MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Pleskoff: Souza's talent on display after rocky road

Prospect capped breakout year in Minors with historic play in big leagues

Pleskoff: Souza's talent on display after rocky road

Many people would say right-handed-hitting outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was the top player in the Washington Nationals' farm system this season. He was named the MVP and Rookie of the Year playing for Triple-A Syracuse in the International League.

Following that fantastic Minor League season in which he hit a combined .345 at Class A Hagerstown (one game), Class A Advanced Potomac (three games and 10 plate appearances) and Triple-A Syracuse (96 games and 407 plate appearances), Souza had a Major League moment he will never forget. Neither will Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, his big league teammates, manager Matt Williams or the fans. With two outs in the ninth inning in the final game of the season, Souza made a remarkable running and sliding catch to preserve Zimmermann's no-hitter.

The Nationals selected Souza in the third-round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He graduated from Cascade High School in Everett, Wash.

Souza had some rocky moments in the beginning of his career. In 2007, he hit .194 in 44 games for the Nationals' Gulf Coast Rookie League team. He was assigned to Hagerstown for the next three seasons.

In 2010, Souza, along with teammate J.R. Higley, was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy.

In June of 2011, Souza got into an argument with his Hagerstown manager, Matt LeCroy. Farm director Doug Harris ordered Souza to pack his things and go home. It was the second consecutive year in which the young outfielder had made an immature mistake.

Souza realized the errors of his ways, asked his manager and his team for forgiveness and returned to Hagerstown to start the 2012 season. The next chapters contribute to a much brighter story.

Souza made tremendous strides, both on and off the field, and he began to show the multiple tools he possessed. Playing again for Hagerstown and getting a promotion to Class A Potomac, he concluded 2012 hitting a combined .297, and he followed that with an identical .297 in 2013.

This year, most of his time was spent at Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .350. In his 96 games, Souza hit 18 homers while driving in 75 runs. He stole 26 bases and was only caught seven times. All of his offensive tools, his speed and his defense were on display.

In April, Souza was called up to the Nationals to help fill out the outfield roster. At the end of the season, he was again recalled. He finished the season hitting .130 in 26 plate appearances. And of course, he played some excellent defense.

Souza is ranked No. 5 on the Nationals' Top 20 Prospect list on MLB.com.

At 6-foot-4, 224-pounds, Souza has the size and strength of a power hitter. He has missed some time in his career with an oblique injury and recently, a shoulder injury, but his strength has returned, and he has the capability of punishing both left- and right-handed pitchers equally. He has the ability to use the entire field and can hit the ball out of any stadium.

Souza has some work to do cutting down on the aggressive, long swing that often finds him a bit tardy on high velocity pitches. He can be fooled by offspeed pitches as well. A shorter and more compact swing and recognizing pitches earlier will help improve all his offensive numbers. He does, however, have a good knowledge of the strike zone and is fairly effective in his pitch selection. Souza is not immune to accepting a base on balls.

Souza was converted to the outfield after having played third base. If needed, he could likely return to that position after polishing up on the necessary footwork and positioning. His arm is strong and accurate.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.