The Winning Attitude of Lynchburg’s Steven Kwan
David Freier | On 21, May 2019
For as long as he can remember, High-A Lynchburg’s Steven Kwan has been singularly obsessed with baseball. Standing 5’9” and weighing in at 175 lbs., he wears uniform number one, bats at the top of the order, and has been the Hillcats’ sparkplug through the first month of the season.
The product of Washington High School in Fremont, California, he attended Oregon State, and was selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. A center fielder by trade, Kwan brings energy and excitement to the field.
“My parents took me to this sports camp when I was a kid, but I only went one time because they were too embarrassed to take me back,” he recalled as he talked about his focus on baseball, “I would grab a basketball and play by myself, I wouldn’t play with the other guys, and when we played baseball that was the only thing I wanted to do.”
His parents, Jane and Raymond, supported his passion for baseball, providing him with time and opportunity to learn how to excel at the game he loves.
“My mom was a dragon mom, always kicking my butt. After a bad game she would be like, ‘What are you doing out there? You were awful!’” said Kwan. “My dad was the quiet one, a bit of role reversal. He was very supportive. They both got me through with long road trips to Nevada, or San Diego, driving through Sunday night so I could be in school on Monday.”
With supportive parents – his mother from Sunnyvale in Northern California and his father growing up in Chinatown in San Francisco – he naturally became a Giants fan, often going to games, starting around 2004.
“I always loved J.T. Snow,” he said. “He was my first favorite player. I played first base back then, so it fit to be a Giants fan.”
In high school, he was both a pitcher and hitter, eventually making his way to Oregon State, where he made several trips with the team to Omaha and the College World Series (CWS). Ending up as a Beaver was a stroke of luck. Not sure about what kind of college he might attend, or even if he would play baseball in college, he suggested Oregon St. when his parents asked about college, because they had just been to the CWS and he saw them play on television.
“One of my best friend’s brother was a bullpen catcher at Oregon State. He brought me up to see the facilities, nothing official, just hang out with the guys,” said Kwan. “From there I loved it. Then I talked to the coaches, got an official visit, and it was my first offer, so I took it.”
During his freshman year he played sparingly, getting in only 35 games. During his sophomore year he began to blossom, hitting .331 with increased playing time, until finally he broke out in his junior season. Hitting .355, with a .463 on-base percentage, and scoring 60 runs, he helped lead the team to victory in the CWS.
The Beavers held off six elimination games to fight for that victory. Kwan still feels like the experience was surreal, encapsulating his experience in a single word.
“Amazing,” he said.
The hard work, the long bus trips, and the camaraderie with his teammates also stand out in his memories of that time, just a year ago. Now he is on the field as a professional, striving to perfect the skills that got him selected by Cleveland.
It was halfway through his junior year at Oregon State when he started to think seriously about pursuing a professional career in baseball.
“I was a pretty undersized kid, not a sexy baseball player,” said Kwan, joking about his size. “I don’t hit bombs, I’m not an absolute blazer. I just try to stay within myself. I feel very grateful to be where I’m at today.”
Where he is at is batting atop the lineup for the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League. As he walks up to the plate each night, Tavares’ 1975 hit “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” presages his arrival at home plate. The diminutive left-hander stands just outside the batter’s box, squatting down to stretch his legs, rotating first left, than right, finally lifting the bat over his left shoulder, like he is shoveling dirt away from home plate. Then he steps into the box ready for the first pitch.
Over the first 36 games of the season, his triple slash line is .301/.383/.411 with 21 runs scored. It is his mental preparation that drives him to be successful. A short tour through the Cape Cod League after his sophomore year is when he first began to realize he might have what it takes to become a professional ballplayer.
“I came into the Cape halfway through,” he recalled about the summer of 2017. “That was when all the pretty good pitchers were there. I got to face two weeks of solid pitching, equal to here [Carolina League] I would say.”
In his 26 games with the Wareham Gatemen, his triple slash line was .304/.381/.343, not that far off from his current performance level with the Hillcats.
His success there propelled him to a stellar junior season, a CWS victory, and a chance with the Cleveland organization. Though the organization is laden with outfield prospects, like teammate Oscar Gonzalez, or former Hillcats such as Ka’ai Tom and Andrew Calica, or trade acquisitions such as Daniel Johnson and Oscar Mercado, Kwan is focused on doing his absolute best and waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
“My whole game is mental,” he said. “I think I did a good job back at Oregon State at perfecting the mental game. I would meditate before games, stay positive, and bring some good energy to the team.”
“I believe I can catch everything,” Kwan said without a hint of hubris.
Between games in center field and left field he has 60 total chances this season with 59 putouts, one assist, and no errors. In his still brief minor league career, he has just a single error, and only had a seven errors during his collegiate career.
With so many talented outfielders in the system, he is learning to play left field, though of his 30 games in the field, only eight of them have had him playing in left.
“Down the line is kicking my butt right now,” he said about learning to play left field and judging balls hit down the line. “I’m talking with Austen Wade, he’s helping me figure out what works in left.”
Both are natural center fielders and share time in Lynchburg’s crowded outfield picture with Gonzalez and Trenton Brooks. Being more versatile gives Kwan more opportunities as he looks to establish himself in the Cleveland farm system.
He will continue to develop his routine, bat leadoff whenever his name is written into the lineup, and be there for his teammates, no matter if they are playing in the Carolina League, somewhere else in the Cleveland system, or at the highest level in the Major Leagues. No matter when the next opportunity comes, Steven Kwan will be ready to excel.
Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats