Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar has not hit his ceiling yet

Feb 13, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) hits as he works out at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 13, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) hits as he works out at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

No doubt Kevin Pillar has cemented himself as one of the premiere center fielders in the majors, earning an impressive 4.3 WAR rating in 2015 almost exclusively on the back of his defence alone. His defence continued to get even better in 2016.

The truth about Kevin Pillar is we haven’t seen him at full capacity yet. He simply hasn’t hit his ceiling. We must bear in mind, the almost-common knowledge, that he played a good chunk of last season hampered by a thumb injury.

In fact it was reported by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet in late October this off-season, that Pillar actually underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. Davidi went on to note that Pillar jammed it sliding into 2nd base on August 6th, and subsequently spent a couple of weeks on the DL before returning to regular duties.

Pillar ended up slashing .266/.303/.376 in 2016, regressing from.278/.314/.399 in 2015. Both are acceptable slash lines from A++ defender, but it would be foolish not to factor in the torn ligament as arguably the main reason for his decline at the plate year-over-year.

Perhaps this would also explain his decline on the base paths as well; he was only able to steal 14 bags last year, versus 25 the previous year, likely fearing exacerbating the thumb injury.

Based on that factor alone, playing through injury, an injury that most certainly would impede a player’s ability at the plate, I don’t see why Pillar can’t make a push to be a 20/20 guy if healthy. He’s shown flashes of power and definitely shown his speed, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

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Although he is most well known for jaw-dropping diving catches and stealing almost certain extra-base hits away from adversaries’ bats, a Kevin Pillar unencumbered by injury could establish himself as a more complete two-way player, being even more productive, and adding more value to himself and the team.

As an aside, wouldn’t it be exciting if two-thirds of the Blue Jays’ outfield were in the 20/20 club this year? After all, Melvin Upton managed to knock out at least 20 home runs and steal 20 bags in multiple seasons during his established tenure in the big leagues.

Upton has likely shown his ceiling, but for reasons already explained, Pillar hasn’t. Let’s hope Upton can match prior success, while at the same time Pillar showcases his full potential in 2017. Although in all likelihood, given the glut of outfielders in camp and the Jays seeming propensity to platoon, Upton unfortunately might not get enough at-bats to attempt to put up another 20/20 campaign.

If he did, along with a healthy Pillar, it certainly would be ironic that such an outcome would at least partially address internally, what the organization was hoping to obtain via free agency and/or trade during the off-season. In case you’re wondering, I speak of speed, and the accompanying threat of stealing bases: it forces pitchers out of their wind-up and into the stretch, not to mention the timing interruptions, looking back runners, and the general distraction from making quality pitches, whilst also avoiding the dreaded balk.

Now that Pillar can go full tilt again, and having gained another year of experience playing at the major league level, it’s his time to show that he does actually have more tools, or at least more developed tools at his disposal on the diamond (rather than be labelled as essentially an elite defender only), and projects to be an even bigger contributor, on both sides of the ball.

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And if he does happen to fall short of 20 home runs, you can at least count on him for over 30 doubles, as he’s managed the feat in each of the last 2 seasons. In fact, even with the DL stint, and we can assume playing through pain, he managed to tally 35 doubles last year. That makes 40+ definitely within the realm of possibility by my calculations.