Steven Kwan relying on steady approach in 2nd season with Guardians

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Steven Kwan is among several chess players on the Cleveland Guardians. He went over some moves with Bo Naylor and then watched Naylor take on Hunter Gaddis.

Kwan has been playing for a couple of years, both in person and on a chess app. Asked who is the best player on the team, Kwan said he heard Josh Bell is pretty good.

“But I would say, I think you have to assume that you’re the best,” he continued.

That’s the mentality that took Kwan from a fifth-round pick in the 2018 amateur draft out of Oregon State to a surprising rookie season with Cleveland a year ago. The outfielder hit .298 with 52 RBIs, 19 steals and a .373 on-base percentage, helping the Guardians to the AL Central title.

This spring training is a much different feeling for the 25-year-old Kwan, who counted Ichiro Suzuki as one of his favorite players while growing up in Northern California.

“Not feeling like you’re walking on pins and needles is definitely a much better place to be,” he said.

If Kwan is feeling any more pressure after breaking out last season, it’s hard to tell. He said he looks at every year in the majors as a challenge.

“I make it a big point to never stay too high or too low. Just stay kind right in the middle, stay neutral,” he said. “I think that’s going to be really important because I think once that I accept that oh, I’m this big leaguer, I’ve made it already, blah, blah, blah, then things start getting too comfortable and then things start slipping.”

That mindset helped Kwan stay focused after he got off to a historic start last year. He reached base 18 times in his first five games, the most for a player in that span since 1901. He also went 116 pitches before he swung and missed, the most of any player to start a career since at least 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

After struggling in May, batting just .173 in 21 games, Kwan hit .341 in June, .314 in July, .296 in August and .325 in September, showing impressive consistency for a rookie. He scored 89 runs in 147 games and finished with more walks (62) than strikeouts (60).

“He’s got a lot of ways to impact us winning,” manager Terry Francona said. “Whether it’s his legs, his defense, occasional home run, he’s got a lot of ways to help us win.”

Whether it’s Kwan or any of Cleveland’s young players that had a hand in the team’s 2022 division title, Francona doesn’t buy the idea that duplicating its success last year will be any more difficult than what it accomplished last season.

“I think if you put pressure on yourself, it can become harder,” he said. “Try to tell our guys all the time, man, don’t chase numbers. … If you’re a good player, show up and try to do something every day to help us win. You look up at the end of the year, you’ll be where you’re supposed to be.”

In many ways, Kwan’s first big league season looked a lot like what he accomplished in college and in the minors. He batted .328 and scored 96 runs in 156 games for Oregon State. After the 2020 minor league season was canceled because of COVID-19, he hit .328 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs over two minor league stops in 2021.

He can hit, and he doesn’t see any reason why that would change anytime soon.

“I think just understanding where I come from, kind of my mindset last year, and continuing it forward,” he said.

Royals’ John Sherman optimistic about new ballpark, current team

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first thing that Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman thinks about when he wakes up each morning is how the club, stuck in what seems like an interminable rebuild, will play on that particular day.

Not where they will play four or five years down the road.

Yet given the modest expectations for a team that lost nearly 100 games a year ago, it makes sense many Royals fans are just as interested – quite possibly more so – in the plans for a downtown ballpark than whether infielder Bobby Witt Jr. can double down on his brilliant rookie season or pitcher Brady Singer can truly become a staff ace.

That’s why Sherman’s second thought probably moves to the downtown ballpark, too.

“This is a huge decision, and I look at it as maybe the most important decision we’ll make as long as we have the privilege of stewarding this team,” Sherman said before the Royals held a final workout Wednesday ahead of opening day. “I’m probably as anxious as you to get moving on that, but it’s a complicated process.”

The Royals have called Kauffman Stadium home since the sister to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, opened 50 years ago next month.

And while most stadiums are replaced because they have become outdated, the unique, space-aged look of Kauffman Stadium – built during an era in which teams trended toward impersonal, multisport concrete donuts for their homes – remains beloved by Royals fans and visitors alike.

The problem is that despite numerous renovations over the years, the very concrete holding the ballpark together has begun to crumble in places. The cost simply to repair and maintain the ballpark has become prohibitive.

So with the decision essentially made for them to build an entirely new stadium, the Royals revealed plans to build an entire development in the same mold of The Battery Atlanta, where the Braves built Truist Park, and the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where the new Busch Stadium is merely the centerpiece of a whole entertainment district.

No site has been secured, but several of the most promising are in downtown Kansas City, where the Power & Light District along with T-Mobile Center have spearheaded a successful era of urban renewal.

Sherman has said that private funds would cover the majority of the stadium cost and the entire village, each carrying a price tag of about $1 billion.

But if any public funding will be used, as it was to build and maintain Kauffman Stadium, then it would need to be voted upon, and the earliest that it could show up on a ballot would be August.

“You look at Atlanta, they took some raw ground – they started with 85 acres – and that has been a complete home run,” said Sherman, who purchased the Royals in August 2019, shortly before the pandemic wreaked havoc on team finances.

“This is one of the reasons we want to do this: That’s helped the Braves become more competitive,” Sherman said of the vast potential for increased revenue for one of the smallest-market teams in baseball. “They have locked up and extended the core of their future, and the Braves are in a great position from a baseball standpoint.”

So perhaps the first two thoughts Sherman has each day – about performance and the future – are one and the same.

When it comes to the team itself, the Royals were largely quiet throughout the winter, though that was by design.

Rather than spending heavily on free agents that might help them win a few more games, they decided to stay the course with a promising young roster in the hopes that the development of those players would yield better results.

In fact, Sherman said, the club has been discussing extensions for some of the Royals’ foundational pieces – presumably Witt, who was fourth in voting for AL rookie of the year, and Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season.

“We’re having conversations about that as we speak,” Sherman said. “We have a number of young players that we’re trying to evaluate and we’re talking to their representatives about what might work.”

Just because the Royals’ roster largely looks the same, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The Royals fired longtime general manager Dayton Moore in September and moved J.J. Picollo to the role, then fired manager Mike Matheny in October and replaced him with longtime Indians and Rays coach Matt Quatraro.

Sherman said the new voices created a palpable energy in spring training that he hopes carries into the regular season.

“When we acquired the team, we had three primary objectives,” Sherman said. “One was to win more games; we’re working on that. The second was to secure the future; that’s what (the stadium) is. And the third was to do good in the community.

“But the first priority,” he said, “is really the on-field product. That’s what really lifts everything else up.”