(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - Just over five years ago, then-Canadians OF Kevin Pillar made a defensive play in Eugene, Oregon that made me laugh. I chuckled because not only did it snuff out a potential Emeralds rally en route to the Canadians winning a three-game series against the team with the best regular-season record, but it was just a play that you don't often see at the Minor League level.
Pillar, who only played for the Canadians in the post-season back in 2011, had a bat that was good enough to be a difference maker at our level. In the five games he played for Vancouver helping the C's to its first ever Northwest League Championship, Pillar hit .385, which is as good as you could have ever asked for. But several times his glove was louder than his swing.
I never got to see Pillar beyond those five glorious days as the following season, his meteoric rise toward the bright lights of the Major Leagues was off and running. How meteoric? He went from playing left field for the Canadians in September of 2011 to debuting for the Blue Jays on August 14th, 2013. Less than two years from Scotiabank Field to Rogers Centre.
He hit .300 at almost every Minor League level with the exception of Buffalo where he slacked off and 'only' hit .299 before he got his call to The Show which I am certain keeps him up at night.
Pillar's bat, despite the lofty averages at each Minor League level, was still rated as just average by most scouts who knew he had the speed, glove and mental ability to play at the Major League level, but some wondered if he had the power to stay at the game's top level despite the advanced grades otherwise.
Fan's of baseball love three things. They love home runs, all out hustle and winning. Maybe add hot dogs to that list as well.
Pillar joined the Blue Jays and 36 regular season games in 2013 hit .206 with the knowledge that a) he had arrived and b) that a Spring Training invite would await him the following year. 2013 was the proverbial 'gimme' for Pillar and his nerves/jitters.
The following year, Pillar played in 100 games and that was more than most projected at the time. A relatively unknown beyond his scouting report, the kid who signed for $1,000 was suddenly turning fans heads with one defensive gem after another. A diving catch to his left, to his right, over the outfield fence. It was as if he was playing with the knowledge that it was going to be his absolute last game and played like a house on fire.
Fans in Toronto, and across Canada took notice. As well, Pillar would make every single community appearance asked of the Blue Jays. In the cold, out West, where ever and whenever it was -- Pillar was there.
Pillar was the runner-up in both 2015 and this past season for the American League Gold Glove for outstanding defensive play. This has simply become Pillar's calling card with only six errors in nearly 400 outfield chances. That and now, the bat is starting to come around. Pillar hit .278-12-56 in 2015 and .266-7-53 this past summer. Not gobsmacking numbers, but, when you put them up against former Blue Jays second-year players like Lloyd Moseby .236-9-52 (1982) and Jesse Barfield, .246-18-58 (1982) you realize that Pillar falls somewhere in between which ain't that bad when you think of how those two careers turned out.
Pillar's value has increased each season since his arrival and should Jose Bautista leave for greener pastures in the coming weeks through free agency, suddenly #11 becomes the elder statesman of the outfield.
The glove is what got him to Toronto, along with some hard work and hitting in key situations. It was absolutely earned. What makes me chuckle is that despite all of the moving pieces that we have seen over the past few years with Toronto that turned them into a contender, one of the few pieces that was simply not up for discussion? The future of Kevin Pillar.
Perhaps other teams didn't see the numbers in categories they thought useful. Some might say he is still a few years away from becoming a bonafide star at the Major League level. Anyway you look at it for Kevin Pillar, wearing a tool belt full of tools hasn't been the worst of ideas as he has suddenly become a cornerstone player for the Blue Jays in the outfield despite suiting up for the C's just five years ago.