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February 16, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Intangibles could help Munenori Kawasaki land an infield job with the Mariners

There was some video footage I shot earlier today that I wasn’t going to use, but then decided to do so after the post-workout chat manager Eric Wedge had with reporters. Wedge had spoken yesterday about how Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki was showing a high degree of energy in the workouts, constantly chatting in Japanese and some English with his teammates.
I observed him today trying to figure out where he had to be in a batting practice session. You can see hitting coach Chris Chambliss getting everybody organized in the video while Kawasaki stands to the side trying to to understand what group he’s in and where he has to be. He then has a nice exchange with Nick Franklin as they head out to the field.
It’s pretty innocuous stuff, until you realize this is exactly why Kawasaki had to show up here as early as he did. Kawasaki is in a tough battle to land a spot, going up against one of last year’s backups in Luis Rodriguez (who arrives tomorrow) not to mention Carlos Guillen, Kyle Seager, Chone Figgins and others who might be considered as utility guys or backups.
I still think Figgins is going to be a regular this year, but anyway, these are guys all in the mix for an infield spot so-to-speak. And the Mariners really don’t have time — nor does Kawasaki — to be bringing him up-to-speed every step of the way.
Kawasaki needs to be focused on the on-field competition when it truly begins the next week or so with intra-squad games. He can’t be breaking the ice with his new teammates asking everyone where he has to be.
And that, in fact, is what he has used this entire week for. He’s become one of the guys out there. Sure, he still has trouble understanding some stuff. But he’s picking it up quickly.

Come next week, he won’t be worrying about fitting in and where to be every moment of each morning. He’s settling into the routine of baseball in a major league camp.
Wedge has noticed how quickly Kawasaki seems to be adapting.
I asked Wedge how much of an impact that might have in any decision to keep Kawasaki on the 25-man squad.
“I think ultimately, it’s going to be about what we see on the field,” Wedge said. “But I’d be lying to you if…you know how I feel about the intangibles. I mean, I’ve made it very clear to you guys. I’ve always been that way in regard to how I feel about players and being a good teammate and respecting the game.
“And he does those things. He’s acclimated himself very quickly here with his teammates. The way he carries himself. So, now it’s about watching him on the field.”
Still, if it came down to a coin flip between Kawasaki and another player, the time he’s put in adapting this week and the early impression he’s made could turn the tide in his favor. Another intangible? His close relationship with Ichiro.
It’s been a while since Ichiro truly had a buddy in the clubhouse. Not since Ken Griffey Jr. in 2009. They were close in 2010 as well, but that season started out rough for everyone and Griffey was distracted for most of the two-plus months he was there.
In other words, it’s been a while. Again, you don’t hand a guy a job strictly for who he’s friends with. But again, if the team needs a tiebreaker, that’s another intangible Kawasaki will have going for him.
It all matters. He hasn’t hurt his chances this week.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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