Munenori Kawasaki not out of Cubs' roster picture just yet

Munenori Kawasaki has a chance to fill a role with Javier Baez ailing. Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

MESA, Ariz. -- Thanks to infielder/outfielder Javier Baez's lingering thumb injury, the door is at least slightly ajar for spring invitee Munenori Kawasaki to make the Chicago Cubs. Baez hasn’t played in over a week and only once since jamming his thumb while sliding headfirst into first base during a game.

“I don’t know when he’s going to get out there again, but I have not heard anything negative in a long-term sense,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday morning.

The Cubs haven’t made any decisions yet with just nine days until the regular season begins, but if the hand injury persists, Baez could always remain in Arizona to rehab and get at-bats while Kawasaki starts the season as a backup infielder along with Tommy La Stella.

“He’s done a really nice job,” Maddon said of Kawasaki. “When he was in Toronto, everyone looks at him as being this fun guy that does crazy things. This guy is a good baseball player. He plays the game well and is a great teammate. He is a lot of fun. The other stuff that he does is really pertinent. He’s a very much viable option.”

Everywhere he goes, Kawasaki is a favorite among teammates, mostly because of his attempts at speaking English and having fun on the diamond. He’s shown the ability to play both second base and shortstop and handle the bat in different ways, including laying down bunts. He’s hitting .400 with a .500 on-base percentage and just four strikeouts this spring going into Saturday’s contest against the Giants.