Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kevin Pillar: The Non-Prospect Who Wouldn't Be


  
   Canadians are brought up on a steady diet of Maple Syrup, Molson Canadian, Hockey, and the works of author Farley Mowat.
   The prolific novelist has written extensively about the Canadian wilderness.  Novels such as Never Cry Wolf and The Boat Who Wouldn't Float show his talents for storytelling,  and not letting a few facts get in the way of a good tale.  One of the earliest books of Mowat's I can remember reading was The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, a tale of an unusual dog who could climb ladders, had unique hunting skills,  and wore goggles while riding in the family car, set in Saskatchewan in the 1930s.  Mutt didn't seem to realize that he was a dog.  He was the dog who wouldn't be.
   Blue Jays farmhand Kevin Pillar has the same affliction.  Everywhere he has played, the word has been that he's not fast enough, doesn't hit with enough power, can't throw runners out, or has been too old.  Yet everywhere he's played, from high school to college, and now to AA, the guy has confounded all the scouts who have labelled him as a fringy prospect.  He's the non-prospect who wouldn't be.
   Pillar didn't elicit much interest from pro scouts or major college programs,  and wound up at Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills.  Where he raked, hitting .463 as a senior.  In his junior year, Pillar put together an D-II record 54-game hitting streak, which got him a little (but not a lot) of notice.  Playing for a small school in a lesser division meant that he didn't draw much attention from Area Scouts. And those scouts who did see him said that while they liked him, he didn't have one tool that stood out.
   On draft day in 2011, Pillar lasted until the 32nd round, until the Blue Jays took him with the 979th pick.  With the D-II season ending in May, Pillar hadn't played in over a month when he reported to the Jays's rookie-level team at Bluefield.  After a slow start, Pillar finished with a .347/.377/.473 line, with 7 HR and 37 RBI in 60 games.  Nice, said the scouting world, but at 22, Pillar was a bit old for a league stocked mostly with high school grads.
   Undeterred, Pillar picked up where he left off in the 2012 season.  Promoted to Low A Lansing, Pillar hit .322/.390/.451, and after a half a season was promoted to High A Dunedin.  Despite playing only 87 games with Lansing, Pillar was named the Midwest League MVP and Best Batting Prospect.  And in the Florida State League with Dunedin, where the parks are bigger, balls don't carry as well in the humidity and batting averages tend to drop as a result, Pillar hit .323/..339/.415.  He stole a combined 51 bases at both levels.  Again, scouts suggested that while the numbers were impressive, he still was a bit old for A ball, and stealing bases at that level, where pitchers are still learning to hold runners on and catchers are working on their footwork and release, isn't that difficult.  
   This year, Pillar was elevated to AA New Hampshire.  Where he hasn't stopped hitting. Again.  His most recent numbers are .339/.374/.486.  Every where this guy has played, he has hit.  And yet he can't shake the "overachieving fourth outfielder-at best" label.  The player he is most frequently compared to is former Reed Johnson.  And while Johnson carved out a decent career for himself, his minor league stats don't compare to Pillar's.  At 24, he's no longer "too old" for his current level, but AA pitchers don't appear to have mastered him yet.  Pillar's not supposed to be a major league prospect, but he has played like one at every level.
   It is true that Pillar doesn't have one overwhelming tool.  He hasn't hit for a lot of power yet, and he shows decent but not burning speed, and he hasn't thrown out a lot of baserunners in his minor league career (although assist stats, of course, are misleading).  At the same time, he gets on base, hits for average, and can play all three outfield positions.  If he's played in a role that best utilizes his talents, Pillar can make a good contribution at the major league level.
   With Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, and Ryan Langerhans playing the outfield for AAA Buffalo, it's best for Pillar to bide his time and play everday at AA.
   


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