The Toronto Blue Jays traded a significant amount of their minor league talent to the Miami Marlins this past offseason in a huge trade that netted Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson among others. Despite the deal, their cupboard is far from bare. Outfielder Kevin Pillar is one of the organization’s best young players and may also be the most underrated hitting prospect in all of baseball.
Pillar, a 24-year-old right-handed hitter, doesn’t get a lot of attention but all he does is hit and get closer to being major league-ready.
He grew up in California and enjoyed an outstanding high school career, culminating in a .463 batting average as a senior.
He went on to play for Cal State-Dominguez Hills, becoming one of the best players in team history. In 2010, he set a Division-II record by hitting safely in 54 consecutive games, besting the previous record of 49 games set by Southern’s Nick Diyorio.
The Blue Jays made Pillar their 32nd-round draft choice in 2011. He may have gone earlier, but playing for a smaller school prevented him from receiving the same level of attention afforded to other prospects.
Pillar came out swinging to start his professional career and hasn’t stopped since.
He hit .347 in 60 games in the Rookie League in 2011.
Last season, he split his time between Single-A and high Single-A, and was an offensive juggernaut. He combined to hit .323 with six home runs, 91 RBI and 51 stolen bases in 128 games.
In addition to his impressive offense, he’s also an excellent fielder, able to play all three outfield positions, though he is best in one of the corner spots.
Pillar is scheduled to open the 2013 season with Double-A New Hampshire. If he continues hitting at a torrid pace, he shouldn’t be far away from the majors.
I had the chance to catch up with the Toronto prospect over the winter. Check out what he had to say about baseball and his career, and make sure to follow him as he starts his third season as a professional player.
Kevin Pillar Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up my favorite player was Cal Ripken, Jr. I loved the way he was such an iron man and was mentally able to get himself on the field every day despite aches, pains and sometimes injuries. I pride myself on being able to do that. There are many days throughout a long season in which you are not going to feel your best or have areas that don’t feel so well, but I consider myself extremely mentally tough and push myself to get on the field every single day.
What do you consider to be the best aspect of your game?: The best aspect of my game is my mental toughness. It is something that I have learned over time and something that my parents taught me at a young age. Being mentally strong will counter playing against more talented players. On the field my biggest strength is the ability to hit pitches in the zone, as well as balls out of the zone. I pride myself on being a contact hitter that can use all areas of the field, and want to be the toughest out for a pitcher every single at-bat I take.
What were your expectations going into the 2011 MLB Draft?: Going into the 2011 draft I felt like all the work I had put in at Dominguez Hills and all the work I put in playing summer ball and working out would pay off. I did not know where I was going to go in the draft and obviously had higher hopes than going in the 32nd round, but I knew that where I was selected was out of my control, and what I could control is what I could do once I was given an opportunity to put a uniform on.
Can you talk about how the Blue Jays came to draft you?: I had been in contact with a couple Blue Jays scouts throughout my senor season but nothing that indicated that I would be selected by them. I also went to a local pre-draft workout for Toronto and ran my fastest 60-time of any other pre-draft workouts I went to. I was pretty confident with what I did at the workout but still did not guarantee that I would be selected by them come June. I watched all three days of the draft, and just waited with anticipation. I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were times that I got frustrated and nervous that my childhood dream would not come true. Finally in the 32nd round, three days later, I heard my name called by them and could not be any happier.
What was your transition from metal to wood bats like?: I had used wood bats in summer ball and I liked to hit batting practice with wood bats in college, but never against the competition that I faced in professional baseball. It is definitely an adjustment, especially when I played four years of college with metal bats. Luckily I was able to make that transition sooner than later and was able to have a pretty good first season of professional baseball.
How surprised are you that you have hit .331 in your first two seasons?: I am extremely confident in myself and extremely driven. I cannot say I am surprised, but definitely happy with how my first two seasons have gone. I have put a lot of work into being able to hit .331 over my first two years and am still not satisfied. I know where I can make improvements and am going to work extremely hard in the offseason to improve on the first two years.
How difficult is it to try and stand out in the minors as a low round draft pick?: Once you put a uniform on all that stuff goes out the window. Yes, it is a little bit more difficult as a low-round draft pick to get opportunities, but you will get your opportunity and it’s that much more important to make them count. I know that it’s a stigma that will follow me the rest of my career, and yes it maybe a little bit more difficult to stand out, but I am only worried about the things that I can control and my effort on and off the field.
What kind of knowledge and connection do you have with baseball history?: I love baseball and the history of the game. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and am a huge Dodgers fan and have a lot of knowledge about them and the history of the game. I love reading about players in the past and events that took place. I love watching stuff on MLB Network and have much respect for players and people involved in the game and have they have made it American’s pastime.