First things first, I just want to say that I know he’s only played four career games, but that doesn’t take away from how insane Cleveland’s 24-year-old rookie, Steven Kwan, has been during this stretch. In 19 plate appearances, Kwan has recorded nine hits (three extra-base hits) and six walks for a triple slash of .692/.790/1.000. The man is averaging a base every time he comes up to the plate and hasn’t hit a single home run. That’s just incredible no matter which way you try to slice it.
To demonstrate just how special this four-game stretch has been, I need to take you all the way back to 1901. Ah yes, back before we ever thought a world war was a possibility, let alone two of them, baseball was alive and well serving as America’s pastime. That’s also the first time a player started their career reaching base 13 or more times in their first four games. Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie started his American League career (played in the National League from 1896-1900) with a bang, recording 12 hits and a walk in his first four career games. Technically that is considered a start of his career since the American and National Leagues were entirely separate entities until the second National Agreement was signed in 1903. It’s a technicality, but I’ll allow it.
Since then, only Kazuo Matsui (Mets, 2004) and Jay Bruce (Reds, 2008) have accomplished the same feat. I think it’s safe to say that Matsui’s was the most impressive of these three. Not only was he the only one to smack a dinger during this stretch, but he also drew seven walks. SEVEN! I’m a sucker for plate discipline so maybe I’m biased, but still...SEVEN TIMES!
Kwan blew past that record though. He didn’t just reach base for the 14th time and quit. Kwan had to make sure he extended the record and did so in emphatic fashion with a bases loaded triple to right. Those were his first runs batted in of the season as well.
However, this isn’t just a great stretch among rookies. Since 2010, it has only happened 59 other times. Some of the players who’ve accomplished this feat include Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, and Joe Mauer. It’s not a feat that just anyone can accomplish. You really have to dig in and be confident at the plate. There are some random players who managed to do this like Danny Valencia, Andrew Benintendi, and Rajai Davis, but every other player on that list has at least one All-Star appearance to their name.
What makes this stretch from Kwan even nuttier is that Kwan wasn’t even considered a top prospect. He wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’ Top 100 and was outside the top-ten for the Guardians. Why? Beats me. Kwan dominated at every level of the minor leagues, never hitting less than .300 at any level other than High-A. While Kwan did struggle somewhat with Lynchburg, he bounced back in a big way in 2021 after COVID destroyed his chance at playing in 2020, slashing .337/.411/.539 with Double-A affiliate Akron before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus where he slashed .311/.398/.505. Yeah, not too shabby. For someone who was able to record those figures, it seems strange that he’d be ranked so low in his own farm system.
Sure, he doesn’t have much power, but he’s got great speed. He’s not a prolific base stealer, but he’s very aggressive on the basepaths and can routinely make doubles out of what would normally be singles. We’ve seen him do that on more than one occasion at the Major League level already.
Kwan also rarely ever strikes out. Through four games, he still hasn’t swung and missed at a single pitch. In 2021, through Double and Triple-A, Kwan struck out just 31 times in 341 plate appearances (9.1 percent). To put that in perspective, there were only two qualified players in all of MLB to record a strikeout rate under ten percent last season — the Angels’ David Fletcher and the Pirates’ Kevin Newman. While Kwan’s BABIP is sure to fall from its current .692 mark (especially with only a 30.8 percent hard contact rate), Kwan’s strengths as a player are perfect for the two hole in any MLB lineup. He’s got great timing as a hitter, as evidenced by his 53.8 percent hit rate to center field, and although his high ground ball rate may turn people off for fear of hitting into double plays, Kwan’s speed should be able to mitigate that risk.
The Cleveland Guardians don’t have many expectations in 2022. This past offseason, people seemed more worried about their lawsuit with a local roller derby team than whether or not James Karinchak could bounce back from a shaky second half to bolster the Guardians’ bullpen. That’s not the sign of a team with World Series aspirations.
Therefore, a base hit machine like Kwan is exactly what the Guardians need to garner fan interest and stay competitive in the lackluster AL Central. Don’t get me wrong. No matter how great Kwan is, this is still Chicago’s division to lose, but if Kwan can maintain an All-Star-caliber pace through the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cleveland is in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in September. Franmil Reyes and Ramírez will be more than capable of driving Kwan home as long as he keeps reaching base, and for a team that finished outside the top half of the league in runs last season, Kwan’s incredible stretch is a welcome surprise.