Game 1 Loss Highlights How Important This Young Star Is For Cleveland

The Cleveland Guardians won their first series on a home run from rookie Oscar Gonzalez, but their Game 1 loss to the Yankees showed it’s a different first-year who’s leading the team. Leadoff hitter and AL Rookie of the Year contender Steven Kwan represents the grit, youth, and old-school style that the Guardians have relied on all season.
Kwan entered the season as a relatively unheralded prospect in the Guardians’ system. He had always been known for his exceptional contact skills, but a sudden power outburst the previous season had raised hopes he could become a viable big league player. Suffice to say, he has proven that and more. With a .298 batting average, .373 on-base percentage and 19 steals, Kwan’s well-rounded play earned him an exceptional 5.5 wins above replacement, third on the team. His stats suffered from a slump in the middle of the season, but he entered the playoffs on an absolute tear.
The big knock on Kwan’s game is, no surprise, the lack of power. Despite his good stats, he ranks near the bottom of the league in average exit velocity, hard hit rate and barrel rate. Compared to other modern hitters, Kwan’s stats are going to rely a lot more on luck, since he isn’t hitting the ball out of the park very often. To hit home runs, Kwan really has to pull the ball - all 6 of his homers this year were hit down the right field line. But as game 1 showed, that makes Yankee Stadium an advantage for him.
Throw in the narrative aspect, with Yankees fans reportedly yelling racial slurs at Kwan and mocking him after he was injured in a game in April, and the stage is set perfectly for some Randy Arozarena-style heroics.

The Guardians may be down early in the series, and they’re undoubtedly the underdogs against the powerhouse Yankees. But with Kwan leading the charge, the youngest team in baseball isn’t backing down from the challenge.

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports