So Long, and Thanks for All the Memories, Kevin Pillar

Kevin Pillar was the first prospect I had “covered,” if you can use that word, since starting to blog about Blue Jays prospects 7 years ago.

He was truly an overachiever as a college, minor league, and major league player.

I won’t go on about his strengths/needs (as a former Special Education Resource Teacher, we don’t call them ‘weaknesses,’ although that’s what they are), but when you consider he was not recruited as a high school senior, drew little interest from scouts as a D2 player, and was labelled a 4th OF type despite MVP awards and batting titles across the minors, that Pillar has carved out a big league career for himself is truly remarkable.  We all should be blessed with such grit and resilience.

But let’s not forget that Pillar won the starting CF job largely through default.  His own intemperate actions led to a demotion, and he seemed to be on the outs with the club, but Dalton Pompey’s ill-timed rush to the majors, his poor April 2015, and subsequent lengthy injury history all but handed the position to Pillar.

We all came to love Pillar’s highlight-reel catches, but they came at a cost.  Advanced metrics showed that he was not the Gold Glove candidate he once was last year.  Poor reads and routes (for which the club’s analysis and coaching staffs should share some of the blame; Pillar may not have been in the right position often enough) led to Pillar throwing himself to the Rogers Centre rubberized turf, and you can’t help but wonder even though it would have taken something short of a grenade lobbed at his feet to get him out of the lineup, if the bumps and bruises he suffered as a result of a disregard for his personal safety did not diminish his defensive skills.  His declining production on both sides of the ball made him cost prohibitive.

And his approach at the plate, which could be best described as see the ball/hit the ball, which in many ways was an extension of his defensive at-all-costs strategy, led to Pillar having the 4th worst BB-K ratio and chase rate last year among MLB regulars.  He was a top 10 guy in soft contact as a result of his proclivity to go up hacking.

We wish Pillar all the best in San Francisco, and hopefully a change in scenery and a chance to play in front of family will help him overcome a dreadful start at the plate, small sample size warning included.

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The featured player the Blue Jays received in exchange for Pillar, as you likely well know, is RHP Juan De Paula, who is now with his fourth organization as he enters his fifth pro season, only five innings of which have been above short season.

Starting pitching is a commodity the Blue Jays value in abundance, and even though he’s a high risk/high reward guy who needs to further develop his secondaries,  his fastball is a good pitch to build upon, according to 2080baseball.com:

There’s a lot to like about De Paula. The 21-year-old righty has a lean, projectable frame that has room to get stronger, something that should help him hold his stuff deeper into starts. His arm works fast through a high three-quarters slot, generating mid-90s heat that tops out 94-to-95 mph. The fastball projects as an above-average pitch as his control and command continue to develop. De Paula’s high-70s curveball flashes average at best, and while it backs up on him at times, it has the potential to be an effective secondary. His mid-80s changeup is crude and less refined than the fastball and curve. He mixes it in game sequences, but it lacks movement and plays like a BP fastball.  De Paula has a chance to start if he can add polish and develop a more consistent third pitch. He falls into the bucket of toolsy risk/reward prospects, showing flashes of big league stuff with a ways to go in the pitchability department. Realistically, his fastball and curve could play up in a ‘pen role and fit a setup profile if it doesn’t click in the rotation.

Given the fact that much of Lansing’s pitching rotation is on the IL, it’s a good bet that the Dominican De Paula gets to experience a Midwest League spring.

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