By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Steven Souza, Outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 season (Minors): 100 G, 357 AB, .345 BA, 18 HR, 77 RBI, 28 SB, .598 OPS
2014 season (Majors): 21 G, 23 AB, .130 BA, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .622 OPS
Most baseball fans likely know Steven Souza from the unbelievable, no-hitter-saving catch he made in the final game of the regular season for the Nationals last year. But he gained a little more notoriety as the Rays’ centerpiece of the three-way Wil Myers deal between the Rays, Padres and Nationals.
Souza had a few stints with the Nats last season, but he was mostly used as a late-inning defensive replacement. While Souza rewarded Washington in the field, he didn’t quite get a fair shake at the plate in the bigs. He had more than one at-bat in just three of his 21 games last season, making it impossible to get into any sort of groove in his first attempt vs. big league pitching (and to enhance that point, both of his homers came in games in which he had at least three at-bats).
A quick look at his Minor League numbers will show you that there is much more potential here than just a defensive wizard. Souza crushed the pitching in his first season in Triple-A and showed the combination of power and speed that made the Rays target him in the Myers trade. It wasn’t a fluke either, as he had 15 homers and 22 steals in 2013 and 23 and 14 in ‘12. It was a long road to the Majors, but in eight Minor League seasons he hit 93 home runs and stole 158 bases. Now, he appears poised to take over a starting outfield spot in 2015.
Souza’s Steamer projections on Fangraphs.com have to excite the Rays, along with any potential fantasy baseball suitors. The renowned projection system has him with 18 homers and 19 steals in 122 games, approaching a 20-20 mark that Steamer projects only Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez to reach. The .246 average prediction appears to be spot on as well, as he was just a career .260 hitter in the Minor Leagues despite the gaudy power and speed numbers.
What can’t be denied is Souza’s raw power potential. His ISO (isolated power) was an excellent .240 in Triple-A last year, and in his small sample size in the bigs was .261 (for reference, a .140 ISO is considered average). Souza only has to hit around .260 and keep his OBP up around where he had it in the Minor Leagues (.356) in order to approach that vaunted 20-20 mark discussed earlier.
The right-handed hitter could find himself in a right-field platoon with the lefty-swinging Kevin Kiermaier to begin the season against lefties. Kiermaier is another young defense stud who has shown potential at the plate, and both should see plenty of time in the outfield during the season, with Souza likely ending up in left field much of the time over veteran David Dejesus. Either way, Souza shouldn’t have a problem cracking a Rays lineup that is once again young and relying heavily on potential. This season could be just the start of a very special career, as guys with Souza’s tools are hard to come by.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.