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KANSAS CITY — They say, “Let the kids play,” and Guardians manager Terry Francona will do just that on Opening Day.
Cleveland’s skipper said on Wednesday afternoon that Steven Kwan will make his Major League debut on Thursday against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, playing right field.
With first baseman/outfielder Josh Naylor beginning the season on the injured list, the Guardians were left with either Bradley Zimmer or Kwan as the most likely candidates to start on Opening Day. And after Zimmer struggled through Cactus League play, the team opted to turn to Kwan for the opener.
Kwan — ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Guardians’ No. 15 prospect — already knew before Cleveland broke camp in Arizona not to expect everyday playing time, especially in his first few days in the Majors. And a debut against a hurler like Zack Greinke is no easy task. But the tools he boasts are hard to ignore. He’s comfortable in all three outfield spots, and he rarely swings and misses. Kwan was the only member of the Opening Day roster to go through Cactus League play (32 at-bats) without a strikeout.
“[Francona] just kind of prepared me that I won’t be playing every day like I was used to in the Minors,” Kwan said over the weekend. “Kind of keeping my eyes open, being a sponge, soaking it all up. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I don’t want to look too far into the future for those kind of things. That takes away from the everyday. Just happy to be here right now.”
The news of his impending debut comes just days after Kwan was informed he had made the big league squad. When he sat down with Francona on Saturday, the 24-year-old was positive that he didn’t make the team — thanks to a little acting on Francona’s part.
“Super un-fun for me to start,” Kwan quipped. “He started off saying, ‘Hey, we’re sorry we took so long to make a decision, but we appreciate you doing it.’ Just having that really somber mood.
“He’s like, ‘We know you worked so hard, but we’re sorry it took so long, we had to come to this decision.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m getting cut, that sucks.’ Kind of just preparing myself for it, but then he kind of took it a whole 180 on that and told me I made the team. So that was just a rollercoaster of emotions, but that was pretty fun.”
Who’s in left?
Along with announcing Kwan’s start, Francona said that he also determined Amed Rosario will play left field on Thursday. The decision allows Andres Gimenez to move to shortstop, which will mean Yu Chang will man second base. And while Rosario has only had one big league appearance in left field, Francona is confident that the shortstop’s athleticism and his brief time in the outfield during Spring Training this year and last will help him have a smooth transition.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Francona said. “I’m not going to say there won’t be a mistake or two. That’s not realistic, but I thought he got a real good jump on a ball the other day, came in on a liner. I think he’s quick enough and athletic enough … we’re not trying to get him to reinvent his arm action or things like that, so I think he’ll just play the game. He’s a good baseball player, so I think we’ll just try to get him to play baseball.”