Kevin Andrew Pillar
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 200 lb.
- School California State University, Dominguez Hills
- High School Chaminade College Preparatory School (West Hills)
- Debut August 14, 2013
Kevin Pillar made the majors just two years after being a late draft pick.
Pillar was All-league in baseball, football and basketball in high school. As a college freshman, he hit .379, first in the California Collegiate Athletic Association in runs (61). He batted .329 with 18 steals in 19 tries as a sophomore. As a junior, he produced at a .379/.416/.533 clip with 50 RBI in 61 games. He kept it up as a senior (.369/.411/.596, 40 R in 49 G). The Toronto Blue Jays, behind scout Kevin Fox, took him in the 32nd round of the 2011 amateur draft.
Kevin hit .347/.377/.534 with 44 runs and 7 home runs in 60 games for the Bluefield Blue Jays. He won the Appalachian League batting title by a tiny margin (.00029 over Brandon Drury), was 7th in slugging, 8th in OPS (between Taylor Motter and Cameron Seitzer), tied for 10th in doubles (17) and 4th in hits (between Jordan Scott and Miguel Sano. He made the Appalachian League All-Star team, joining Jamal Austin and Art Charles as the outfielders. Presumably due to his age, Baseball America did not name him as one of the loop's top 20 prospects.
Pillar split 2012 between the Lansing Lugnuts (.322/.390/.451, 35 SB, 6 CS in 86 G) and Dunedin Blue Jays (.323/.339/.415, 16 SB, 3 CS in 42 G). He led Jays farmhands with 91 RBI (5 ahead of K.C. Hobson) and was second in steals, four behind Kenny Wilson. Despite not playing a full year there, he tied for 7th in the Midwest League in swipes. He tied the MWL record with six hits in a game. He joined Drew Vettleson and Anthony Garcia as the All-Star outfielders and also took home the MVP. He was again left off the Baseball America top prospect list.
Kevin kept it up into 2013, first with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (.313/.361/.441 in 71 G) and then the Buffalo Bisons (.299/.341/.493 in 52 G). After 123 games, he had 39 doubles and 74 runs. The Jays called him up to the majors when Colby Rasmus went on the DL. In his major league debut on August 14th against the Boston Red Sox, he started in left field and hit 8th. He lined out twice, then grounded out against Jon Lester and struck out against fellow rookie Brandon Workman for an oh-fer debut. He played 36 games for the Jays, hitting .206 with 3 homers and 13 RBIs. He began the 2014 season back in Buffalo and was hitting .305 in 34 games when the Jays called him up on May 13th when Rasmus was injured again. Anthony Gose got the bulk of the playing time in Rasmus's absence, but Pillar also did well when called upon, and the Jays went on a torrid hot streak for the rest of May, with Kevin hitting over .300. On May 28th, he won a game with his legs when he was put in as a pinch-runner for Dioner Navarro at first base in the bottom of the 9th with the score tied at 2-2 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Gose then laid a bunt down the first base line, and when P Juan Carlos Oviedo's throw went sailing into right field, Kevin raced all the way home, beating the relay home with a diving head-first slide for a 3-2 win, the Jays' 9th in a row. He ended up playing 53 games for the Jays, hitting .267 with 2 homers and 7 RBIs. he p;layed all three outfield spots and DH, with left and center field his most common positions.
