Guardians' Steven Kwan likely won't fly under radar again this season

Jan. 24—Steven Kwan enjoyed the anonymity of wandering around Chicago during the offseason.

The 25-year-old Guardians outfield BETTER enjoy it, because if he keeps having the type of season he had his rookie year in 2022, the days of such luxuries of anonymity are coming to an end soon.

A fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft, Kwan burst onto the scene last summer when he hit .298 with six home runs, 52 RBI, 19 stolen bases and a magnificent strikeout-to-walk ratio of 62 walks and 60 strikeouts over 147 games.

After being a finalist for the American League Rookie of the Year Award and taking home a Gold Glove Award for his work in left field, Kwan said he went off the grid for a month or so to decompress.

PHOTOS: Cleveland Guardians' Guards Fest, Jan. 21, 2023

"I went to Chicago and kind of laid low. Didn't do anything," Kwan said during his stop at the Guards Fest earlier this week at the Cleveland Convocation Center. "I woke up at like noon every day, ate whatever I wanted to, played some video games."

And no one noticed him or threw shade at him in the city of the AL Central rival White Sox?

"No. Nobody knows who I am," he said, wrinkling his nose in disbelief that someone would actually know who he is. "I'm a very unassuming looking person. I don't think anyone walking down the street is like, 'Oh yeah, that's so-and-so.' I'm just another person out there."

Maybe "out there" — but not in Cleveland.

The emergence of Kwan as a bona fide outfielder with outstanding plate presence and defensive skills was a pleasant surprise for the Guardians last spring.

Coming into camp as a question mark last year, Kwan will come into training camp this year as one of the sure-fire things in Cleveland's lineup, which is primed to improve on last year's ledger when the Guardians went 92-70, won the AL Central and pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination in the American League Championship season.

Not only did Kwan light up the stat sheet and provide strong defense next to fellow Gold-Glover Myles Straw in center, but Kwan also etches his name into the franchise's future plans.

He said he'll go into spring training next month with the same attitude as last year, although the circumstances will be different.

"For the first half of (last) year, it was like, 'I need to survive. I need to make sure I'm productive,'" he said.

That's because he knew there was a treasure chest full of minor-league riches in the Guardians' organization itching for an opportunity. It's an opportunity Kwan took and ran with.

"I think now I can not only be confident, but breathe a little easier," he said. "It's kind of tough when you're looking over your shoulder to see who's coming. I think with that confidence and calmness (this year), you can help other people and be a better teammate and better person."

Kwan said he's a big fan of what the Guardians did in the offseason with the signings of first baseman/designated hitter Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino. Those new faces and the big bats they lug into Cleveland with them should make the Guardians that much more formidable this coming season. Adding Bell and Zunino to a lineup that includes the likes of Jose Ramirez, Andres Gimenez, Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Oscar Gonzalez, Gabriel Arias, Straw and Kwan gives the Guardians a potentially scary lineup, and that doesn't include a wealth of youngsters such as Will Brennan, Tyler Freeman, Will Benson and Bo Naylor — part of 17 rookies who made their major-league debuts last season.

Kwan said the 2022 Guardians took a lot of pride in being counted out. But as Manager Terry Francona said earlier this week, the 2023 Guardians don't aim to be a feel-good story again this year. They're ready for the next step.

"Nobody really believed in us. Everyone thought the AL Central belonged to somebody else," Kwan said, noting the team will still play the disrespect card this season. "I think some people think it was a fluke. Whatever narrative they want to drive, that underdog mentality is still there. We still have the fire with us."

The key is to improve, take nothing for granted and stay with an even keel, which Kwan said is a big reason why he was successful last season. He said getting too high emotionally or too low emotionally can cause a roller-coaster effect, one which he and his teammates want to avoid this year.

"I try to stay in the middle," he said. "Past success is no indicator of future success. You have to show up and suit up every day. It's a new pitcher and a new game every day, so just take it one day at a time."