Who is the Guardians' break-out star rookie Steven Kwan?
Cleveland Guardians rookie outfielder Steven Kwan has captured baseball’s attention.
In the team’s four-game series against Kansas City, Kwan became the first player since at least 1901 to reach base 15 times in his first four career games.
Commentator Terry Pluto said Kwan overcame many obstacles to make it on to the Opening Day roster.
Kwan played baseball at his high school in Freemont, Calif. He was a good player, but Kwan told Pluto he was always told he wouldn't "make it."
Pluto says for one, Kwan isn't built like a typical major-leaguer: "He's maybe 5-foot-9, and he looks like the guy who should be picking up the towels in the locker room, not playing the outfield," Pluto said.
Still, Kwan was recruited to play at Oregon State, one of the top-20 programs in the country. But even that wasn't easy.
"Kwan said to me, 'I needed to get a three-point GPA.' Well, he went into his senior year at 2.9, and his mom is all over him. Well, he got a 3.1 to get it up to three points," Pluto said.
Then, Kwan struggled his freshman year at Oregon. "He walked out there as the smallest guy in the field, and he's not hitting," Pluto said.
Then the doubts started to set in.
"In the back of his mind, there was a junior college coach in his area who had told him, 'Well, when it doesn't work out there, you can come back and play for me.' In other words, saying, you're not going to be who you think you are," Pluto said.
Kwan's determination and dedication
That kicked Kwan's determination into overdrive.
"He redid his whole swing as a freshman, and then the next two years became a leadoff hitter on a team that won the College World Series," Pluto said.
"He has a little bit of that edge. He's very friendly, but you could tell he knows he's had to fight for everything."Terry Pluto
The road to the starting lineup in Cleveland
Then, Pluto said Kwan was stunned when Cleveland selected him in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
Pluto said Cleveland has been working to develop more players like Kwan.
"They are trying to change how they look at baseball players, as opposed to just the big guy that hits these fly balls and home runs and strikes out. [They want] more well-rounded players, and they're watching Kwan get on base all the time [in college]."
Kwan got off to a good start in 2019, batting .280 with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Then, COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season for the minor leagues. So, in 2021, Kwan had to try to pick back up where he left off.
And he did.
"I was watching him [at Spring Training] in 2021, and he's hitting singles and doubles. He then he goes out and hits .328 between double and AAA.
Still, Kwan struggled to get much attention.
"When the big prospect list came out, like Baseball America, he's on the list, but it's still kind of like, 'Oh, it's a little iffy.' But he goes to Spring Training [this year] and he acts like he's back at Oregon State. So they put him on the team," Pluto said.
Pluto also says Kwan focused on his discipline.
"He said the big thing that his mom said to him, because he said he was a little bit of a party guy, sometimes no more drinking at all. Get on the right kind of diet. You got to get stronger. He doesn't really believe he would have made it this this far this quickly without her kind of being on him," Pluto said.
Pluto also says Kwan does carry a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
"He has a little bit of that edge. He's very friendly, but you could tell he knows he's had to fight for everything," Pluto said.
A star in the making?
"Well, people put limits on him all the time, and all he does is break through them. He's 24. He's vaulted up fast. And remember, 85% of players go back to the minor leagues at least once, and about half go back twice or more," Pluto said.
Still, he says the Guardians have long been looking for an outfielder who can hit. "They finally might have one," he said.