Blue Jays: How to help Kevin Pillar keep this up

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 31: Kevin Pillar
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 31: Kevin Pillar /

Kevin Pillar has started off on a positive note this season, just as he did in April of last year. Is there a way to help him sustain this early success?

When the Blue Jays got off to their franchise worst start in April in 2017, there was one name in the lineup that consistently produced, and that was Kevin Pillar.

The defensive whizz was the best player on the roster that month, collecting 31 hits in 103 at bats for a slash line of .301/.339/.505. He also produced four home runs, seven doubles, eight RBI, and stole a couple bases as well. He looked like he might be finally putting it together on offence, making him an even more valuable player to the Blue Jays lineup than he already was with his Gold Glove calibre defence. Unfortunately he couldn’t sustain that production, and finished the campaign with a .256/.300/.404 slash line, and struggled at various points in the season.

Fast forward to the present, and once again Pillar is putting up more than respectable numbers in the early going . Obviously it’s a very small sample size, but so far he’s got a line of .462/.500/.769 in 13 at bats, already picking up six hits, including a home run on Opening Day.

He of course did this as well, in case you missed it:

It’s the kind of production that gets Blue Jays fans really excited about “Superman” in the lineup, and also drives them crazy when he goes through a drought at the plate as well. It’s always felt like he had more in the tank with the the bat, and once again we’re seeing a nice stint of play from the 29 year old.

Every big leaguer is going to go through stretches where they’re hot and cold, and Pillar is no exception. There’s a lot that goes into sustaining that exciting production though, and there is admittedly a lot more than just the few suggestions I’m going to throw out here for Pillar to keep this up as well. He’ll need to become more consistent with his pitch selection, and with his ability to hit breaking balls, but that’s a given for almost every big leaguer. For the former 32nd round pick in the 2011 draft, I’d have a couple simple pieces of advice, if I was in his ear anyway.

Consider the impact on your body by being “Superman”

I’m not suggesting for a second that Superman should suddenly stop giving 110% on defence, as that would detract from his value in a big way. But would there be anything wrong with 100% instead?

He’s made a name for himself with the Blue Jays’ fan base, and throughout baseball with his defensive theatrics, and I’m even not sure if it’s possible for him to shift down a gear or not. However, as he gets closer to 30 and the punishment starts to take longer to recover from, you have to wonder if that doesn’t creep into his mind.

I’m perfectly fine with him diving for balls in the outfield, but there are times when he throws himself into the outfield fence, that I simply wish he wouldn’t have. Even at times when he makes a spectacular catch, sometimes you have to wonder if the momentary glory is worth the long term effect on his body. The infamous grab at Wrigley field (with a brick wall behind the ivey) comes to mind.

If we think that has no effect on his hitting ability, or what he brings to the team on the base paths, then we’re just being naive. And again, I’m not saying that he should stop being aggressive on defence, or that it’s even possible for him to dial it back without losing his edge, but it’s legitimately something he should be thinking about at this stage of his career.

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Keep him in the bottom third of the lineup

It was a more than fair idea last year, especially as the Blue Jays searched for a suitable candidate to lead off in Devon Travis‘ absence. Pillar even thrived in the role for awhile, but he eventually settled back to earth.

I’d like to see John Gibbons stick to him as a bottom of the order hitter, whether that’s in the eighth spot, or the nine hole. He has the type of skill set that can bring a spark to the bottom third, and could set him up well to be on base for the big boppers hitting 2nd and 3rd in Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak. It’s the ol’ “second lead off hitter” deal, and really does work in either spot for the California native.

It keeps some pressure off of him, and gives him a role he can take pride, and hopefully thrive in. Considering the other hitters in the lineup and the depth throughout the organization, it would take a pile of injuries to necessitate that change (knock on wood), so I’d like to see him stay in the same spot, even for the sake of mental preparation for his role.

Don’t forget about the kids in the minor leagues

I’m not talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr or Bo Bichette, I’m talking about the outfielders that would love to have Pillar’s job if they were given the opportunity right now. The Blue Jays have a few depth options waiting in the minor league wings in Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and Dalton Pompey, and each of them are arguably ready any time, as long as they’re healthy.

As the season progresses, Pillar has to know that the pressure exists with the talented youngsters lurking. He’s no longer a pre-arbitration eligible player so his cost will continue to rise, and he won’t be able to play reckless defence forever, so the older he gets the more the kids will become appealing.

That said, as long as he performs and provides value to the big league club, especially in the way he has in the season’s opening series, he won’t be going anywhere. Obviously we can’t expect him to hit .462 all year, but an improvement in his OBP would go a long way to raising his offensive floor, and guaranteeing his gig for the short, and long term future.

As I said above, my thoughts here aren’t exactly rocket science, but I really do believe that these points will go a long way in determining whether he’s an invaluable player to the Blue Jays, or a replaceable one. So far he’s been the former, and there’s a lot of reason to believe he can keep up the positive contribution on both sides of the ball. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been critical of his future projections in the past, but I like what I’m seeing right now, and I’m hoping 2018 is the year that Pillar puts it together at the plate.

Next: Pillar steals his way to a franchise record