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Steven Kwan: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

Steven Kwan fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers waiver wire MLB injury news

Steven Kwan was one of the biggest stories to come out of MLB's Opening Week, setting numerous records for most times on base over a player's first X games. Unsurprisingly, the 24-year-old has endured a couple of hitless games and likely won't hit .400. Now that the initial performance is in the rear-view mirror, it's time to see who Kwan really is as a baseball player and fantasy asset.

While it seems like Kwan's success came out of nowhere, that's not entirely accurate. He wasn't a huge prospect as a fifth-round selection in the 2018 Amateur Draft, but a breakout 2021 on the farm earned him an honorable mention in Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects, the 58th spot on the FanGraphs top-100 prospect list, and the 61st slot in the ZiPS projection system's 100 prospects. There is some pedigree here.

Projection systems also like Kwan. For example, his FGDC projected line is .285/.360/.433 with 12 HR over a full season (FGDC is a blend of Steamer and ZiPS projections with manual playing time inputs). Here is a closer look at why you might want the outfielder on your fantasy roster moving forward.

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Unicorn in the Minors

In an age where all young hitters are instructed to elevate the ball regardless of strikeouts, Kwan's 2021 MiLB numbers buck the trend. He hit .337/.411/.539 with seven homers over 221 PAs for Double-A (Akron) last season with nearly identical 10 BB% and 10.4 K% rates. His .354 BABIP was partially fueled by a 25.3 LD% that he may not replicate at the highest level, but above-average foot speed and a line-drive stroke help him project for an elevated BABIP in the Show. Furthermore, his microscopic 2.6 SwStr% suggests that his K% will remain low, helping him get more out of his BABIP.

Impressive as those numbers look in the modern game, they're even more impressive when you factor in the environment where he produced them. Akron is a notorious pitcher's park, ranking in the 5th percentile for scoring, 42nd for homers, and 5th for BABIP across all MiLB parks in 2019 per Baseball America. If Kwan did what he did in a stadium that actively works against his game, what could he do in a neutral environment?

Cleveland decided to find out by promoting Kwan to Triple-A (Columbus) in late August last year and he hit .311/.411/.505 with five homers in 120 PAs. His 11.7 BB% was nearly double his 6.7 K% and his BABIP was only .300, suggesting that batted ball luck played a minimal role in his success. His SwStr% increased to 2.7%, suggesting that his contact-oriented approach had no problem adapting to more advanced competition.

Columbus is a fairer ballpark for hitters than Akron is, but Kwan's home park still worked against him. Columbus ranked in the 80th percentile for scoring and the 98th for homers thanks to the nitro-charged baseball used on the farm in 2019, but it only ranked in the 37th percentile for BABIP. Kwan's entire game is BABIP, though you might want to put a small asterisk next to his Triple-A power numbers.


Is There Any Pop in Kwan's Bat?

Kwan hit a total of 12 HR over 341 PAs last season, working out to about a 20 HR pace over a full season. He posted a 10.6% HR/FB at Double-A and 16.7% at Triple-A, so he wasn't a pure slap hitter in the mold of former 2B Luis Castillo. Kwan also hit a reasonable number of balls in the air with FB% marks of 38.8% at Double-A and 33.3% at Triple-A.

The young outfielder doesn't have the frame to transform into a 30 HR slugger, but his outstanding hit tool (70-grade per FanGraphs) and his sheer volume of batted balls should help him deposit a few baseballs over the fence. You shouldn't roster him expecting power, but he won't be a total zero there either.


Can Kwan Run?

As noted above, Kwan possesses above-average speed that should help him run elevated BABIPs in the majors. Sadly for fantasy managers, Kwan doesn't appear to have the base-stealing instincts to go with his speed. His single-season high for stolen bases was 11 in 2019, and they came with seven CS for an awful success rate of 61%. He went 6-for-8 on the bases last season for a 75% success rate, but the attempts were too low for fantasy purposes. Kwan will probably swipe a handful of bags but won't be a difference-maker in the category.


The Final Verdict

Kwan may have middling power and speed numbers, but he should have no problem hitting .290 or better even when his .400 BABIP normalizes and he stops walking 21.6% of the time. His success to date is predicated on otherworldly contact and plate discipline skills, both of which are backed by his performance on the farm. Kwan is also seen as a plus defender who should stay in the lineup during slumps. Throw in plus speed and an absolute refusal to strikeout and you have a must-roster asset in all leagues that count batting average.

He's played himself into the second slot in the Guardians lineup, so his batting average should come with a solid number of runs and RBI as well. Kwan is currently rostered in 77% in Yahoo! formats, so you might still be able to grab him for free. Otherwise, he might be cheap in trade if his current manager sees him as a fluke. Either way, Kwan looks like a Champ for the rest of the season.

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