As Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey continue to impress this spring, one has to wonder if Kevin Pillar is suddenly feeling the pinch of job security.
Like every MLB team this spring, the Blue Jays are going to have some tough decisions to make before Opening Day. They’re fortunate in a way that they no longer have to deal with the Vladimir Guerrero Jr‘s big league debut debate, but they’ve got some choices to make in their rotation, their bullpen, and with their 25 and 40 man rosters.
There aren’t many signs of the last generation of this team still kicking around, but the Blue Jays will still count on a few familiar names like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Justin Smoak, and Ryan Tepera this season. There are a few more of course, but the way things are going the youth movement is making a case for making a near full takeover, and that could push a guy like Kevin Pillar out of a job depending on how Ross Atkins and company decide to approach things with a fresh calendar in front of them.
Pillar is the veteran holdover in the outfield, and the last regular everyday player from the 2015 team that broke a two-decade long playoff drought. Smoak was a part-time player then, sharing duties with Chris Colabello, and Devon Travis was the second baseman when he was healthy in his rookie season. Otherwise it’s a completely different group than the one that featured the likes of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and more.
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There’s definitely an argument that the Blue Jays need to keep a few veterans around the clubhouse to show the young guys the ropes, but right now the front office is facing a couple difficult decisions in their outfield. They’ll definitely be carrying Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez, who should both start pretty regularly, and Pillar was expected to hold down the fort up the middle between them, with a few others sprinkled into the mix as well. However, arguably two of the best players the Blue Jays have had in Grapefruit League play have been Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey, and there’s a strong argument for keeping them both around for the regular season.
Pompey’s situation is the more obvious one, as he’s out of minor league options and would have to be exposed to waivers if the Blue Jays don’t take him north at the beginning of the season. He’s faced a lot of frustration with injuries over the last few years, but it’s hard to believe that he’d slip through unnoticed, so the Blue Jays have to decide if he’s part of the future, or perhaps try to trade him before that decision has to be made.
He’s also just straight up making a case for making the team with his play right now, as his speed, defence, and ability to switch-hit would all be welcome additions to the club if he can put things together and stay healthy. There’s a reason he was handed the centre fielder’s job at the age of 21, but unfortunately things just haven’t worked out for him to put it all together at the highest level. Something tells me he’s on the brink of that, and it would be a shame to see the Blue Jays let him go for nothing.
And as good as Pompey has been this Spring, there’s a legitimate argument that Alford has been the best player in camp so far. He’s already hit four home runs, and has shown us flashes of all five tools in his chest, reminding fans why he’s been a highly rated prospect for so long. He’s another outfielder that has dealt with perpetual injury issues and disappointment the last couple of years, but there’s no doubt the potential is still there. That said, at 24 years old the lustre is starting to wear off of his prospect status, and this felt like a bit of a make or break spring for him. So far he’s taking full advantage and making pretty much everyone take notice.
That brings us back to Pillar, who last season showed signs of decline on defence, and once again failed to take a step forward with his production at the plate. For the last number of years it’s felt like he was on the edge of making progress as as hitter, but last season’s slash line of .252/.282/.426 was a stark reminder that he’s probably never going to be an All-Star. When you add in the fact that Grichuk is a capable centre fielder, and both Pompey and Alford are experienced at the position as well, the situation starts looking more and more grim for the veteran.
There were a few rumours this winter tying him to other teams, but you have to think that Atkins and the front office were at least open to the idea of dealing him, especially after watching them dispatch Tulowitzki and Martin in order to make room for their developing prsopects. They obviously never found a match that worked out, so he remains on the roster and is excited about the idea of being a veteran leader, and hopefully showing that this group has more potential than people give them credit for.
Ironically though, if the Blue Jays are looking to squeeze the most potential out of their roster, their 2019, and their future in the outfield, I’m not so sure that keeping Pillar around makes a whole lot of sense anymore. If it means cutting Pompey and/or sending Alford back to Triple-A when he’s ready to take the next step, I don’t know that the Blue Jays should be willing to make that sacrifice. It’s nothing personal, as I’ve always appreciated the blue collar game that Pillar brings to the diamond, but if the Blue Jays are serious about rebuilding this team, it seems to me that Alford and Pompey’s presence should be more important than keeping around the veteran.