How Cleveland’s Stephen Kwan became an MLB opening star over the weekend

by Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB writer

Stephen Kwan It came out of nowhere – but only if you weren’t paying attention.

The 24-year-old was the biggest storyline of the opening weekend. On Monday afternoon, Stephen Kwan’s topic ranked fourth on the list of the most popular topics nationwide on Twitter after “The GOAT,” “Britney Spears,” and “#NationalPetDay.”

In the first few days of MLB’s return to action, the Red Sox and the Yankees played a tight, competitive series, Max Scherzer returned to the national park, Shohei Ohtani starred against the Astros, the Braves earned World Series rings, and Vlad Jr. He hit the longest home distance of his career. But all anyone could talk about, post, or tweet about was a 5-foot-9 rookie player for the Cleveland Guardians.

And for good reason.

In a team four game against Kansas City, Cowan became the first player in the live ball era (since 1920) to reach base 15 times in the first four games of his career. He knocked out his first major league streak in his life with a comical hitting average of 0.692 and a playful 1.789 OPS.

Beating up isn’t supposed to be that easy, and honestly, it wouldn’t be for Kwan moving forward. Nobody hits 692 forever – not even in the movies. Big league bowlers will adapt and find his weaknesses. The natural laws of baseball will bring the pendulum back toward equilibrium, and the average hitting koan will eventually start with three or two instead of six.

But it’s probably a triple because Cowan’s beating with his left hand is more than just a flash in the pan. Scouts and prospective forecasters agree that the superstar Cleveland has elite control, top charts, and an uncanny sense of strike zone. These traits enabled him to post a microscopic swing hit rate of 3.3% on his rise to the system, which is good for second place in the minors behind his former Oregon teammate, Cubs second baseman Nick Madrigal.

“I remember when I was younger, every time I ran, I wanted to cry,” Kwan told FOX Sports hours before his 5-for-5 win on Sunday. So I guess I just said to myself, ‘I don’t like crying, so I won’t hit.

Before the Kwan was a popular subject, he was an OSU beaver, and before he became a beaver, he was a emaciated, tumbled baby from the East Bay. Nothing about the scouting report or the batting training video on his perfect game page screams loudly.

But former Oregon State coach and current Texas A&M assistant coach Nate Whisky immediately saw something special.

“I was the guy who recruited him,” Yeskie told FOX Sports. “I’ve seen him a few times. I asked our coach off the field if he’d seen him, and he said ‘Yes, do you like him?'” I say, ‘Yeah, I just saw him play the… out of it for about four days in a row.’ And he played against some of our best recruits and did really well in a tournament in San Diego. I thought it would be Dave Roberts. That’s what I compared him to.”

In Oregon, Cowan was part of a historically good recruiting class that included Madrigal (1st round, 4th overall for the White Sox), Trevor Larnach (1st round, 20th place in twins) and Cadyenne Grenier (1st round, 37th overall Oriole) . He also played alongside Drew Rasmussen (sixth inning to the Brewers, now in the Tampa rotation) and Adley Rochman (first overall with the Orioles, and is currently #1 in baseball).

For Quan, seeing the sheer talent of that group when he first arrived at the campus was frightening and led to some serious doubt in himself.

“It’s issues of trust and impostor syndrome,” he revealed. “Our recruiting class, man, I remember it was the fifth best team in the country. We had Madrigal, Larnach, all these great recruits from the Pacific Northwest. And then I think, ‘I don’t think I belong here.'” I think I would have done a quick job on the coaches. I don’t think they really know who I am.”

This lack of confidence led to a disappointing new season for Kwan, who scored just 0.215 in 77 games.

“The first two series I did terribly,” he remembered, “and I kind of said to myself, like, ‘Yeah, what I thought was right. I do not belong here. It is now exposed. “So it was a really big shock.”

This is where Tyler Graham came in.

Now, unless you’re a huge fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks, you probably don’t know that name. But Graham has played pro ball for nearly a decade, taking sips of espresso in 10 games, and two plate appearances with Arizona in 2010. A few years after he was suspended in 2014, Graham returned to Oregon, where he played college ball. , to become the program’s player development director.

During Cowan’s difficult first year, Graham sat him down and explained that his swing needed a complete restructuring.

“It might be ready in six months, but you have to start from scratch,” Cowan remembers Graham telling him. “And I was already pretty much rock bottom. So I was like, ‘It couldn’t be worse.’ let’s do it. “

Graham spoke to FOX Sports by phone on Sunday after returning to the West Coast from Kansas City, where he witnessed Kwan’s iconic debut in person.

“He went to work right away,” Graham said. “And he was the guy who was in the cage every day. I mean, he never missed a day. He was probably one of the most adaptable kids I’ve ever worked with. But the most important thing was that Stephen was always curious. He was smart enough to know he needed to work if he wanted to. to get better.”

For Graham and Kwan, the first thing that needed fixing was the mental approach. All the negative energy, self-doubt, and impostor syndrome are required if the swing is to improve. And that’s exactly what happened.

“I think it started with believing in himself,” Graham said. “At that point, he didn’t have any faith in himself. The biggest thing was convincing Stephen that he was the best, regardless of the results, and I think [head] coach bus [Pat] Casey had a big role in that, too.

