. His name is Steven Kwan, he’s a 24-year-old rookie outfielder and he rules. He reigns enough that I don’t even feel so bad noting here that he plays for the sickening Cleveland Guardians.
Kwan was added to Cleveland’s opening roster for the 2022 season following his first career big league spring training. You immediately think it’s because the Guardians don’t intend to be good. And, sure, maybe a team willing to spend up to $85 million in league average payroll wouldn’t have an open field spot available for a guy with 32 total spring appearances on his resume. This is not the subject of this blog! Additionally, Kwan went 15 for 32 in spring training, with two walks and zero strikeouts, because his ability to put his bat on any pitch is downright bizarre.
How weird? How about this: Kwan, playing the first four games of his major league career, contacted each of his first 26 swings of the season. And it’s no silly contact: Kwan isn’t much of a dinger breaker, but he’s already had nine hits, including two doubles and a triple, in 19 plate appearances. And when he’s not kicking the ball all over the place and sabotaging 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 the second place in the majors. Here’s Kwan smoking a hat-trick in Sunday’s 10-7 win at Kansas City:
Your gears are turning now. Nine hits and five walks in 19 plate appearances… are you telling me this man was on base 14 times in four games, with a .737 on base percentage??? No, I’m not telling you that! Kwan was also hit by a pitch on Saturday. I tell you that man went to base 15 times in four games, with a base percentage of 0.789. I tell you further that he bats .692 and hits 1,000, and according to ESPN, his 15 on-base appearances in his first four career games are the most for any majors player since at least 1901.
The sample size is extremely small, but we’re not here to predict Steven Kwan’s greatness. We’re here to say we’d be happy to 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 does to pitch in the major leagues isn’t entirely irrelevant. MLB has a prospect report on Kwan that notes his “disciplined approach” [check]”a strange hand-eye coordination” [check]and “elite contact skills” [hell yes], and projects him as “a top guy who can deliver high on-base percentages”. Somebody buy that scout a fucking beer! Kwan’s manager, Terry Francona, noted that “there are a lot of player development people who have the trunk right now, as they should,” following Kwan’s senseless and unprecedented departure. No shit! If I had introduced young Kwan as a future OBP beast with a “strange” touch ability, right now I would be walking down the main street of my city wearing a huge velvet cape and a crown on my head.
To me, the most exciting thing baseball can do in the era of true three hits is a fast guy commanding the strike zone and hitting the ball all over the field. Baseball has more than enough beefs with big uppercut swings, which hit 100 times but compensate almost exclusively with fly-ball rates. Give me a guy who never hits and has an uncanny ability to field a ball through the infield and wheels to stretch the hit for extra bases. Steven Kwan hit 18 dingers in 1,700 plate appearances over more than six years as a college and professional baseball player. Power is simply not part of his deal. But at every level, he managed to achieve a high average and an even higher on-base percentage, as he is extremely good at identifying pitches and smashing them in places where there is no defensive player. To me, he’s the type of player that MLB desperately needs more of.
Kwan told the Ordinary Merchant he “can’t even believe he’s standing here” as a member of a big league club, and that his big start has “exceeded any fever dream I’ve ever had.” I’m afraid of waking up early enough. This whole experience has been amazing. That was before he came out on Sunday and hit the first three runs of his career, personally accounting for five of Cleveland’s 10 runs that day. The Guardians are now in Cincinnati for a quick two-game series, before returning to Cleveland for their opener on Friday, which means there’s still time for the people of Cleveland to plan and execute a parade in honor of Steven Kwan. It’s the least they can do!