Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
2015 Blue Jays Most Improved Player: Kevin Pillar
Kevin Pillar had a rough 2014 season. After being called up to join the Blue Jays on May 13th to replace Jonathan Diaz, Pillar primarily saw use as a defensive replacement. He was shuttled back and forth from Buffalo before the infamous moment on June 26th against the Yankees. Lifted from the game for pinch-hitter Anthony Gose, Pillar snapped, as most players who are replaced by Anthony Gose in a hitting situation would. He slammed his bat to the tunnel floor on his way out of the dugout. The shuttle back to Buffalo was one-way for two months after that.
Pillar admitted soon after “I made a mistake.” He kept his head down with the Bisons and returned to the big club on August 26th. The time away from the club seemed to help Pillar as his bat improved in the last month, particularly during a stretch where he went 9 for 20 against the Red Sox and Cubs. Still, his 2014 season was marred by an incident that seemed petulant and damaged his standing in the club. When Michael Saunders was brought in, it was expected Pillar would be relegated to fourth outfielder behind Saunders, Jose Bautista and Dalton Pompey. The Dunedin sprinkler heads had other ideas though, and Pillar started the season as the everyday left fielder.
So how does a player get fans to forget about the hissy fit from last season and take him seriously as an outfielder? Plays like this certainly helped…
Pillar‘s highlight reel catches were so good even Montreal Canadiens fans had to bow to his mad hops. Moving to center when Pompey was returned to the minors just gave Pillar more room to make daring dives and come up with balls that had no business being caught. Pillar’s batting eye improved as well, as there were no reasons to lift him for pinch-hitters with a .278/.314/.399 line with 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases from the eight hole in the lineup. He was durable too, playing in 159 games, two of the games missed coming in the hurricane shenanigans following the division clincher in Baltimore. The center field job is his now, and it’s Pompey who is looking for a spot where he can crack the lineup card.
It wasn’t all sunshine and Superman catches for Pillar this season. There is still work for him to do at the plate, as too often when the Blue Jays were behind he went for power swings that left major holes in his plate coverage. The 26-year-old Californian also just missed out on a Gold Glove, losing to Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier. Pillar will have to console himself with the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the 2015 J.J. YEA for Most Improved Player. A well-deserved honor that definitely didn’t mean 2014 left a lot to be desired.