“Mechanically, it was all about slowing down Stephen so he could start to see the ball better. It was a lot of stuff without swinging, a lot of practice on the fairway. Just throwing balls and balls out of the machine without swinging, just working on his timing.”

“I’ve lived with him for three years,” Bryce Fimmel, a former OSU player and current farmer for the Giants, told Fox Sports. “Watching him in action was another thing. I remember that the older we got, the more time Kwan spent in cages. I don’t remember him being a big person in the video, but I always watch videos about other players and learn any way he could.”

These changes paid immediate dividends into Kwan’s sophomore year—averaging .331 and .440 OBP as Oregon advanced to the College World Series. His first year was better. He put Casey Cowan ahead of Madrigal, Larnach and Rochman. Cowan hit 0.351 while running 50 times with 18 strokes, and the Beavers won the College World Series.

Cowan’s career in Oregon started slowly but ended with a 2018 national championship and a chance to play pro football. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

But all along, Kwan wasn’t considered to be of the same level as a pro as his first-round teammates. This was mostly due to his perceived lack of authority; Kwan only hit three times at home in college. However, Conor Glassy, ​​a Cleveland Northwest scout who was a former clerk for American baseball, was able to see that the troublesome lead hitter in Oregon was a diamond in the rough.

“He was a bit overshadowed by those other guys,” Glassy recalls. “But the more I watched the team play, Kwan kind of grew up on you with everything he did. Then, as soon as I started getting to know him, as soon as I talked to him and learned more about his story, I realized that he worked really, really hard to get to where he is now.”

For Glassy, ​​Quan’s new struggles were actually a good thing, an indication that adversity was something he could handle. “A lot of these guys, you worry about how they handle failure,” Glassy explained. “And with Stephen, the fact that he had already gone through it was a plus in my book.”

But there is still the problem of frivolous energy production in Kwan. At the time, Graham realized it would be a professional-level problem and explained the situation to Glassey, who relayed that conversation to FOX Sports.

He said, “I remember Tyler was like, ‘I promise he’s going to hit the ball hard as soon as he leaves here. He’s doing what’s being asked of him now: get ready and hit individual balls.”

Over time, Glassy realized that Kwan was a real man. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland’s draft analytical model liked it too, thanks to its low stroke numbers and impressive statistical production. That was enough for The Guardians to take him into the fifth round of the 2018 draft.

And while Kwan didn’t turn out to be a soccer player in any way, Graham was certainly right about his ability to learn how to influence baseball. In 2021, Kwan made 12 in 341 appearances for the board, a significant increase from his first two professional seasons and college career.

how did that happen? Enter Cleveland’s director of player development, Rob Servolio, who, along with the foundation’s staff, helped Cowan develop a more assertive approach to the board.

“He showed up and he really has this elite skill, his ability to connect,” Servolio said. So we said to him, ‘We know you can make a connection, but let’s learn how to pick our spots when we really want to drive and do baseball damage. “

Once again, Cowan’s work ethic came into play, as Cleveland made additional changes to his stance and swayed. Adjustments take time, effort and commitment – which Kwan delivered in groups. You can clearly see side by side that Kwan’s starting position is now much straighter, his hands are a lot closer to his body, and his leg kick is more pronounced.

Quan’s control of bats wasn’t the elite’s only tool. Everyone who talked about him talked about his makeup, his personality, his perseverance, his love of sports and his kindness towards others.

“It’s easy to talk about the baby,” said Servolio. “He does everything kind of right. And the way he treats people and keeps up his work makes it really interesting to see the success he had so early in his Major League career.”

When asked what he’s been enjoying about his experience with the big league so far, Kwan was incredibly real.

“Everyone is very friendly, frankly,” he said. “Like, I couldn’t believe I was talking [Salvador Perez] in the home plate.

But for Kwan, his true welcome moment came from the food.

“It dawned on me when we spread out pre-match,” he said. “I’m sitting next to one of our guys, and we have completely different meals. I had sweet potatoes, fruits, some fish and some chicken. He was pulled pork, dirty rice, some cantaloupe and some grilled steak.”

“I was like, ‘I didn’t even know there were so many options. We are on the way! “

Kwan is certainly aware of his budding niche fame, even if he doesn’t fully understand it.

“I’m trying to stay away from Twitter,” he admitted. “But I have buddies who send me Guardians of the Galaxy stuff with my face on it. And I feel kind of scammed because I’ve never seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Everything is great. My brother is also on some Reddit page, and he showed me some stuff too. So it’s So funny. I don’t know if I fully understand it, but it’s cool.”

While Kwan’s online fame is a relatively new development, he’s been a force in the palace for years. In fact, after I tweeted that I was working on Kwan’s story, the current junior league bowler unwilling to tell me Kwan was “an absolute nightmare to face. It’s a great day when you see him not in the squad”. Dude just hits.”

Hit he does, hit him and hit him. The rise and reign of Stephen Kwan is testament to his abilities, work ethic, and most importantly, his confidence in those who wish to support him.

It’s a story of recruiting, exploration, and development of a unique player and player that work together seamlessly to turn a light-hearted teen into a major league strike machine.

Jake Mintz is the top half of Tweet embed and baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is a fan of the Orioles and lives in New York City, thus leading a secluded life in most October residents. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter at Tweet embed.

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