5 things to know about new Red Sox outfielder Kevin Pillar

He named his daughter after Kobe Bryant.

Kevin Pillar arrived in Fort Myers on Friday.
Kevin Pillar arrived in Fort Myers on Friday. –Jim Davis/Globe Staff

With Mookie Betts officially out in Los Angeles as the newest member of the Dodgers, the Red Sox made a corresponding move this week to replenish the post-Betts outfield situation.

The club inked a one-year, $4.25 million deal with Kevin Pillar on Friday to join Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and the recently acquired Alex Verdugo in the Red Sox outfield. Pillar is the lone right-handed hitter among the four outfielders and figures to see a prominent role against lefties this season.

Here are five things to know about the 31 year old Pillar.

He had a career year offensively in 2019.

Pillar played the first five games of the 2019 season with the Toronto Blue Jays before he was traded to the San Francisco Giants on April 2 for Alen Hanson, Derek Law, and Juan De Pala.

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Pillar immediately joined the Giants’ lineup and posted the best offensive season of his seven-year career. He hit .259 with a career-high 21 home runs and 88 RBIs across 161 games. His power surge helped him boast the best slugging percentage (.432) and OPS (.719) of his career as well.

Forbes Magazine pointed out a swing adjustment Pillar made on June 7, which contributed to his breakout second half. Pillar even finished 22nd in National League MVP voting.

However, the Giants decided to cut ties with Pillar, non-tendering his contract in early December. Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi comes from the Moneyball executive tree, emphasizing on-base percentage and walks. Pillar’s .287 on-base percentage ranked 132nd out of 135 qualified hitters, while his 2 percent walk rate was the lowest in MLB.

Pillar has an elite defensive reputation.

Similar to Bradley Jr, Pillar is regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Pillar finished in the Top 10 of Fan Graph’s defensive runs saved metric from 2015 to 2017, including a third-place finish in 2015. During that three-year run as the Blue Jays center fielder, he saved 50 runs and was named a finalist for the Gold Glove in each of the three seasons.

However, Pillar’s defensive prowess has diminished a bit the past two seasons. In 2018 and 2019, he combined for -7 defensive runs saved.

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Still, Pillar’s highlight reel catches are a worth a watch.

 

He is no stranger to the AL East and Fenway Park.

Pillar spent six full seasons (2013-2018) with the Blue Jays and was the starting center fielder when they made their run to the 2016 American League Championship Series. Because of his time in the AL East, he’s played 47 career games at Fenway Park, so he should be accustomed with how to play the cavernous Fenway outfield.

He’s also hitting .307 with a .719 OPS during his career at Fenway Park. According to Fan Graphs, Pillar ranked 14th in the majors in 2019 in pull percentage (48%), and now he’ll have the Green Monster only 310 feet away.

Pillar was a standout Division II college player.

Pillar grew up in West Hills, California, and was lightly recruited out of Chaminade College Prep High School, where he played football and basketball in addition to baseball. His high school coach wound up taking the pitching coach job at Cal State Dominguez Hills during his senior year and it opened the door for Pillar to join him at the collegiate level.

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Pillar said in a 2013 MILB interview.

As a junior in 2010 with Dominguez Hills, Pillar set an NCAA Division II record with a 54-game hitting streak and finished his collegiate career with a school-record .367 batting average. He believes the hitting streak helped him get drafted by the Blue Jays in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft.

“I was an unknown at a small school, but the hitting streak helped get me drafted,” Pillar said.

When asked if he thought it was the only reason he got drafted, Pillar said, “I’d like to think not, but in reality, it might have been.”

He and his wife, Amanda Gulyas, named their daughter after Kobe Bryant.

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Growing up a Lakers and Dodgers fan, Pillar named his daughter Kobie, who was born in Oct. 2017, after the late Kobe Bryant. When Bryant tragically died in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26, Pillar tweeted that Bryant was his idol and shared the news that his daughter was named after the former Lakers star.

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