With leadoff man Devon Travis on the mend to open 2016, Kevin Pillar was afforded the top spot in one of the most potent batting orders in baseball. Unfortunately, he was unable to lock down the role, hitting just .198/.231/.291 in 86 at-bats as Toronto's table setter. Despite the disappointment, Pillar found a home at the bottom of the lineup and hit .277 when penciled in at the bottom third of the order, including .324/.369/.419 in 148 at-bats as the eighth hitter. Pillar is a solid contact hitter (82.2 percent rate in 2016) but has minimal power for an outfielder (.109 ISO) and doesn't get on base enough (.303 career OBP) to make him more than a below-average offensive threat (80 wRC+ last season). After swiping 25 bags in 2015, the 27-year-old disappointed by stealing just 14 bases on 20 tries. The center fielder's elite defense will continue to make him a mainstay in the Jays lineup, but fantasy leagues don't award points for web gems. A spot near the bottom of the lineup also caps his fantasy upside.
Pillar went 3-for-4 with a pair of steals in Wednesday's win over Boston. Despite doing that fine work at the top of the order, Pillar was unable to come around and score thanks to the failings of Toronto's middle-of-the-order sluggers. He's been one of the only guys who's producing, as Pillar's hitting a smooth .345, although he only has two RBI and three runs. The steals were also his first two of the season.
Pillar went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run, his first of the year, and a double in Sunday's loss to the Orioles. The Jays turned to Pillar to fill the leadoff role for a third straight contest Sunday, and he rewarded them with his best game of the season. The outfielder is riding a modest five-game hitting streak that includes a .385 (5-for-13) batting average when hitting first in the lineup. Devon Travis, whom Pillar displaced atop the order, went a paltry 3-for 31 (.097) in his time at leadoff, so it looks like the latter will continue to see extra at-bats as the team's table setter.
Pillar is batting leadoff Friday against the Orioles, Mike Wilner of the Blue Jays Radio Network reports. Pillar has spent most of the season thus far toward the bottom of the batting order, and although he has only amassed a .242 batting average, manager John Gibbons will place him atop the lineup in an effort to jolt the Blue Jays offense into action. This could help Pillar garner a few more runs scored if he can maintain this position in the order.
Pillar turned in the best exhibition season of his career with a .345/.406/.500 slash line over 58 Grapefruit League at-bats. The center fielder led the team in hits (20) and doubles (7) this spring while owning the best on-base percentage among the 17 players with 30-plus at-bats. Assuming he's healthy, Pillar seems like a lock for 550 plate appearances in a potent Blue Jays lineup -- albeit from the lower-third of the order. Volume alone should afford the 28-year-old a chance to contribute across many formats.
Pillar says he and the Jays organization hid the fact that he was playing with a "torn thumb" for a majority of last season's second half, the Toronto Star reports. Pillar acknowledged that the torn thumb ligament -- an injury he suffered in early August while sliding into second base -- never fully healed last season, despite a short stint on the DL. "You don't want your opponent to know that you're hurt. If people knew that I was playing with a torn thumb, maybe they'd pitch me differently, maybe I'm not as effective. It wasn't the same as playing with two hands, but I don't use it as an excuse," Pillar said. The Jays' center fielder has never been known for his power at the dish, but the .333 slugging percentage Pillar posted after the 2016 All-Star break was significantly below the .401 mark he achieved during the campaign's first half. The 28-year-old says he's completely healthy now, and if Pillar's spring effort is any indication, it appears he's telling the truth. Through 18 Grapefruit League at-bats, Pillar is hitting .444/.500/.667 with four doubles. If Devon Travis (knee) begins the season on the DL -- and Travis is headed down that path -- Pillar may be the team's leadoff hitter on Opening Day.