Pillar eager to fill leadership void

Seven-year veteran excited to work with new coaching staff

February 19th, 2019

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Embracing change hasn't been a problem for Blue Jays center fielder this offseason, with one rare exception.

His age.

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The Blue Jays outfielder wants everyone to know he's a new member of the "30's club," with an emphasis on new.

"Whoa. I'm fresh, man. I'm fresh. I'm like 29 plus," Pillar said with a smile.

Pillar may have only turned 30 on Jan. 4, but nobody on the Blue Jays' roster has been with the ballclub longer than Pillar, who now is entering his seventh season. Longevity with one team is a source of pride.

"My baseball idols growing up were guys that were fortunate enough to play in the same spot their whole career," Pillar said. "Whether it's Kobe [Bryant], whether it's Cal Ripken [Jr.], whether it's [Derek] Jeter. It's kind of unheard of in today's game to spend the duration of your career in one place."

For proof, look no further than the Blue Jays' clubhouse, where the likes of and were the biggest parts of a veteran purge this offseason for Toronto. Losing veteran teammates he's played with for years has made this spring different for Pillar, but the biggest difference is losing the only manager and coaching staff he's ever known in the big leagues. Making the transition from the John Gibbons way to the Charlie Montoyo way will be an adjustment.

"It's definitely different," said Pillar, who hit 15 homers, notched 59 RBIs and posted a .252/.282/.426 slash line last season. "I'm not going to say one way is better than another, but the communication has been really good. We get an email a day or two days in advance of what we're looking forward to as far as drill work. It's been very organized.

"I'm excited about this new coaching staff. They come from places that all have a pedigree of winning, so hopefully they bring something that they have learned. Whether it's in Cleveland, in Houston or Tampa [Bay], [I'm] just excited to learn from these guys."

A new coaching staff brings a new role for Pillar. With the clubhouse getting an extreme makeover, Pillar feels ready to become more of a leader this season. He didn't disagree with pitcher 's recent comments about lack of leadership with the Blue Jays, but Pillar is eager to fill the void.

"I think I'm naturally born to be a leader," said Pillar. "I go about my work and I go about my play wanting guys to see the way I work, to see the way I play and kind of try to lead by example.

"It's something that I'm going to have to get comfortable with being more of a vocal leader. Fortunately I've been here a long time and I've been around some pretty good leaders, and I've seen the way they've been about leading."

Pillar pointed to examples he had in past teammates in Toronto who showed him the way, like Mark Buehrle and Mark DeRosa. Since their departures, Pillar has seen many leadership dynamics take over the Blue Jays' clubhouse, and they're not all the kind of tactics he's always agreed with.

"I'm not going to really get into specifics," said Pillar. "I think it's just overall ways about guys, whether it's the way they talked to guys, or the way they treated guys, or the way they went about holding team meetings. Not to say that I didn't agree with them, it just maybe isn't something that I'm comfortable doing, maybe not my style."

Now, Pillar is looking forward to leading his young team. He started this offseason by talking to teammates about having the right mindset about a season many are predicting will be a rebuilding one.

"We take that as a challenge," said Pillar. "There is a lot of outside noise that gets pumped into a clubhouse, whether it's media, whether it's rumors you hear from the front office. Ultimately, players go out and play.

"It's our clubhouse. It doesn't matter what they do or what they say. Ultimately, we 're the ones that go out and play the games. If we want to change the outcomes of the game, we all need to work harder and buy in -- and that's the kind of challenge we're taking. We have the opportunity to go out there and make whatever sort of season we want to make happen."