SURPRISE, Ariz. – Cubs manager Joe Maddon calls infielder Munenori Kawasaki a “beautiful man.”
He loves the tough at-bats, the job Kawasaki does in the middle infield, the base running. And don’t get him started on the personality – sense of humor and timing in two languages, an upbeat demeanor that draws teammates naturally.
“He’s a great fit,” Maddon said.
Kawasaki is in the lineup at second base for the Cubs Wednesday against the Texas Rangers. But whether he’ll be on the bench when they open the season in less than two weeks is going to take a lot more than being a beautiful man – or even baseball player.
The Cubs have at least four bench spots spoken for with catcher David Ross, infielder-outfielder Javy Baez, infielder Tommy La Stella and whichever of Kyle Schwarber or Jorge Soler isn’t playing that day.
The roster decision on the 25th spot is between carrying a fifth bench player or an eighth reliever. And outfielder Shane Victorino plays a prominent role in that decision if he gets back from his calf injury in time to prove his health and fitness.
So can Kawasaki dislodge one of those projected bench players for an opening-roster spot? Even with his .370 spring that includes a team-high six walks and .485 on-base percentage?
“I don’t think so right now,” Maddon said. “I think more than likely it would almost take an injury situation to dislodge [someone]. I don’t want to be disingenuous about it.
“I also know that if he was part of this group, I’d be really happy about it, in a heartbeat. And everybody else would be, too.”
Wednesday’s lineup vs. Rangers (and LHP Derek Holland):
SS Addison Russell
1B Kris Negron
LF Kyle Schwarber
RF Jorge Soler
C Tim Federowicz
CF Matt Szczur
3B Jason Vosler
RHP Kyle Hendricks