The Tampa Bay Rays couldn’t afford to lose another bat. Instead, two more went on the disabled list, Steven Souza Jr. and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera’s absence isn’t so terrible–even a strong few weeks didn’t bring his offensive numbers into the range of respectability and Tim Beckham could hit at least as well in his place. However, missing Souza was a bigger blow. He has had his ups and downs in his rookie year, but overall, he gave the Rays their best home run hitter, their leading basestealer, and the best outfield arm among their right fielders.
With Souza on the DL, the Rays were forced to make a past-his-prime Grady Sizemore into almost an everyday player and give a faded Joey Butler the occasional start. Even when neither of them was in the lineup, the Rays needed to move Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus from left field into right, where they each went from solid or better defenders to below-average ones. If Souza could give the Rays an average right field situation, that would be a big improvement over the situation that they have fallen into lately.
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Beyond that, though, there is reason to think that Souza can be better. If there was any silver lining to Souza’s injury, it was that the Rays had a little more time to work with Souza on the mental part of the game. They had time to show him video of his at-bats and make it clear to him when he was being overly patient, especially with two strikes. The prevalence of Souza’s looking strikeouts has been bizarre, but the hope is that he can return to the major leagues with a better two-strike approach. Souza hit .350 at Triple-A last year, and while it looks extremely unlikely that he will be a high-average hitter in the majors, he certainly has the ability to hit better than his current .210 mark.
If Souza can make that adjustment, stardom could lie ahead, but the Rays aren’t asking him to hit like crazy right now. They want him to slam the occasional homer, work good at-bats, and steal some bases. They look forward to the fear that he will inspire in opposing baserunners as they hold up at third knowing that he could deliver a strong throw to the plate. If the Tampa Bay Rays desperately needed another bat before, Steven Souza Jr. is the player with the ability to be that guy. Souza is no savior, but as the Rays hope to end their recent struggles, he can be a solid contributor to their efforts and maybe something more.