Pillar with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015
|Toronto Blue Jays – No. 11|
January 4, 1989 |
West Hills, California
|August 14, 2013, for the Toronto Blue Jays|
(through June 10, 2018)
|Runs batted in||198|
Kevin Andrew Pillar (//) (born January 4, 1989) is an American professional baseball center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB). Pillar was an All-American center fielder in college. He set the NCAA Division II record with a 54-game hitting streak in 2010, and established his school's all-time record with a career batting average of .367. Pillar was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 32nd round (979th overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft.
In 2011, he batted .347, winning the Appalachian League batting title and leading the organization in batting average in his first minor league season, and was named an Appalachian League All-Star. In 2012 Pillar batted .323, while stealing 51 bases (second-most in the organization), and was named the Midwest League MVP, a mid-season and post-season All Star, the best hitting prospect in the league by Baseball America, and a Topps Class A All Star and MiLB.com Organization All Star. In 2013, he led the organization in hits for the second consecutive year, and Baseball America designated him the "Best Hitter for Average" among the Blue Jays' prospects. He made his major league debut for the Blue Jays in August 2013. In 2014, he led the International League in doubles while batting .323, and was named an IL post-season All Star. In his minor league career through 2016, he batted .324.
Pillar was born in the Los Angeles district of West Hills to Mike and Wendy Pillar. Pillar is Jewish and had a Bar Mitzvah; his mother is Jewish and his father is Christian. Through the 2017 season, his 55 stolen bases placed him 10th on the career all-time list of Jewish major leaguers, directly behind Hank Greenberg. His nickname is K.P.
In high school at Chaminade College Prep, Pillar moved from the infield to the outfield in his junior year for the baseball team. He batted just under .400 for his high school career, with a high of .463 in his senior year. He also played on offense, defense, and special teams with the football team, as well as point guard on the basketball team, and earned first-team all-league honors in each sport.
Pillar attended California State University, Dominguez Hills, in Carson, California. There, he majored in mathematics and business, and played center field for the Toros baseball team, for which he was an All-American. As a freshman in 2008 he hit .379, the fifth-highest average in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (he was also third in the league with 20 doubles, and fifth in the league with 17 steals), and was named to the All-CCAA 2nd team. As a sophomore in 2009 he batted .329 and was again named a 2nd-Team All-CCAA selection, while stealing 18 bases in 19 attempts.
In 2010, as a junior he set an NCAA Division II record at the school, with a 54-game hitting streak, five games more than the prior record. During Pillar's streak he came to the plate eight times needing a hit in his final at bat, and got one. Batting .379 for the season, he was also named a Rawlings/ABCA National Gold Glove Award winner, ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic 1st-team All-District, an Honorable Mention All-American by NCBWA, 1st-team Daktronics/NCAA, NCBWA and Rawlings/ABCA All-West Region, and 1st-team All-CCAA selection, giving him three All-CCAA honors in three years. In his senior year, he batted .369 with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Pillar finished his college career as the school's all-time batting leader, with a .367 average.
Minor league career
Pillar was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round (979th overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. His signing bonus of $1,000 was so little, after taxes, that he needed to ask his mom for some additional money so that he could have enough to buy an iPhone. When he was promoted to the majors two years later, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said: "Clearly ... and I say that respectfully, we got him wrong. Just because, if he has a chance to get to the big leagues, you don't wait for the [32nd] round to select him."
Pillar played for the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2011, and batted .347 over 60 games, winning the Appalachian League batting title and leading the organization in batting average. He was also 4th in the league in hits (82), and 6th in slugging percentage (.542). He was named an Appalachian League All-Star. He holds the team's all-time records for batting average, on-base percentage (.377), and slugging percentage (.534). He was then called up to play for the Vancouver Canadians in its playoff run, and batted .391 to help the team win the Northwest League title.
Pillar began the 2012 minor league season with the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League, where he recorded a .322 batting average (3rd in the league) with a .390 on base percentage (4th in the league), and stole 35 bases (tied for 7th in the league) in 86 games. He was then promoted to the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays, where he batted .323 and stole 16 bases in 42 games. His total of 51 steals in 2012 was the second-most in the Blue Jays organization, and 10th-most in the minor leagues. Considered an excellent defensive player, he played all three outfield positions. He was named the 2012 Midwest League Most Valuable Player, after also garnering mid-season and post-season All Star honors, and being named the best hitting prospect in the Midwest League by Baseball America. He was also named a Topps Class A All Star and an MiLB.com Organization All Star. He then played for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, batting a team-leading .371.
