Kevin a Pillar of offence
* The Jays are known for their arms at class-A Lansing, but OF Kevin Pillar has provided plenty of offence ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
LANSING, Michigan – This year, Lansing has been home to some of the most talked-about prospects that the Toronto Blue Jays have down on the farm.
The ‘Big 3’ Lugnuts pitchers, Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard, have been impressive, posting a combined 2.41 ERA in over 217 innings with 243 strikeouts. They are all under the age of 22 and have compiled a combined 20-6 mark.
But, as the men on the mound can attest, there’s more to the success in Lansing than just the Big 3.
“This whole year so far has been crazy because a lot of people think the talk is about us three and it’s not,” Nicolino said. “It’s really not because the three of us couldn’t have done what we did in the first half, just the three of us.
“The guys that we have on this team and the guys that we’ve brought up on this team have made it that much better for us. We have defense, we have hitting, and it seems like we do every aspect of the game the right way. By doing that, it just makes it even that much more fun to go out there and pitch.”
Freshly promoted to the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar had been a force in Lansing this season. In 86 games, Pillar batted .322/.390/.451 with five home runs, four triples, 20 doubles, 57 RBI and 35 stolen bases.
“I’m pretty satisfied so far,” Pillar said in Lansing, before his promotion. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I always set pretty high expectations for myself. I’ve just got to continue to work. I know with the coaching staff we’ve got, I’ve got the right pieces here to get to where I want to go.”
The outfielder from California is definitely on the way to where he wants to be, with the next step from Lansing being Dunedin. The 2011 32nd-rounder out of Cal State Dominguez Hills has already impressed his Lugnuts teammates, with Kenny Wilson crediting Pillar for improvements in his own game.
“Being around Kevin Pillar [has helped],” Wilson said. “I know he’s doing extremely well this year but even when he’s not – which hasn’t happened a lot this season – still he doesn’t get too high; he doesn’t get too low. I’ve looked up to him a lot this year and he’s really helped me a lot.”
Not getting too high or low during the season has been something that Pillar has been focusing on since his high school days, and wasn’t something that happened easily.
“It’s definitely something I’ve had to work on,” the 23-year-old said. “I had a very poor attitude in high school. When I got to college, I learned a lot from my college coach. He was big on staying even keel and he just told me that if I wanted to be successful, that was something I would have to learn. He played professional baseball so he knew the ins and outs of pro ball.
“It’s still something that’s a constant battle every day that I have to battle myself with. It’s very easy to get away from it but I know in order to be successful it’s something that I have to do.”
Pillar is proud of what he’s been able to achieve this season in the Midwest League on the field, but he takes more pride in the impression he’s made on Wilson and some of the other hitters in Lansing.
“I’ve self-proclaimed myself our leader of our offense, or somewhat of a leader, just because I’m one of the older guys on the team,” he said. “I’m 23, going to be 24 next year and there’s a lot of guys here that have been in pro ball longer but I am still older than them. I’ve been around baseball a long time and I just think my maturity level is higher than a lot of guys.
“I see myself in a lot of guys here so I just try to mentor them and help them out. Kenny’s been one of them a lot because he’s got all the tools in the world but at the start of the season he had no mind. Now that he’s learning the mental side of the game, he’s made huge improvements. He’s playing a lot better baseball and I know he’s going to get to where he wants to be next year.”
Pillar has been able to help Wilson, but who helped Pillar?
“I’ve learned a lot form Chris Hawkins,” the Midwest League all-star said. “Even though he’s younger than me, last year I roomed with him and we would go to the field early together and hit in the cage together. I learned the importance of perfect practice; caring in the work you do. It doesn’t matter if you go to the cage early and you just take 100 swings, if there’s no meaning behind them.
“I think that’s something he learned here in the Blue Jays organization, that if you go to the cage it doesn’t matter how many swings you take; it matters what you’re doing in the cage. That’s something I learned from him, watching him, how detailed his work was off the tee and the flips in the cage. That’s something I’ve definitely incorporated into my own pre-game routine.”
Whatever Pillar has been doing has been working, and he will look to continue on the same path in Dunedin. Though the offensive leader of the Lugnuts will no longer be putting up numbers in Lansing, he is confident that with the impressive pitching staff they have, their success will carry on.
“I played with Noah and Sanchez last year,” Pillar said. “I never really got to see Nicolino throw so Nicolino’s impressed me a lot, just the maturity that he has for such a young age, the poise he has on the mound; the command he has on all of his pitches.
“But Sanchez too because Sanchez is a completely different pitcher than he was last year. His walks were way up last year, his control was a little suspect last year but this year, he’s just lights out. He’s pounding the zone and I almost feel sorry for the hitters that have to face him.”