Munenori Kawasaki has been a huge hit so far for the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s impossible for fans and writers alike not to be drawn to his energetic and seemingly innocent personality. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have a Japanese interpreter on the payroll so I wasn’t able to get a face-to-face for this piece. But the Jays replacement shortstop has definitely caught my attention.
There has been a bit of coverage about the new face in town the last couple of days, but I wanted to dig a little deeper to find out who Munenori Kawasaki is and if he will be more than just a one-hit wonder for the Toronto Blue Jays.
First of all, he’s not exactly a young gun. With the way that he plays, Kawasaki looks like a kid in the ballpark but he actually turns 32 on June 3rd. (Just to qualify my references, it wasn’t exactly easy for me to find information on Japanese baseball leagues. Google Translate has its limits. Most of this info is from Wikipedia, so please take it for what it is.) He started as a pitcher and bounced around a few different infield positions before settling at shortstop full-time in 2005. He worked his way up through the Japanese baseball system and has twice represented Japan in the WBC in 2006 and 2009, although he didn’t see much action at the latter event.
It has been well-documented that he models his hitting approach after the great Ichiro – thanks Pat Tabler for reminding me every Kawasaki plate appearance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ichiro similarities had something to do with him signing a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners at the start of the 2012 season.
Kawasaki’s dream of playing with his idol were short-lived however, as Ichiro was shipped off to the riches of New York midseason. Meanwhile Munenori struggled by failing to reach the Mendoza line, batting .192 in 61 appearances, which lead to his release by the Mariners on October 24, 2012. The Blue Jays decided to take a chance and picked him up on a minor-league contract in March while assigning him to Triple-A Buffalo.
Described by most scouts as a “slap hitter”, Kawasaki is generously listed as 5’10 and 165 lbs. Maybe soaking wet in high heels, but I will let the inflated personal stats go for now. He’s shown a fantastic ability in the field and has previously won two gold gloves during his time in Japan. While he is certainly no Jose Reyes, Kawasaki has filled in admirably as a patient, number-nine hitter that grinds out at bats and hustles around the bases.
I’m not sure if he will stick around after Reyes return, as there has been talk of Anthopoulis using this time to showcase him as a potential utility player for another team. Although he was hitting .346 with an OBP of .500, Kawasaki has already dropped to .286/.421 as I write this and there’s no way he can even keep up that pace. Based on his decline during the later years of his Japanese career, I don’t think Jays fans can really expect much from him. But in a city and country that loves hockey, Kawasaki’s scrappy mentality is winning hearts across the nation.
Whatever ends up happening with the Kawasaki engine, he will at the very least be remembered for temporarily bringing life to a Blue Jays team that looked like a group of walking corpses. J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind have both called Munenori their favourite player – based on his bench antics and general zeal for life I can see why. He seems like the type of guy you could hang out with and have a blast without understanding a single word he says. As far as a baseball player though, I think we may have seen the pinnacle of Munenori Kawasaki.