There was a buzz around Coca-Cola Field on June 21, the day Kevin Pillar made his Triple-A debut with the Buffalo Bisons. Of course, the buzz was all for Jose Reyes, the Major League All-Star who was making his first rehabilitation start in Buffalo.
The 24-year-old outfielder had a sense of humor about it all.
“I thought all the people came out to watch me play,” Pillar said. “No, obviously it was exciting it being my Triple-A debut and add on top playing with one of the best players in the league, that was real special. … It might have helped a little bit to take the attention off me and put it on him, like it should be.”
It doesn’t seem as if Pillar would be fazed by attention, or much of anything. His confidence has helped him climb the ranks of the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
A draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Pillar spent last season in A-ball playing in Lansing then Dunedin. He started this year in Double-A New Hampshire, where he hit .312 in 71 games, driving in 30 runs.
Upon his promotion to Buffalo, he promptly started an 11-game hit streak with the Herd.
Through his first 15 games, Pillar is batting .355 with 11 runs batted in, nine doubles and three home runs. He became the first Bisons player in the modern era to hit four doubles in one game – a feat he accomplished June 26 at Gwinnett.
What’s been the key to his success at the plate?
“Just confidence,” Pillar said. “The hit streak was nice, but I think that’s everyone’s goal, not necessarily the hit streak but rolling out hits every game or at least putting together competitive at-bats. I’m not so worried about the hits but about having competitive at-bats. That’s partly due to the coaching staff. That’s what they look for. It’s not always about numbers. It’s about showing that you belong and that you can compete with guys at this level.”
But the numbers have been impressive. And they’ve turned some heads.
“He’s a gamer. He doesn’t have the most tools but he takes advantage of everything he has,” Buffalo manager Marty Brown said. “He’s kind of a grinder. He puts together at-bats. He finds a way to beat you. That’s what I’ve seen out of him in the games I’ve seen.
“He’s a hard worker. Knows what needs to do. Comes to play every day. Not a real loud guy. Doesn’t harp on little things. Just goes out and plays. I really have enjoyed watching him play. I like what I’ve seen so far.”
The Toronto brass likes what it sees, too. Earlier this week, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was asked about the top minor-league players this season. He said that Pillar is probably the closest to being major-league ready.
“Reports are that he’s ready to come if we have a need,” Anthopoulos told Toronto-area media.
On Thursday, the Bisons placed Moises Sierra on the disabled list. Sierra injured his hamstring making a play in the eighth inning in Charlotte last Saturday.
Brown said they were waiting for the team to return to Buffalo for Sierra to get an MRI on his hamstring.
“It could be a while; it’s tough with hamstrings,” Brown said. “But he’s doing everything right to heal it.”
The Bisons remain at Coca-Cola Field for a scheduled doubleheader with Syracuse today (1:05 p.m., Radio 1520, TWCS).
Dave Bush (7-6, 4.12 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Bisons in the first game while Chien-Ming Wang (4-4, 2.33) is scheduled to make his Buffalo debut in the second game.
Wang began the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was signed by the Blue Jays on June 9. In five starts with the Jays, he went 1-1 with a 7.13 ERA before being designated for assignment on Tuesday.
Wang won 19 games for the New York Yankees in 2006 and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting that year. He won 19 games for the Yankees in 2007 and has pitched in 135 Major League games.