Blue Jays swap Michael Saunders for Kevin Pillar in leadoff spot

Mar 22, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Michael Saunders (21) is congratulated in the dugout as he scores during the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Michael Saunders (21) is congratulated in the dugout as he scores during the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kevin Pillar is out as the leadoff hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays. Well, at least for now.

Instead, the Blue Jays will turn to Michael Saunders, who was in competition with Pillar for the job throughout the latter half of spring training. 

Pillar has struggled mightily out of the gates, and just this morning I wrote that the leash would be getting short with him atop the lineup. The decision relied heavily on John Gibbons‘ willingness to be patient with the experiment, but it appears that patience is up.

In Saunders, the Blue Jays move up a more veteran hitter who is quietly enjoying a nice start to the season with a .281 average. More importantly, the Canadian has walked three times. His career on-base percentage of .302 must be improved upon if he’s going to succeed in this role over any stretch of time, but he does represent the logical next step.

Moving Pillar down to the eight spot, where he spent much of last season, is also ideal for his skill set. Pillar is a very nice bottom-third hitter, and that’s meant in a complimentary way.

His ability to steal bases will be used much more freely without the big bats of Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista waiting behind him (25 SB in 2015). This could work well in unison with Ryan Goins, too, who is looking more comfortable in the box this year. The two can be used in tandem for hit-and-runs or bunt situations to flip the lineup back to the top with a runner in scoring position.