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Bisons' Pillar excelling in Triple-A trial

Blue Jays prospect collects four hits, batting .395 with Buffalo
June 30, 2013

There's a piece of advice Kevin Pillar once got from his father, Mike, and it's stuck with the Blue Jays' Minor Leaguer.

"Don't just walk through the door," the saying goes. "Take it down."

Every path the West Hills, Calif., native has taken in his baseball career has been blocked. To date, he's smashed through every one.

A level away from his ultimate goal, Pillar is hacking at the final blockade like the Major League hitter he may soon become.

The 2011 32nd-round Draft pick continued to terrorize Triple-A pitching Sunday afternoon, going 4-for-6 with a homer, double and three RBIs as Buffalo defeated Charlotte, 11-3.

The 24-year-old right fielder also scored three times and he drove his batting average up to .395 in 10 games since being promoted from Double-A New Hampshire. He's already had a pair of four-hit effort, ripping four doubles on Wednesday at Gwinnett.

The first-inning homer was his second with the Bisons and seventh of the season. He also stole his 16th base of the season -- first with Buffalo -- and recorded an outfield assist when he nailed a runner at the plate.

Pillar has hit from his days at Chaminade High School all the way through the Minor Leagues, where he has a .328 average in 269 games across five levels.

Despite being one of the better players on his high school team, Pillar's options for college baseball were limited to Cal State-Dominguez Hills, a small Division II school whose most notable baseball product before Pillar was 12-year Major Leaguer Craig Grebeck.

Even Dominguez Hills wasn't interested in Pillar until his high school coach, Sid Lopez, moved from Chaminade to become the college's pitching coach.

"It was really the only option," Pillar said. "When I went from high school to Dominguez Hills, it wasn't a dream school by any means, but it gave me a chance to play right away. And it was about 40 miles from my house."

Pillar became an All-American and had an illustrious career with the Toros. He set a Division II record with a 54-game hitting streak as a junior and felt confident the performance would get him selected in the 2010 Draft.

"To be honest, I thought after my junior year I had a chance to be drafted," he said. "There was no guarantee in my mind that I would've taken the offer because I ... would've had to have been given a decent amount of money, a life-changing amount.

"I was OK with going back for my senior year to get my degree, although with how I think now, if I had been drafted, I probably would've just gone."

Pillar never got the chance to weigh that decision. He went undrafted in 2010, settling for another year of college ball. He said the snub left him "devastated, heartbroken" but inspired him to take to the offseason with a renewed focus.

"I made up my mind that I was going to sell out and do everything possible to not let that happen again my senior year," he said. "I put in a lot of work while I was out in Wisconsin [in the Northwoods League] for the summer.

"When I came back in the offseason and was getting ready for fall ball, I just fully committed myself to doing whatever was possible to have a good season, win some games and get myself drafted."

Pillar batted .379 with a 1.000 fielding percentage as a senior. Even with the stellar season, Draft day again proved a disappointment as he fell to the 32nd round and reportedly settled for a $1,000 signing bonus.

"I had my sights set somewhere between the eighth and ninth rounds to even the 20th round," he said. "I remember being with family and close friends and just listening to all of day two of the Draft, waiting for the phone to ring or to hear something on the Internet. It never happened.

"It was kind of the same feeling I had after my junior year -- I was pretty devastated. To be honest, I almost didn't get up in time to listen on day three of the Draft. I was in the kitchen making breakfast and I heard my name over the Internet, then I got a call from an area scout [Kevin Foxx] telling me I was drafted. I knew that was the opportunity I needed to prove myself."

He didn't waste time garnering attention. Toronto started Pillar in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he rocked the mostly younger competition with a .347 average, seven homers and 37 RBIs in 60 games.

The Blue Jays pushed him up the ladder in 2012, and Pillar kept hitting. He batted .322 in 86 games at Class A Lansing, then hit .323 in 42 games with Class A Advanced Dunedin to finish the year.

The 24-year-old followed that by hitting .313 in 71 games at Double-A New Hampshire this season, responding to the jump in competition with an .802 OPS. Since leaving the Fisher Cats, he's only upped his game.

Pillar boasts a simple swing and has benefited from being reunited with Bisons hitting coach Jon Nunnally. He worked with the former Major Leaguer in the Arizona Fall League last year and credited him with helping sharpen his approach.

"I just really like his style and approach to hitting," Pillar said. "He could see something in an at-bat and he's comfortable telling you how to adjust at-bat to at-bat. Most hitting coaches will let you take your at-bats and let you make your adjustments in between games. He's confident enough with all of us to tell us what he sees and make the adjustments.

"His hitting philosophy ... it's not trying to get hits on pitches early in the count but really trying to do damage early. With the type of hitter I am, I'm confident with two strikes and I can always go back to letting the ball get deep and using the whole field with two strikes."

If Pillar keeps up his torrid pace, Toronto brass is going to have to make room for him. Among those who would be happy to see him make it is his future wife.

"I promised my fiancée, Amanda, that we would get married when I made it to the big leagues," Pillar told the Fisher Cats last month for a feature on the team's website.

The way he's going, wedding bells may not be far off.

"My dad has always told me to make the best of an opportunity when it's given," Pillar said. "Make yourself known, play hard, and the rest will take care of itself."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.