In 2015, Pillar headed to spring training with a good shot at claiming a starting job in the outfield, with Rasmus and LF Melky Cabrera having both left as free agents during the off-season. His main competition for a job were two Canadians, Michael Saunders, obtained in a trade, and rookie Dalton Pompey, coming off a strong season in the minor leagues. Saunders suffered a knee injury in the early days of the spring, almost guaranteeing Kevin a starting job on opening day, but on March 14th, he suffered an injury of his own, of the embarrassing kind. He suffered a pulled oblique muscle in his chest while sneezing particularly hard. Luckily the injury only sidelined him for a few days; Sammy Sosa had suffered a similar injury a few years earlier and had had to miss a month, so apart from a lot of ribbing from teammates, he got off lightly. He received some attention for some tremendous catches in the outfield in the early part of the season. On April 10th, he snatched a potential home run ball from the Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis over the left-centerfield wall at Camden Yards, then on the 15th, he snatched a ball hit by Tim Beckham of the Tampa Bay Rays above the 10-foot high fence at Rogers Centre to rob him of a homer. He was at it again on April 21st, when he dove headfirst to snatch a line drive hit by Adam Jones of the Orioles, then got up and completed a double play as Chris Davis was unable to return to second base in time. He made highlight reels again on back-to-back days on April 30th and May 1st, this time robbing Brandon Moss and Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians of extra bases by flinging himself into the fence both days. He ended up playing 159 games that season, almost exclusively in center field and hit .278 with 31 doubles, 12 homers, 76 runs and 56 RBIs. He also stole 25 bases and was caught only 4 times. With his outstanding defense in center, he was one of the unsung heroes of the Jays' conquest of their first division title in two decades. The only drawback was his relative lack of walks - 28, against 85 strikeouts. He continued to do well in the postseason, as he went 7-for-21 (.333) against the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, with 2 doubles and a homer, and then 5 for 21 with 3 doubles in the ALCS loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Pillar was now the uncontested starter in center field when the 2016 season started. After playing in 109 of the Jays' first 111 games, he was hitting .261 with 7 homers and 45 RBIs when he was placed on the disabled list on August 8th with a sprained left thumb, an injury incurred on a slide into second base two days earlier. Luckily for the Jays, they had acquired CF Melvin Upton as outfield insurance at the trading deadline, and he was ready to step into the void left by Kevin's absence. He ended up playing 146 games, hitting .266 with 7 homers and 53 RBIs, scoring 59 runs and stealing 14 bases. He struggled in the postseason, however, getting only 3 hits in 32 at-bats over the three series the Jays played that year. In 2017, the Blue Jays started the year very slowly and were an awful 3-12 at one point when they began to turn things around. One of the factors was manager John Gibbons' decision to move Kevin to the lead-off spot, where he thrived. By May 14th, he had 48 hits - 3rd most in the AL and had scored 24 runs. That day, he hit a walk-off homer off Edwin Diaz with two outs in the 9th to give Toronto a 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, the Jays' fifth in a row. On May 17th, he was caught by television cameras uttering a homophobic slur at Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte during a confrontation, in an incident that received a lot of coverage; he apologized but was still suspended for two games by the Jays. He ended up hitting .256 in 154 games, with a career-high 16 homers. He scored 72 runs but drove in just 42 and his OPS+ was just 83, his outstanding defence once again compensating to some extent for his sub-par offensive production.
On March 31, 2018, he became the first player in Blue Jays history to steal all three bases in an inning. In the 8th inning, he took advantage of the New York Yankees' Dellin Betances' slow move to the plate to steal the first two bases, before completely surprising him by breaking for home while he was making his pause. Betances threw a wild pitch to allow Pillar to score easily. It was the final run in a 5-3 win, the Jays' first of the year. He played 142 games that season, and hit .252 with 15 homers and 59 RBIs. He set a personal best with 40 doubles. His OPS+ was 93; it was the 6th time in 6 seasons that he was below average in that category.
On April 2, 2019, Pillar was traded to the San Francisco Giants for infielder Alen Hanson, reliever Derek Law and pitching prospect Juan De Paula. He had started off the year going 1 for 15 for the Jays. He got off to a great start with his new team, as on April 8-9, he had back-to-back four-RBI games. In the first contest, he hit the first grand slam of his career off Eric Lauer accounting for all of the Giants' runs in a 5-4 loss to the San Diego Padres, then the next day he drove in four more runs with a bases-clearing triple and a sacrifice fly, this time in a 7-2 win. On April 11th, his solo homer proved to be the only run in a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rockies. On May 4th, he showed he still had a knack for highlight-reel plays, as he jumped high over the fence at Great American Ball Park, holding on with his right hand, to deprive Nick Senzel of the Cincinnati Reds of a sure home run. He ended up leading the Giants in RBIs with 87 as he flashed his power, slugging 37 doubles and 21 homers in 156 games as the everyday centerfielder. He also scored 82 runs, but die to drawing just 18 walks, his OPS+ was again below average at 92.
In 2020, he joined the Boston Red Sox on a one-year deal. He was expected to be simply a back-up in the outfield, but injuries and poor performances by other outfielders led to his playing regularly over the first five weeks as he hit .274 in 30 games, with 4 homers and an unexpected 110 OPS+ in addition to his customary great defence. With the Red Sox having a miserable season, he suddenly became a player sought by a number of teams and it was the Colorado Rockies who took him onboard at the trading deadline on August 31st, in return for a player to be named later.