Blue Jays: Pillar an early spark plug in the lineup

Apr 16, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) blocks a ball hit for a single by Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) blocks a ball hit for a single by Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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There haven’t been a lot of things to celebrate early on for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the play of Kevin Pillar has been very encouraging in the team’s first 13 games.

While it feels like the entire Blue Jays team is floundering to start the 2017 season, that isn’t actually the case. Overall, the starting rotation has pitched relatively well, despite the team’s poor record in the first two weeks. The bullpen has been mostly serviceable, with a couple arms making an early case for inclusion in the pen throughout the year.

However, on offence is where the team has truly struggled, seeing some of their most valuable players get off to some of the coldest stretches of their career. In fact, Jose Bautista (.128), Steve Pearce (.162), Russell Martin (.114) and Devon Travis (.098), have started a combined 20-160, good for a collective .125 average amongst them.

That said, not everyone in the lineup is struggling to begin the season, and a few are actually bordering on hitting well, if you can believe it. Josh Donaldson looked good prior to his injury, Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales have hit the better even better than their numbers, Justin Smoak has been one of the best hitters on the team, to nearly everyone’s surprise.

Perhaps the best of the entire lot? Thus far, that would be Kevin Pillar.

Pillar has started the season with a .314/340/.471 slash line, already collecting 5 doubles and a home run in his 51 at bats. Tuesday night was a bit of a break out party for the defensive whizz, as he picked on Pablo Sandoval all night, hitting 3 doubles past him down the third base line.

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Pillar began the season as the team’s number 9 hitter, serving as a de facto “second lead off man” when the lineup turned over. For a team lacking speed, putting Pillar in that role made some sense, as he could be a threat prior to the meat of the lineup coming to the plate. However, after Devon Travis struggled to open the season. Pillar has found himself hitting at the top of the lineup for the last two games, and he’s taken the job and run with it thus far.

It’s an extremely small sample size, but Pillar looks comfortable in the role, and has been very aggressive at the plate thus far. In fact, 2 of his 3 doubles on Tuesday came on the first pitch of the at bat, with Pillar not waiting around any longer than it takes to get a pitch he likes.

He’s also making contact at a better rate thus far, only striking out 6 times in his first 51 at bats, or roughly over 8.5 at bats. In 2016, he struck out 90 times in 548 at bats, good for once every 6 times to the plate. That small adjustment could make a big difference, especially for someone with the speed tool that Pillar possesses.

Again, it’s very early to be calling for a transformation in a player (just as it’s early to call for the Blue Jays’ playoff heads), but thus far Kevin Pillar is bringing a lot to the table in this, his age 28 season.

Next: Blue Jays will have to make a decision on Donaldson's future

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