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Munenori Kawasaki

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Munenori Kawasaki
(Munerin)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Munenori Kawasaki was the 4th-round draft pick of the Daiei Hawks in 1999. He spent the next few years primarily in the minors. In 2001, he was 0 for 4 in his first time with Daiei. In 2002, he hit .232/.259/.357 and won the ni-gun Western League batting title at .367. He also played for Japan in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup, batting .417/.563/.458 with 6 runs in 8 games, but he fielded .773 with five errors at third base. He was 7th in the tournament in batting average. Michel Enriquez beat him out as the All-Star 3B.

In 2003, he became a regular when 3B Hiroki Kokubo got injured and Kawasaki hit .294/.352/.377. His 9 triples were second in the Pacific League behind only Arihito Muramatsu and he was 3rd in the PL with 30 steals behind Tadahito Iguchi and Muramatsu. He was caught 16 times, the league high. He hit .391/.462/.609 with five runs in the 2003 Japan Series to help Daiei to the title.

The 2004 season was even more productive. Batting second behind Iguchi, Kawasaki hit .303/.387/.359 and led the PL with 42 steals (in 56 tries). He also led the loop in triples (8) and tied Nobuhiko Matsunaka for the most hits {171}. He made the Best Nine in the PL at shortstop and won a Gold Glove there as well. In 2005, at age 23, he slipped to .271/.326/.346 with 21 steals in 31 tries. He was chosen to play for Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and was the regular shortstop; he hit .259/.333/.407 and stole two bases in two attempts, scoring six runs in eight contests for the winning club.

In 2006, Kawasaki batted .312/.364/.410 with 24 steals in 33 tries. He was 6th in the PL in average, 9th with 69 runs, 10th with 140 hits, tied three others for the triple lead (7), was third with 27 sacrifice hits, was 4th in steals (but tied for third in times caught as well) and 8th in OBP.

Kawasaki batted .329/.381/.428 in 2007 and was 23-for-31 in steals. His 7 triples tied Kensuke Tanaka for second, one behind Daisuke Hayakawa while he was 8th in steals. Had he qualified, he would have finished third in average behind Atsunori Inaba and Rick Short. Kawasaki went 4 for 11 with two walks in the 2007 Asian Championship and was the tourney leader with two stolen bases. Japan won the title and clinched a spot in the 2008 Olympics.

Kawasaki became the first position player to be named interleague play MVP in Nippon Pro Baseball when he hit .366 in interleague competition in 2008. He won a 2 million yen prize as MVP. During the season, Munenori hit .321/.350/.394 with 19 steals in 28 attempts despite missing time for the Olympics. He was third in average behind Short and Hiroyuki Nakajima, tied for third in triples (6) and was sixth in swipes. In the 2008 Olympics, Kawasaki was 4 for 7 with a walk and 2 runs as a backup to Nakajima at shortstop; Japan failed to win a Medal.

Kawasaki was a solid backup for "Samurai Japan", as the national team was known, when they won the 2009 World Baseball Classic, going 3 for 7 with a steal, 3 runs and a RBI and filling in at third base after Shuichi Murata got injured. During the 2009 season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, he hit an uncharacteristically low .259 but scored 73 runs and stole 44 bases. In 2010, he bounced back to .316, getting 190 hits, but only scored one more run than the previous year. In 2011, he hit .267 with Fukuoka, with 71 runs and 31 steals.

In 2012, Kawasaki decided to give North America a try. A free agent, he did not elicit a lot of interest from major league teams, and had to settle for a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners, coupled with an invitation to spring training. However, the Mariners' poor performance in 2011 meant that there was a potential opening to be had, at least as a back-up infielder and possibly as the starter at shortstop. When he accepted the Mariners' terms on January 11th, he explained his decision to accept such a low offer, in spite of his impressive resumé, by stating that he wished to play alongside national team teammate Ichiro Suzuki; ironically, that was also the reason that pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma had invoked a few days earlier when he had accepted a very modest contract to join the M's. He played 61 games as a utility infielder for the M's, hitting .192/.257/.292 with only one extra-base hit in 104 at-bats.

He was released after the season and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for 2013. After beginning the season in the minor leagues with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, he was recalled to the big leagues and temporarily handed the starting shortstop job after Jose Reyes went down with an ankle injury on April 12th. He quickly endeared himself to Blue Jays fans by showing that he knew how to play the game the right way, hustling all the time, putting down bunts, and running wild on the bases, to make up for his lack of power and middling batting average. On May 26th, he hit a walk-off double to cap a four-run 9th inning comeback that gave the Jays a 7-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles, capping a day in which he went 3 for 5 with 3 RBI. He hit his first career homer against those same Orioles on June 21st, connecting Tommy Hunter for a game-tying two-run shot in the bottom of the 7th; the Jays went on to win that game, their 9th straight win that allowed them to reach the .500 mark for the first time. The game coincided with the first rehabilitation game for Reyes, raising the question of what the Jays would do with their new fan favorite once Reyes was ready to reclaim his rightful starting position. Alas, he was the odd man out when Reyes was re-activated on June 25th, being sent down to Buffalo. His teammates were unanimous in praising his contribution in Reyes's absence, and indeed the Blue Jays called him back at the first opportunity, when they placed starting LF Melky Cabrera on the disabled list two days later. Apart for a month in the minors from mid-July to mid-August, he spent the remainder of the year in Toronto. He ended the year with a batting line of .229/.326/.308 in 96 games with 1 homer and 24 RBI and 7 steals in 8 attempts. At AAA Buffalo, he hit .250 in 25 games with an OBP of .400.

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, World Baseball Classic website, Sergei Borisov's 2006 NPB site, IBAF site, 2008 Olympics

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