This outfielder brings veteran leadership to Braves

March 2nd, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- While making an impression on the field is forefront to veteran , the Atlanta outfielder knows he also brings a presence to the Braves’ clubhouse.

Signed by the former general manager who drafted him, the 10-year big leaguer brings a valuable intangible to the team -- veteran leadership -- as he battles for a spot in the outfield.

“I feel like I was around really good older, veteran guys in my career who helped me out a lot,” said the 34-year-old Pillar. “I’m fortunate to still be playing. I’ve learned a lot in my career, and [I'm] not shy about sharing the things I’ve learned and the failures I’ve experienced in this game and the successes I’ve had.”

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker feels there is a place on his squad for a player like Pillar, who was originally drafted by Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos in 2011 when the latter was the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.

With the reigning National League East champions featuring an outfield of Eddie Rosario, Michael Harris II, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, Pillar is fighting for a roster spot with Jordan Luplow, Sam Hilliard and Eli White.

“Absolutely,” Snitker said when asked if Pillar could have a role on the Braves. “He had a really good year [with the Mets] two years ago. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s had a nice career, and I remember seeing him in the Minor Leagues. He absolutely can be a fit here."

Snitker added that Pillar is the kind of veteran player who can come in and mesh well with a younger team as a type of role model.

“It’s very important when you filter in high-quality-makeup guys like he is that are ballplayers,” Snitker said. “They get it. They respect the game and play it the right way. They know how to prepare.

“You sprinkle that in with a lot of your young guys, and it’s a really good thing.”

Said Pillar, “I’m humbled by that comment.”

The West Hills, Calif., native, who went 0-for-2 with a run and a walk in Atlanta’s 6-2 win over the Mets, said a former teammate had the same impact he hopes to have on the young Braves.

“Starting from my very first day in the big leagues, Rajai Davis took me under his wing,” Pillar said. “He’s kind of a similar guy to myself – kind of a journeyman. He really showed me that without being a superstar you can really have a nice and respectable Major League career.

“We all have dreams of playing in All-Star Games and being MVPs. I continue to work for that, but I’ve also realized that there’s nothing wrong with being an average baseball player who serves a purpose."

With the Mets in 2021, Pillar produced 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 124 games. He said Anthopoulos has a game plan that yields results.

“Alex told me after he left Toronto that he always wanted to have the best players,” Pillar added. “But over his time in Toronto and my time in Toronto, I witnessed a lot of guys in and out of that clubhouse. And he has found a dynamic that worked.”

After signing a one-year deal with Atlanta in the offseason, Luplow is currently sidelined with oblique soreness, but the 29-year-old player has offensive upside.

“He’s starting to swing the bat a little bit. He’s still behind, but at least he’s taking batting practice, which is really good,” Snitker said.

Despite two off-field issues, Ozuna, 32, also factors into the outfield equation considering he’s owed $37 million over the next two seasons before the club option kicks in on the two-time Dominican All-Star in 2025.

“Marcell’s going to be on our team,” Snitker said. “I mean, how much he plays is going to be determined by how well he does. Hopefully, [his arm] builds up over the course of the spring. He can still go get the ball. It’s just the throwing over the years and injuries and all. He used to really have an above-average arm.

“He works really hard at it. We’ll see in time how it goes back up.”

White, who hit .185 in 130 games over three seasons with the Texas Rangers, clubbed a two-run homer off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco in the second inning.