Souza earmarked for RF, though not a lock

Rays slugger seeking to strike out less, stay healthy

Souza earmarked for RF, though not a lock

ST. PETERSBURG -- Steven Souza Jr. has been an enigma throughout his two-year tenure with the Rays.

The Everett, Wash., native came over in a three-way trade among the Padres, Nationals and Rays in December 2014. Since his arrival, he's appeared at times to be the answer to the Rays' quest for power. At other times, he has not.

Though Souza is not a lock to be the Rays' right fielder in 2017, he appears to be the most likely candidiate.

Souza, who had season-ending hip surgery in September, recently said he's on schedule to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training. He sounded excited about the way he ended the season and is hoping to carry that over.

Souza Jr. scores on wild pitch

He hit .247 with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs while playing in 120 games. Of note, he hit .327 with four home runs and six RBIs in 15 September games before surgery ended his season.

"The way I finished the season was definitely a positive," Souza said. "I showed I could play at a consistent level."

On the flip side, the rearview mirror also showed room for improvement, and, in particular, his strikeout total. He whiffed 159 times in 430 at-bats.

"I've got to find a way to not strike out and put the ball in play a little more often, and get on base more often so my power can play," Souza said. "[And] be a more productive player for our team."

Souza also cited the fact that he needs to stay healthy after missing 30 games due to his hip injury.

Souza Jr.'s impressive catch

"I think that's the biggest hurdle," Souza said. "If I can stay on the field, that's the best way I'm going to be able to help us win. Whether that means trying to pull back a little bit on some of the crazy plays I make in the outfield, running into walls, figure out a way to be there for my team day in and day out."

Souza has good size, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 225 pounds, which means the ball has a good chance of leaving the park if he gets a hold of one. However, the tendency has been to swing for 500-foot homers when 350-foot homers count the same.

"I think that [manager Kevin] Cash has really tried to get me to understand that," Souza said. "He's pounded that into my head and I'm really hard-headed that sometimes I reach for more. I really love winning and I love the team. I always try to do more and more.

"If you think about [Chris Archer], or any pitcher, any one of them tries to over spin the curveball, it's not going to work out. If you over swing, it doesn't work, either. I've just got to play my game, and hopefully if I do that, that's enough to perform at an extremely high level. I just have to trust my ability."

Souza Jr. goes back to back

While Souza appears to be the most logical candidate for right field, the Rays also have Mikie Mahtook, Corey Dickerson and Nick Franklin on their 40-man roster. All will compete for outfield jobs. And there's always the chance the Rays venture outside the organization to add to the mix. Souza said he doesn't worry about having to compete for a job.

"Honestly, I want to win," Souza said. "So I want the best nine players on the field. I want to win. If I'm not helping the team win, then I've got to do something to get better. That's the bottom line.

"So no matter who it is, for example, I'm not really competing against Mikie Mahtook for playing time. Ultimately I'm just competing to help us win. Competition is good. I think when you're handed things, it's not necessarily the same."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.