baseball

Steven Kwan should find it hard to avoid the spotlight for the Guardians in 2023

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Steven Kwan spent the early part of this offseason embracing his inner couch potato and laying low in a Chicago apartment. He slept late, played video games and ate whatever he wanted as his body recovered rom the longest season of his professional career.

Not many Chicagoans noticed when he walked the streets, nor did he expect them to.

“Nobody knows who I am out there,” Kwan told reporters at Guards Fest on Saturday. “It’s such a big city and I’ve just been learning to explore it. But yeah, nobody, I’m just a little kid out there.

Following a season that saw him finish third in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting, win a Gold Glove Award in left field and establish himself as a fixture at the top of manager Terry Francona’s lineup, it seems unlikely that the Guardians’ 25- year-old spark plug will be just another face in the crowd in 2023.

It’s more probable that he will be one of the faces of the franchise.

Kwan said he took a lot of pride in the way his 2022 season unfolded, as all of his teammates did. He said nobody believed in Cleveland at the beginning of the season.

“Everybody kind of thought that the AL Central belonged to somebody else and then for us to just go through the schedule and become close as a team and win out, that was really rewarding for us,” Kwan said. “To be able to build off of that going into the next year is really exciting.”

That underdog mindset won’t change for Kwan as he prepares for year two, and that has as much to do with the blue-collar mentality of the city where he plays as it does his team or situation.

“Even though we had that year, some people probably think it’s a fluke, or that kind of baseball doesn’t work, whatever narrative they want to drive,” Kwan said. “But that underdog mentality is still there, especially with us being as young as we are, we still have that fire with us.”

Adding a power bat in Josh Bell to the middle of the lineup and a veteran catcher with some pop at the plate in Mike Zunino should make Cleveland’s lineup even more dangerous, according to Kwan.

Bell, in particular, brings a certain presence to the middle of the order.

“He’s a really intimidating guy,” Kwan said. “You kind of want as many tough guys on your team as possible to strike fear in the other team. Complete hitter, great defender, he seems like a great guy.”

A deep playoff run gave Kwan and his teammates experience, and facing a tough Yankees lineup in the division series proved to everyone in the clubhouse that the young Guardians could stand toe-to-toe with any team in the league.

“Even though we’re not rookies, comparatively, we’re still a lot younger than everybody else and we don’t take that lightly,” Kwan said. “It makes us feel really comfortable because we’ve played a lot with each other in the minor leagues, so it’s kind of like we’re playing ball again. The cities are a little bigger and the games mean a little more, but at the core of it, we’re still just playing ball with our boys.”

Kwan aims to take last year’s success and spin it forward into 2023, meanwhile avoiding the urge to second-guess himself at the start of the year.

“It’s kind of tough when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and seeing who’s coming,” Kwan said. “With that confidence and calmness, you can help other people along the way and be a better teammate and a better person.”

But Kwan is aware that heading into 2023 with a sense of overconfidence can be dangerous. The key, he said, is to work at “staying neutral” and not getting too high or too low.

“I try to always stay in the middle,” he said. “It’s easier to say that than actually do it, but it’s always kind of having that consistent mindset of past success is no indicator of future success. You’ve gotta show up, suit up every day. It’s a new pitcher, it’s a new game every day, so just take it one day at a time.”

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