Watching Steven Souza
In addition to Rene Rivera, Steven Souza figures to slot into the Rays’ Opening Day lineup.
Souza, 26 in April, comes to St. Petersburg with an unusual background story. He was troubled during his early days with the Nationals, earning a suspension following a failed drug test and later getting benched for violating team rules. He’d then quit baseball after a subsequent falling out with his manager. But Souza found God, returned to the organization, and has since earned a second chance at a big-league career.
Souza might be lighter in spirit these days, but he remains a physically imposing figure (one listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds). At the plate he, he looks a little like Matt Joyce—hands hovering around his head, knees just outside his shoulders, feet slightly closed. From there he uses a basic leg kick as his stride, while his hands load by dropping then moving toward his back foot. Keith Law noted that Souza is inconsistent with his load, so that’s something to watch.
Something else to watch with Souza is the timing of his hips. One of the major complaints about Wil Myers during last season involved how early his hips cleared. Ideally, you’d like to see a batter’s hips clear just before his hands come through; those who thought Myers cleared too early might find that Souza clears too late. Often his hips seem to clear in concert with his hands. That means he’s going to have to time pitches well in order for the best effect, or otherwise risk whiffing or making suboptimal contact. That is, essentially, the biggest concern about his bat.
Anyway, enough with the mechanical talk. What about his skills? Souza appeared in 21 games for the Nationals last season, mostly as a pinch-hitter. He only notched three hits, but each of them were notable in how hard they were hit. Two were home runs to deep center, and the other was a line-drive single that almost took former Marlins pitcher Dan Jennings. This was probably the most impressive of the bunch, as he waited back on a 1-1 changeup from Alex Wood before obliterating it:
Souza displayed a patient approach during his time in the majors; a good thing, since the hit-tool questions mean he’ll need to walk and bop in order to provide offensive value.
Defensively, Souza became famous after making a sprawling grab to preserve Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. He plays with a high-effort level, however, the rest of his defensive game wasn’t nearly as majestic as that game-ending grab, as he made a number of mistakes and misplays that could leave him as a below-average defender. Souza does have the arm for right field, so it’s possible the Rays play him out there anyway; it’s not as though Myers was a whole lot better. It’s also possible that Souza sees time at DH and perhaps even first base, though that’s just conjecture.
Overall, Souza lacks the star ceiling of Myers. He could become a useful everyday player—perhaps a bit more, if he lives up to what projection systems expect from him—based on the strength of his on-base skills and raw power. Still, there are flaws evident in his swing and game that could limit him to role-player status. The Rays clearly think Souza will be more of the former than the latter, and let’s hope they’re right—if only to give his redemption story a better ending.