Name: Kevin Pillar
|162 Game Avg.||162||495||50||95||18||0||14||59||0||5||18||131||.206||.250||.333||.583|
June 21, 2013 – Promoted from Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats to Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
August 14, 2013 – Toronto Blue Jays purchased contract from Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
Despite being a 32nd round draft pick in 2011, Kevin Pillar was a player quickly moving up the ranks of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. At 24 years of age if his progress continued he was expected to have an outside shot at becoming a September call-up for the Blue Jays. However many continued to doubt Pillar and would use his age as a reason to not get overly excited about his sparkling numbers in Bluefield, Lansing and Dunedin. There was also the assumption that his “tools” would limit his career potential as a corner or fourth outfielder at the MLB level. Pillar was out to prove the naysayers wrong and if all went to plan he would finish the baseball season as a Toronto Blue Jay.
Pillar started the season with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats as their opening day left fielder but was moved to center after Kenny Wilson went down with an injury at the end of April. In 71 games at Double-A, Pillar batted .313/.361/.441 with 20 doubles in 327 plate appearances. His great play in the Eastern League led to a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo in June and he didn’t miss a beat with the Bisons. In his first 10 games he batted .395/.435/.721 and had more doubles (8) than singles (7). As expected he did come back down to Earth a bit but still batted a very solid .299/.341/.493 in 52 games overall in his first taste of Triple-A.
In August, Pillar’s dream of playing Major League Baseball came true. He was called up by to become the first ever Bluefield player to break into the majors and started in left field for the Blue Jays on August 14, 2013 against the Boston Red Sox. After easily transitioning to every league he had played in so far, the Show proved to be a different challenge. Pillar struggled mightily his first week with the Blue Jays and was 0 for 13 before notching his first hit on August 20th during game two of a double-header versus the New York Yankees.
Pillar took a very aggressive approach at the plate and only had four walks in 110 plate appearances, good for a 3.6% walk rate. He struck out more than seven times as often and had 29 K’s, which made for a J.P. Arencibia-like 26.4% strikeout rate (Arencibia’s strikeout rate was 29.8% in 2013). Unlike Arencibia however Pillar was playing Single-A ball in 2012. As you might expect he struggled with the transition to facing the world’s best pitchers and even made an appearance on FanGraphs’s Worst of the Best: The Week(s)’s Wildest Swings when he whiffed on a David Hernandez curveball that was more than three feet away from the center of the plate.
Pillar’s splits weren’t impressive against either lefties or righties, batting .235/.297/.382 vs. LHP and .191/.225/.309 vs. RHP. He did finish the season on a strong note batting .286/.286/.476 the last week of the season and had three hits in his last two games to finish the season just above the Mendoza line at .206.
Defensively, Pillar was solid and at times spectacular. He played error-free baseball and posted a +2 DRS and 2.8 UZR in 243 innings. I specifically remember a great diving catch (pictured above) and the one outfield assist he had was a beauty, gunning down Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia at the plate.
Although Kevin Pillar wasn’t impressive offensively in his short stint with the Blue Jays the fact he even progressed the MLB level in such a short period of time is an accomplishment in itself. He’ll most likely be in the hunt to become the Blue Jays fourth outfielder in 2014 and will compete with Anthony Gose if Gose, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista all remain Blue Jays (and healthy) and if Melky Cabrera‘s back and legs hold up. Since Pillar remained with Toronto until the end of the 2013 season he didn’t burn what could turn into a very useful option year later down the road. He could start the season in Triple-A and a bit more seasoning at that level wouldn’t hurt in my opinion. I still believe that there’s a chance with more time Pillar could develop into a very good MLB outfielder.
Depending on how the cards fall this offseason it’s tough to predict how many MLB plate appearances Pillar will receive and Gose has been slightly better at the MLB level. I think Pillar would make an ideal fourth outfielder for any MLB team and I hate to admit but I do question if Gose would be entirely happy in the same role. He says he would but I still have my doubts. The question also remains about how will the Blue Jays to use Moises Sierra. He was a liability in the outfield but still possesses a strong arm and had great numbers at the plate during his five and a half month MLB stint in 2013. The Blue Jays will need to make some decisions about how they will manage Pillar, Gose and Sierra but all three have option years remaining, which is a nice luxury for the Blue Jays to have in 2014. At this point it’s tough to predict what 2013 will hold for Pillar but I’d expect for him to split time in both Buffalo and Toronto in 2014.