California prospect a Pillar of strength for the Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Kevin Pillar knows the road to success is paved with hard work and determination.

On Monday, the West Hills, Calif., native took another step on that road at the Toronto Blue Jays minor league camp in Florida.

A 32nd round draft pick in 2011, the 23-year-old outfielder is attempting to climb his way up the organizational ladder after an impressive first year split between the Appalachian League with the Bluefield Blue Jays, and the Vancouver Canadians of the single “A” Northwest League.

“Being a late draft pick that’s kind of how I like to play with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I didn’t get paid a lot so I’m not here just for money.

“I have a college degree so I could be at home working a job making more money than I am out here. But I have an opportunity to play, and every time I put the cleats on it’s a pleasure so I’m going to play hard.”

Pillar uses his late-round selection in the draft as a source of inspiration, and a reminder that he has to work hard every day to prove himself.

“Talking to some scouts after my senior year, I thought I was predicted to go a little earlier, but I fell to the 32nd round.

“I’m a guy that likes to prove that the draft is an imperfect science. You see first rounders every day that get paid and don’t pan out, and you see guys drafted later that do, so I’m just doing it for the guys that might not get an opportunity.”

A stellar college career at Cal State Dominguez Hills included three first-team All-California Collegiate Athletic Association honors. In his senior year, Pillar had a 54-game hitting streak that broke an NCAA Division Two record and was an Honorable Mention All-American.

All while volunteering on weekends at a home for people with cerebral palsy.

Asked about Pillar, Chris Maxwell, the Bluefield Blue Jays General Manager, raves.

“Kevin is what you want to see in not only a ball player but a student athlete,” he said, on the phone last week. “I think he’s a great representative of the Blue Jays because I think he’s a well-spoken, caring young man.

“He really shows that on the field to his teammates, but he also shows that off the field to the fans and his commitment to the community.”

Maxwell also tells a story that illustrates Pillar’s mental strength.

After getting off to a slow start with Bluefield in 2011, he grew tired of seeing a (by his standards) sub-par batting average posted on the scoreboard, so he asked for it to be taken down.

Fans began to wonder why he was the only player who did not have that stat posted, but Maxwell was in no position to second guess the move because that’s when Pillar caught fire.

He would finish the season not only leading the team with a .347 batting average, but the entire 2011 Appalachian League, winning an all star nod and leaving no one to question his odd request at the start of the year.

“That story really shows you the kind of person he is,” says Maxwell. “It’s like ‘Hey, I’m not going to think about it, I’m just going to go out do it. Don’t remind me what I can’t do because I can.’ ”