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Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season previews: Kevin Pillar

Bevan Hamilton
Oct 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar catches a fly ball hit by Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton (not pictured) in the fourth inning in game five of the ALDS at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar catches a fly ball hit by Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton (not pictured) in the fourth inning in game five of the ALDS at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Despite proving a lot of doubters wrong in 2015, Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Pillar will have to do it again in 2016

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Kevin Pillar entered Spring Training in 2015 as a fringe player, but walked off the field mid-October having captured the hearts of an entire nation.

While his spot on the roster seems pretty set now, Pillar needs to prove he can put up the same kinds of numbers offensively while continuing to be a defensive genius. He may not have to fear for 2016, but Dalton Pompey will be ready eventually, not to mention Anthony Alford.

2015 Performance Recap

Pillar played his way into a full-time role early in the year and never looked back. The California native wowed the fanbase with his outstanding defence, which resulted in a Gold Glove nomination. But his bat drastically improved as well.

Pillar did go through extended slumps with the bat, but still must be credited with putting together a fine offensive season to go with his glove and baserunning abilities. He ended the year with a WAR of 4.3, which is quite impressive. The result is that the 27-year-old implanted himself as the Blue Jays’ centre fielder for the foreseeable future.

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2016 Role and Steamer Projection

The Blue Jays were counting on Pompey to acclimate to the major league level last season, but that didn’t happen. If you factor in Pillar’s good 2015 season, things should go about the same in 2016. Centre field is Pillar’s to lose for now, but that comes with pressures of its own.

Steamer projects a season pretty similar for Pillar, although they expect him to play in 24 less games than 2015. The only significant differences they predict are increased power (.135 ISO and .414 SLG compared to 2015’s totals of .121 and .399) and less stolen bases (17 compared to last year’s 25). Aside from that, Steamer is projecting a season nearly identical to last year for Pillar, which isn’t bad at all.

What could go wrong?

What if 2015 was just a fluke? Sure, Pillar will probably always be able to catch a ball that may not even be remotely close to his position, but will he still be able to hit in high-risk situations and get on base late in games?

None of Pillar’s numbers last year were especially elite, so it’s hard to say he’ll fall back hard. I spoke earlier of his extended slumps – he hit .181 in May and .240 in August. But if he isn’t careful, those slumps he struggled through could turn into mechanical issues at the plate, hurt his confidence and set him back.

If Pillar does end up struggling badly, it could result in less playing time and the Jays may toy with the idea of putting Pompey out there, struggles and all. If somebody is going to struggle through the everyday, it might as well be the star prospect the Jays have been counting on.

What could go right?

Pillar is a hardworking player and sometimes hard work weighs more than pure skill. He proved that last year and he’ll need to prove it once again. And it’s not as though he’s without skill; it’s quite the opposite actually. He has skills, but he’s one of those players who has to work extra hard to refine those said skills just to stay on top.

Don’t forget he’s still on a team with the offensive juggernaut of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. That’s basically a hitting clinic right there.

Best-case scenario, Pillar keeps on improving his game and plays to Steamers projections for the year. In other words, do what you did last year and you’ll be just fine.

Next: Poll time: Osuna or Storen in the closer's role on opening day?

The bottom line

The Blue Jays have enough offensive production from their superstars that Pillar doesn’t have to be exceptional. There shouldn’t be a lot asked of him, except to work hard every day and keep on improving his game.

Unless he takes major steps back, expect Pillar to be the Jays centre fielder most days this season.

And don’t forget to enjoy the defensive gems he’s sure to make on a regular basis. After all, he is Superman.

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