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CLEVELAND — There was no arguing against the fact that Steven Kwan had an incredible rookie season. The only issue for him is that Julio Rodr?guez and Adley Rutschman did, too.
Kwan came just shy of becoming the first Cleveland player to win the American League Rookie of the Year award since Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1990. Kwan placed third in this year’s vote, trailing Rodr?guez (who took home the hardware) and Rutschman (who came in second), as announced on MLB Network on Monday night. Just two teams have gone longer than Cleveland without a Rookie of the Year winner: The Orioles (1989, Gregg Olson) and Padres (1987, Benito Santiago).
“It’s a huge honor [to be a finalist],” Kwan said on MLB Network prior to the announcement. “I didn’t really expect my role to be so big at the beginning of the year. … Just being in the same conversation as those other two guys is an extreme honor. So, definitely humbled to be here.”
The fact that Kwan doesn’t have a new trophy to put on the shelf next to his 2022 Gold Glove Award doesn’t take anything away from his incredible season. Kwan red all AL rookies in hits (168) and runs (89), and he owned the second-highest fWAR of left fielders in the Majors (4.4), trailing just Yordan Alvarez (6.6). And for the Guardians, Kwan was the definition of a textbook leadoff hitter, leading his team in average (.298) and on-base percentage (.373), while drawing the second-most walks on the squad (62) behind the threatening power bat of Jos? Ram?rez (69).
It’s difficult to steal the spotlight from the heavy hitters in today’s game. In 132 games, Rodr?guez hit 28 homers and knocked in 75 RBIs. But the fact that a contact-oriented, fast and scrappy type of player like Kwan did enough to catch attention to be a finalist for this award speaks for itself.
“It’s definitely really rewarding,” Kwan said. “Obviously, you’re coming through the Minors and you’re hearing power is the big thing now. Power is sexy. Home runs are sexy. It’s slug, strikeout or walk. I have a little bit of power, but I don’t have the kind of pop that everybody else has. It’s sticking to my game, sticking to what I can do, not getting discouraged … it’s definitely rewarding to see that pay off.”
The spotlight began following Kwan on Opening Day. He is known for unbelievable patience at the plate and immediately put that on display, going 116 pitches into his MLB career before his first swing and miss, the most of any player to start a career since at least 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Kwan struggled briefly in May, but he proved he belonged in the Majors by quickly making adjustments to get himself back on track. He didn’t slow down once the calendar flipped to June, figuring out ways to continue to improve. By the end of the season, Guardians manager Terry Francona would joke that Kwan didn’t even seem like a rookie anymore.
Kwan ended his 2022 season with 25 doubles, seven triples, 52 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and 62 walks with just 60 strikeouts in 147 games. His 9.4 strikeout percentage was the second lowest in the Majors. His outstanding defense resulted in a Gold Glove Award. Now, all that’s left is for him to figure out how to get even better for 2023.
“Just being more confident in the kind of hitter I am and who I can be,” Kwan said. “Just taking some chances, taking some calculated risks in certain counts I think is the biggest thing. … Just going back to the drawing board, watching how people were pitching me, what their plans were and then just kind of execute something for next year.”