2014 Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects: #20 Kevin Pillar
Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Kevin Pillar hits a home run during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Next up is a player we debated whether or not should be included on this year’s top prospect list. He retained rookie status because he did not receive at least 130 plate appearances so we figured for all intents and purposes he should still be considered a “prospect”.
Name: Kevin Pillar
Date of Birth: 1/4/1989 (25)
Acquired: 32nd round of 2011 draft (Reportedly $1,000 USD)
High School: Chaminade College Preparatory School (West Hills, CA)
College: California State University Dominguez Hills (Carson, CA)
Height/Weight: 6’0″/200 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Ranked 17th on 2013 Jays Journal Top Prospects
- Ranked 19th on Baseball America’s 2013 League Top 20 (International League)
- 2013 Blue Jays Minor League Organization All-Star (Outfield)
- Named Blue Jays Best Hitter for Average by Baseball America
- 2012 Midwest League MVP
Stats and Analysis:
Kevin Pillar’s road to the majors was well-documented last season after the 32nd round draft pick defied all odds by breaking through with the Blue Jays in August 2013. He faced little resistance on his way up and made quick work of each level. He started the year with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats and collected 95 base hits, including 20 doubles, in 71 games played. Labelled as a corner outfielder by most scouts, Pillar took over in center field when teammate Kenny Wilson went down with an early injury and was solid defensively.
His strong play earned a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo in June, which is when people really started to notice Pillar. He started off on fire in the International League and had an OPS of 1.156 his first ten games. He cooled off a bit as the season progressed but showed enough that when Colby Rasmus went down with an oblique injury it was Pillar who was called up to the Show.
We’ve already covered Pillar’s season with the Blue Jays in our 2013 Player Reviews so rather than regurgitating old information I will refer you in that direction for a comprehensive review of his year with the Jays.
Video Credit: MLB Prospect Portal
Pillar starts with a slightly open, relaxed stance and waggles the bat a bit. His weight is noticeably kept on his back foot and strides forward with a small leg kick and good hip rotation. He has a flat, line drive swing and usually stays on top of the ball. He will expand his own strike zone at times but makes up for it with very good bat control and a knack for making contact.
Pillar’s ability to hit is his best tool and is what got him to the big leagues so quickly. He didn’t show much in his limited time with Toronto and hovered around the Mendoza line but I expect his batting average to improve as he continues to get more professional at bats. He showed very little discipline in Toronto, which carried over to a handful of winter league at bats, and will need to be more patient to maximize his hitting potential. MLB pitchers are quick to adjust and will continue to throw him junk until he proves capable of taking more pitches and generating walks.
Pillar has gap power and will hit lots of doubles but likely not very many home runs. He did pop out three for Toronto and might be capable of hitting 15-20 dingers over the course of a full season (playing everyday), especially with the cozy confines of Rogers Centre as his home field.
I was very impressed with Pillar’s arm strength and accuracy watching him this year for the Blue Jays. He had 17 outfield assists last year in the minors and does a good job controlling the running game and making smart decisions with his throws. As a corner outfielder, he’s above average defensively and in center I’d consider him average or at the very least adequate. He has good instincts and makes up for average speed by taking smarts routes to the ball. He isn’t quick enough to be considered a threat on the base paths but will keep opposing catchers honest by taking off at times.
Pillar’s work ethic and makeup are off the charts and you would be hard pressed to find a single person who has said anything negative about his character.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
Pillar still has minor league options remaining so will likely be a valuable asset to the Blue Jays in 2014. Unless he’s absolutely phenomenal in spring training, he will start the season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons with Anthony Gose, who has one option year remaining, penciled in as the Blue Jays fourth outfielder. If Gose struggles, Pillar could be moved back up midseason assuming the Blue Jays don’t trust the out of options Moises Sierra in the outfield and can find another role for him on their bench. Otherwise he could see a full season in the International League before being called up when rosters expand in September unless he’s needed as an injury replacement beforehand.
As for risk, based on his meteoric rise to the majors I’d say there’s not much of it if your expectation is for him to be your team’s fourth outfielder. He had a bit of a rough introduction but based on his track record should be more than capable to hold that role down for the next decade or so. He doesn’t profile great as a corner outfielder due to his lack of power but if you are optimistic his ceiling might be a high average, doubles hitting center fielder.