Kevin Pillar ready to assume leadership role with rebuilding Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar. (Charles Krupa/AP)

HALIFAX — 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 ultra-competitive 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 major-league 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 manger’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.”

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