Pillar was promoted to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats before the start of the 2013 minor league season. He played 71 games for the team, and made 12 outfield assists. He was considered one of the most consistent hitters and defenders in the Eastern League, "with great instincts, a powerful and accurate throwing arm," and showed speed on the base paths. Richie Hebner, his hitting coach, said: "He is the best player in the league. He does everything well." He batted .313 (3rd in the league) with 5 home runs and 30 RBIs, and was leading the Eastern League with 95 hits, before he was promoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Through his first 11 games, Pillar batted .391 and had more doubles (8) than singles (7). During his time in Buffalo he had more extra-base hits (27) than any other player in AAA over that timespan. In 123 games between New Hampshire and Buffalo, he had 39 doubles and 155 hits which, at the time of his August 2013 promotion, were the second- and third-highest totals, respectively, in the minor leagues. Buffalo manager Marty Brown said: "I am impressed with how he has swung the bat, for sure. But he also always seems to be in the right place at the right time defensively. He's a very heads-up baserunner."
Pillar was ranked the 16th-best prospect in the Blue Jays organization by MLB.com in July 2013. Pillar had not previously ranked in the top 20 on MLB.com's rankings. Baseball America ranked him as the team's 12th-best prospect. In 2013, his 155 hits in the minors led the organization for the second consecutive year. In December 2013, Baseball America designated him the "Best Hitter for Average" among the Blue Jays' prospects.
In 2014 with the Bisons he batted .323 (3rd in the league) in 100 games (missing 35 games during his two call-ups to the majors), leading the International League in doubles (39; second-most in the Bisons' modern era to Jhonny Peralta's 44 in 2004), 4th in extra-base hits (52), and 5th in slugging percentage (.509) and stolen bases (27), with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs. Pillar had both a 21-game hitting streak (the longest in the league for the season) and an 18-game hitting streak, making him the first player in Buffalo's modern era to put together two hitting streaks of 18 games or more. He was named International Player of the Week twice (on May 5 and August 6), an International League post-season All-Star, and the 2014 Buffalo Bisons MVP.
Major league career
Toronto Blue Jays
Pillar was called up to the Blue Jays for the first time in his career on August 14, 2013, after center fielder Colby Rasmus was placed on the 15-day disabled list and utility player Emilio Bonifacio was traded to the Kansas City Royals. He was the first member of Toronto's 2011 draft to reach the majors, and as of April 2015, was the lowest selection of his major league draft class to get to the majors. General manager Anthopoulos stated that, at the time of his call-up, he considered Pillar a "legit center option".
Pillar made his major league debut that night against the Boston Red Sox. He was given uniform number 22. He was 0-for-4 with one strikeout, and made a superb, head-long, diving catch in the outfield in the Blue Jays' 4–3 extra innings win. Pillar recorded his first career hit and RBI in a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on August 20. On August 24, Pillar hit his first career home run, a three-run shot off Houston Astros starter Brad Peacock.
In 2014, after starting the season with the Blue Jays, Pillar was optioned to the Buffalo Bisons on March 22. He was called up to the Blue Jays on May 13, after Jonathan Diaz was optioned to Triple-A. Pillar had reached base safely in a league-high 26 straight games with Buffalo, and posted a triple slash of .305/.344/.461 in 34 games, while leading the league in doubles and leading Triple-A with an 18-game hitting streak.
On June 9, Pillar hit a walk-off single, scoring Erik Kratz to give the Blue Jays a 5–4 win over the Minnesota Twins. On June 24 he was sent back down to Buffalo for throwing his bat after manager John Gibbons removed him for pinch hitter Anthony Gose. He was recalled on August 26 when Nolan Reimold was designated for assignment.
In the 2015 offseason, the Blue Jays acquired Michael Saunders from the Seattle Mariners, and Pillar was expected to compete for the fourth outfielder role heading into spring training. However, after Saunders tore his meniscus before the start of spring training Pillar stepped in as the starting left fielder.
