JAYS’ PIL­LAR OF STRENGTH

VET­ERAN OUT­FIELDER READY TO LEAD A YOUNG TEAM

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS — HAL­I­FAX

Kevin Pil­lar re­al­izes his role is about to change sig­nif­i­cantly this year

As the long­est tenured Toronto Blue Jay, Kevin Pil­lar re­al­izes his role is about to change sig­nif­i­cantly this year. With vet­eran stars like Josh Don­ald­son, Troy Tu­low­itzki and J.A. Happ among oth­ers, no longer in Toronto, the of­ten spec­tac­u­lar cen­tre fielder says he’s ready to em­brace the re­build­ing fran­chise’s change of direc­tion.

Dur­ing the start of the Jays’ two-day winter tour in Hal­i­fax on Fri­day, Pil­lar told re­porters he takes pride in the fact he was drafted (32nd round, 2011) and de­vel­oped by the Blue Jays and wants to be a part of the team’s fu­ture.

If the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self, he’s ready to as­sume the lead­er­ship man­tle.

“It’s some­thing that I’ve al­ways felt I was ca­pa­ble of do­ing,” Pil­lar said. “I’ve kind of sat back and learned from some older guys, some good lead­ers that we’ve had in the past. It might be my time to step up as a leader as a guy that has been here longer than any­one else.”

The Blue Jays fin­ished fourth with a 73-89 record in the ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive Amer­i­can League East last sea­son and missed the play­offs for the second straight year.

The team isn’t ex­pected to be a play­off con­tender for at least the next cou­ple of years as it waits for top prospects like Vladimir Guer­rero Jr., to ma­ture. The third base­man is ex­pected to do a short stint in triple-A Buf­falo to start the sea­son be­fore be­ing called up in a move that would give the Blue Jays one more year of con­tract con­trol.

Pil­lar said the way Guer­rero has dom­i­nated at ev­ery level of he’s played is ex­cit­ing.

“I ex­pect him to be up at some point and I ex­pect him to go out there and be suc­cess­ful and kind of take over as the face of this fran­chise and lead this fran­chise to great things,” he said.

As for new man­ager Char­lie Mon­toyo, Pil­lar said he’ll need to make his own ad­just­ments after hav­ing only played for for­mer man­ager John Gib­bons dur­ing his pre­vi­ous six ma­jor­league sea­sons.

“With Char­lie step­ping in and tak­ing over, I kind of have this ner­vous ex­cite­ment about spring train­ing that I haven’t had in a while,” he said.

One of the younger play­ers try­ing to win the new man­ager’s con­fi­dence is pitcher Ryan Borucki, who is cur­rently slot­ted at No. 3 in the ro­ta­tion be­hind Mar­cus Stro­man and Aaron Sanchez.

After go­ing 4-6 with a 3.87 ERA in his rookie 2018 sea­son, Borucki said he wants to es­tab­lish him­self as a ca­pa­ble starter.

“I’m just go­ing into spring train­ing like I was last year, just try­ing to make the team and try­ing to show my abil­ity to be a starter,” he said. “Def­i­nitely a good Septem­ber helped me have that con­fi­dence go­ing into the off-sea­son.”

Spring train­ing starts for pitch­ers and catch­ers on Feb. 14 with the full squad ex­pected in camp Feb. 18 in Dunedin, Fla.

“I’m ex­cited about the fu­ture,” said Pil­lar. “I know the fu­ture is right around the cor­ner and I know we have some re­ally young, tal­ented guys com­ing up.”

Cana­dian Press photo

Kevin Pil­lar, the Toronto Blue Jays cen­tre fielder, chats with re­porters dur­ing a visit to Hal­i­fax on Fri­day.

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