Where are they now? Kevin Pillar
Twenty-seven year old, Kevin Pillar, played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks as an outfielder in 2010. He is the 109th former Northwoods League player to debut in MLB. Pillar showed glimpses of his talent during his time with the Woodchucks, but more importantly he showcased his incredible drive to succeed. Arriving in Wausau as a relatively unknown and overlooked player, Pillar demonstrated that he was different by running into walls and diving to catch balls. Ryan Treu, Woodchucks President, remembers Kevin Pillar as a player that "didn’t know he was playing summer ball.” In summer ball, players are commonly unwilling to take any chance that would risk injury.
Kevin Pillar was a key player on a very good Woodchucks team in 2010. He finished the summer with 79 hits and 24 stolen bases, which placed him in the top 10 category for the Northwoods League. But mostly Kevin left an imprint with his defense providing several gems that still have fans talking today. The team qualified for the Northwoods League playoffs, but lost to the eventual champion, Eau Claire, in the semi-finals. Pillar followed his strong Woodchuck season with a 54 game hitting streak at Division II California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Nothing has ever come easy for Kevin Pillar. On draft day in 2011, Pillar started watching the draft in the first round with friends anxiously anticipating hearing his name called. Two days later, on the morning of the third day, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round making him the 979th player drafted. Pillar’s signing bonus of $1,000 was so small he needed to borrow money from his mother to buy a new iPhone. Toronto’s GM Alex Anthopoulos admits that even the Blue Jays made a mistake as Pillar was the first player out of Toronto’s 2011 draft to make it to the Major Leagues. Pillar made his Major League debut in 2013.
During Pillar’s first two seasons in Toronto there were a few positive moments, including a highlight reel catch on his first night in the majors and a walk off single that beat Minnesota. However, Pillar could never crack the starting lineup. Then, on June 24th, he was sent back down to the minors for throwing a bat when he was pinch hit for. The embarrassment of being sent back down to the minors forced Pillar to reexamine his approach. When he came back to the majors he had a new attitude and batting stance.
Inserted into the lineup in 2015 because of a knee injury to starting outfielder Michael Saunders, Pillar never looked back. Again, he made several ESPN worth fielding plays including robbing Tim Beckham of a home run on April 15th. He finished the season hitting .278 with 12 home runs, 56 RBIs, 25 stolen bases and 76 runs. Pillar was named the Wilson defensive player of the year for center fielders. The Toronto Blue Jays finished first in the American League East and played well in the post season before bowing out to eventual champion Kansas City in game six.
Kevin Pillar is the starting center fielder for the Blue Jays and continues to strive in his career. His die hard passion, memorable dives, and catches will keep everyone in awe of his incredible talent. Toronto appears to be a very strong team and it is with great hopes that we will get to see Kevin Pillar starring on the big stage again in October 2016.