Rafters rally on Pillar's three hits, theft of home
Jays prospect and reigning Midwest League MVP keys Arizona Fall League victory
As part of Salt River's Arizona Fall League taxi squad, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Kevin Pillar only gets the opportunity to play twice a week -- on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
While he's not accustomed to sitting out two-thirds of his team's games, the 23-year-old outfielder is making an extra effort to capitalize on the opportunities he's afforded.
Pillar went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a steal of home to help Salt River overcome a six-run deficit in a 12-9 win over the Peoria Javelinas.
"I'm just making the best of the opportunities," he said. "I'm only playing two days, so I'm looking to play hard. Whatever role they put me in, I'm trying to adjust to it.
"I'm used to playing every day during the season, but I'm looking at this as a positive. I know when I'm going to play, so it lets me work harder in the cage or on my defense. I can take more swings or do more work with the hitting coaches without worrying about getting fatigued."
Salt River trailed in the fifth inning, 7-1, when Jason Martinson hit an RBI grounder and Pillar followed with a base hit to score Jose Gonzalez.
An inning later, Pillar added another RBI single and then scooted home on a double steal against Reds righty Josh Ravin (0-1).
"I missed two fastballs early in the count, and with two strikes, I was just trying to battle," Pillar said of his sixth-inning RBI single. "He threw me a curveball and I stayed back and hit it to left field. That's when I feel most comfortable, when I'm hitting with runners in scoring position. Maybe it's the killer instinct in me that I don't want to leave runners out there, especially with two outs.
"[Later in the inning], we had a left-handed hitter (Andy Wilkins) up, so the third baseman (Cody Asche) was playing off the bag a lot. I had a huge lead for my normal secondary lead, and when I saw the catcher (Mike Zunino) throw down [to second base], I was able to walk in. It was just something I did on my own, I just got a good read. At that point we still needed runs, so I capitalized on it."
Selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 Draft out of Cal State-Dominguez Hills, Pillar was named the Midwest League MVP with Class A Lansing this season. He hit .322 with five homers, 57 RBIs, 29 extra-base hits and 35 steals in 86 games with the Lugnuts before finishing the year with Class A Advanced Dunedin.
"It was a huge honor to receive that," Pillar said of his MVP award, voted on by the league's field staffs and front office executives. "My parents taught me to work hard and make the most of my chances. I was drafted late, but I only play the game one speed and I go hard to make things happen."
On Wednesday, Arizona's No. 5 prospect Chris Owings went 3-for-5 with three doubles, two RBIs and a pair of runs scored, MLB.com's No. 33 prospect Anthony Rendon (Nationals) recorded three RBIs and two runs scored as part of a 2-for-5 day out of the cleanup spot and second baseman Tyler Bortnick (D-backs) reached base safely four times and scored twice in the win.
"With this lineup, it doesn't matter if you're hitting first or sixth -- everybody is capable of scoring runs. As a leadoff hitter, I'm just trying to get on base for them and maybe steal second or third. Everybody here's a good hitter.
"If I can get into scoring position, it makes everybody's job easier. [Being on second base] takes the pressure off because it's easier to drive guys in from second than first."
Rafters starter Ryan Perry allowed five runs on four hits and two walks while striking out two batters over two innings, but he did not factor in the decision. Taylor Thompson (White Sox) scattered three hits over two scoreless innings to earn the win.
Kevin Munson (D-backs) was hit in the foot by a comebacker off the bat of Donald Lutz in the ninth inning. He faced the next four batters before being replaced for precautionary measures, Pillar said.
Peoria leadoff hitter and MLB.com's No. 14 prospect Billy Hamilton went 0-for-3 atop the Javelinas lineup, but he still managed to wreak havoc on the basepaths. The Minor League single-season steals leader drew two walks, swiped three bases and scored twice -- including from second base on a ground ball to the pitcher.
Zunino (Mariners) -- 44th in MLB.com's Top 100 -- smacked a three-run homer and a double, fellow Seattle farmhand Stefan Romero collected three hits and three RBIs and San Diego's top prospect Rymer Liriano slugged a two-run homer in the ninth -- his first longball of the fall -- in the losing effort.
Phillies fourth-rounder Kyle Simon started for Peoria, surrendering a run on two hit and a walk over three innings of work. The outing proved a solid bounceback effort for the University of Arizona alum, who yielded eight runs -- seven earned -- through one-third of an inning in his previous start against Phoenix on Friday.
Salt River improved to 5-2 while Peoria saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.