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Tampa Bay Rays: Examining Steven Souza’s Hot Start

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Apr 20, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) hits a 2-RBI triple during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) hits a 2-RBI triple during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The Tampa Bay Rays had hoped that they were getting a five tool player in Steven Souza. Thus far in 2017, he is finally delivering on that promise.

Steven Souza was one of the key pieces that the Tampa Bay Rays received back in the infamous three team deal involving the Padres and the Nationals. While Wil Myers is blossoming into a star with the Padres, and Trea Turner is doing the same in the nation’s capital, the Rays have not had the same success. The hope was that Souza would become that player, but up to this point, he simply has not been able to fulfill his potential.

This season, however, has been a different story. Souza has become the player that Tampa Bay envisioned when they made him the centerpiece of their return. Through the first 18 games of the season, he has produced an excellent .343/.429/.582 batting line, hitting three homers and leading the American League with 23 hits.

Naturally, the biggest question surrounding his performance is whether or not it is sustainable. After all, Souza had produced a .237/.310/.405 batting line, with 77 walks and 303 strikeouts in his 894 plate appearances over the previous two seasons. It is understandable for one to be skeptical about his hot start.

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There are reasons to be concerned that Souza is playing beyond his capabilities. He has a .444 batting average on balls in play, an incredibly high percentage, and over 100 points higher than his performance last year. However, given that he has typically has a high BAbip, this number may remain relatively high.

The biggest reason behind Souza’s improvement in 2017 may have to do with his batting eye. Although he typically had an above average walk rate, Souza has improved thus far. He has drawn a walk in 13% of his plate appearances, while striking out only 24.7% of the time. That latter mark is a 9.3% improvement from 2016.

If Souza is going to continue what has the potential to be his breakout campaign, that strikeout rate will need to remain close to its current level. Naturally, no one expects that he will be a .300 hitter, but if Souza can have a .270 batting average and hit 25 homers, then he would start to become the player the Rays hoped he would be.

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Steven Souza looks like he is starting to have the breakout campaign. If this progress can continue, he may be ready to become the player the Tampa Bay Rays felt they were getting.

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