Toronto Blue Jays 2016 Year in Review: Kevin Pillar

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) hits a single during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) hits a single during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /
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In 2017, Kevin Pillar further cemented his future as one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, playing 146 games in centre field

Prior to spring training in 2015, Kevin Pillar looked like the type of player who would make a fine career as a 4th outfielder in the big leagues. An injury to Michael Saunders in spring training opened the door for Pillar to start the season in left field, and he eventually took over in centre, which has been his position ever since.

The former 32nd round pick ended up playing in 159 games in 2015, adding Gold Glove calibre defence in centre. Pillar made a routine of making jaw-dropping catches on the regular, and would have been the Gold Glove winner had it not been for Kevin Kiermaier‘s equally impressive defence.

2016 brought a second full campaign for Pillar as a starter, and a hope that his bat could catch up to his defensive skills.

The Good

Pillar once again provided highlight reel defence in centre field, throwing his body recklessly into the wall or turf whenever necessary. Pillar had a Rtot rating (defensive runs saved defensively by average) of +4 after posting a +12 in 2015 while his DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) was 21 after a total of 22 last season.

His batting line didn’t change much, settling at .266/.303/.376 this season after finishing .278/.314/.399 in 2015. He was able to slightly increase his total doubles from 31 to 35, despite having fewer plate appearances.

The Bad

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Pillar started the season off in the leadoff spot, and the club hoped he could fill the void at the top of the lineup. Unfortunately, he struggled to get on base, and was eventually replaced by Jose Bautista, and eventually Devon Travis as the table setter.

He wasn’t awful with the bat, but the hope was Pillar would take a step or two forward from 2015. Last season, he managed 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases, leading some in the organization to believe he could be a 20/20 candidate.

While that’s still possible in the future, Pillar only managed seven home runs this season, and swiped just 14 bases. He did spend some time on the DL with a nagging thumb sprain, which could very well have contributed to any struggles with the bat.

He wasn’t able to contribute much offensively in the playoffs, hitting only .063/.111/.063 and managing just one hit in 16 at bats.

The Future

With the expected departure of Bautista and Saunders, Pillar will likely be the lone starting outfield holdover in 2017. He’ll be counted on to provide the elite defence we’ve grown accustomed to, and the Jays will hope he can continue to improve with the bat.

He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2018, and won’t be a free agent until 2021, so he’ll likely be a fixture for several years. The 27-year-old outfielder was never supposed achieve what he already has, so it’s tough to count  him out for anything going forward.

He’s developed a reputation as an incredibly hard worker, forcing his way into the starting lineup with his contributions. It would hardly come as a surprise to see Pillar continue to improve, because at 27, he should just be hitting his peak now.

Next: Blue Jays big-name OF targets to watch in free agency

Other Toronto Blue Jays ‘Year in Review’ Profiles:  

Michael Saunders   Ryan Goins   Ezequiel Carrera   Joe Biagini
Chris Colabello   Aaron Loup   Kevin Pillar

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