Before the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Steven Souza Jr. from the Washington Nationals in the Wil Myers trade, he was known for one thing: his incredible diving catch to finish Jordan Zimmerman‘s no-hitter. Souza was otherwise unimpressive in his brief time with the Nationals, hitting just .130. Then he came to the Rays and hit .130 once again in spring training. Kevin Cash‘s response was to make Souza his everyday right fielder, and Souza responded by leading the Rays in home runs and RBI in April.
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After a slow start through the first few games, Souza showed his potential in Game 8 against the Blue Jays. He hit a 410-foot home run off Daniel Norris to get the Rays on the board. Then, with the game tied, he laid down a perfect bunt for a single to start the eighth inning and came around to score the winning run. Souza has become known for his power, but he has also made it apparent that there is much more to his game. Souza’s 4 stolen bases rank second on the team to Desmond Jennings, and his hustle has led him to a team-leading 6 infield hits along with that bunt single.
Back to the power, Souza current leads the Tampa Bay Rays in home runs with 4 and in RBIs with 11. His average dropped to .237 after a poor game against the Yankees, but he started the game-winning rally with a walk and later scored the winning run. The biggest concern with Souza is his propensity to strike out–his 30 strikeouts are tied for the fourth most in baseball. Souza is still walking at a good rate to give him a .333 OBP, but he needs to find a way to make more contact.
Interestingly, Souza leads baseball in looking strikeouts (11) while only tying for 29th in swinging strikeouts (16). He isn’t expanding his strike zone often, a point made even clearer by the fact that he is only swinging at 25.4% of pitches outside the zone, less than the league average of 29.8%. Souza has some swing-and-miss in his game, but his approach looks fine and the hope is that he will be able to bring his K’s down to reasonable levels in time. Too many strikeouts are an obvious reason for a rookie to fade, but Souza has the ability to make adjustments to get past this.
If Steven Souza Jr. were to duplicate his April performance in subsequent months, he would end the season with 24 home runs, a higher total than any Ray in 2014. Souza has so far justified Matt Silverman and Kevin Cash’s faith in him, and is well on his way to making fans forget last year’s right fielder, Wil what’s his name. Rays fans can look forward to continued improvement from Souza, and he looks to be on the short list for AL Rookie of the Year.