Throughout the season, Pillar made several highlight reel catches, including robbing Tim Beckham of a home run on April 15. On June 2, Pillar recorded his first career two-home run game, and became the first right-handed batter to hit two home runs in one game off of Washington Nationals' ace Max Scherzer. He was named the Blue Jays Player of the Month for June, as voted on by the Toronto Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), for a month in which he batted .365 (4th in the AL) with 5 stolen bases (tied for 7th in the AL) and 18 RBIs (tied for 10th in the AL). On September 28, Pillar was named the American League Player of the Week for September 21–27. He batted .524 with 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, and 5 stolen bases during that week.
Pillar played his first full Major League season in 2015, and set several career-highs. He finished the regular season batting .278 with 12 home runs, 56 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases (5th in the AL), as his 86.21 stolen base percentage was 4th-best in the league. Pillar played in all 5 games of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers, and batted .333 with 1 home run and 4 RBIs. Pillar and the Blue Jays then lost the American League Championship Series in 6 games to the Kansas City Royals, who went on to win the World Series.
On October 29, Pillar was announced as a finalist for the Gold Glove award in center field, along with Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Trout, with the award eventually going to Kiermaier. On November 11, Pillar was named the 2015 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for center field.
Pillar opened the season as the Blue Jays' lead-off hitter, but struggled, hitting .188 with no walks through April 16, and was soon moved down in the order by manager John Gibbons. In early August, Pillar was placed on the disabled list with a left thumb sprain; he later underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. To that point in the season, Pillar had played in 109 of 112 games, and his 2.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was second only to Josh Donaldson on the team. On September 6, Pillar was announced as the Blue Jays' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
Pillar appeared in 146 games for the Blue Jays in 2016, and hit .266 with seven home runs, 53 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. He led all MLB center fielders in defensive value according to Fangraphs, and was only surpassed in defensive value by shortstops Brandon Crawford and Francisco Lindor. Pillar struggled with the bat in the postseason, going 3-for-32 at the plate with one home run and two RBIs. On October 27, Pillar was named as a finalist for the Gold Glove Award in center field, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Kiermaier. On October 28, he was awarded the Fielding Bible Award for the center field position.
On February 8, 2017, Pillar was announced as the cover athlete for the Canadian version of R.B.I. Baseball 17. During the offseason, Pillar worked to improve his plate discipline, with the goal of becoming the lead-off hitter for the Blue Jays. Early in the season he split time at the lead-off role with Devon Travis, however Travis struggled in the role and Pillar became the everyday lead-off hitter in late April. On May 13, Pillar became the American League leader in hits with 47, after a 3-for-4 performance against the Seattle Mariners. The following day, Pillar hit the first walk-off home run of his career, a solo shot off Mariners closer Edwin Díaz to give Toronto a 3–2 victory.
In the Blue Jays 8–4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on May 17, Braves pitcher Jason Motte struck out Pillar with a quick pitch. Pillar then called Motte a homophobic slur, Motte and Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki confronted him, and both dugouts rushed onto the field. Following the game, Pillar publicly apologized to Motte. The next day, the Blue Jays held a press conference at which Pillar apologized again, and the team announced that Pillar would be suspended for two games; he was also fined an undisclosed amount by MLB.
For the 2017 season, Pillar batted .256/.300/.404 with career-highs in doubles (37) and home runs (16), as he scored 72 runs and stole 15 bases. His .997 fielding percentage as a center fielder was the best in the league, and his eight assists as a center fielder were second-most in the AL. On October 28, he was named a center field Gold Glove award finalist.
On January 12, 2018, Pillar avoided salary arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Blue Jays. In Toronto's 5–3 victory over the New York Yankees on March 31, Pillar became the first Blue Jay to steal three bases in one inning, when he stole second, third, and home plate in the eighth. It was also the team's first successful straight steal of home since Aaron Hill did so in 2007.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kevin Pillar.|
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Kevin Pillar on Twitter
- "Interview with Kevin Pillar — Arizona Fall League Standout", Matt Kaiser, November 2, 2012
- "Interview: Kevin Pillar: How the Toronto Blue Jays’ Prospect is Raking His Way Through the Minor Leagues," Andrew Martin, Seamheads.com, March 27, 2013