SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When you think of the newest addition to the Arizona Diamondbacks outfield, Steven Souza Jr., his power probably comes to mind first.
But when he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on February 20, the D-backs knew they were getting more than just a power bat. Souza Jr. is also regarded as a great defender.
“Early on in my career, I think I was labeled as an average defender, which isn’t necessarily bad, but not good enough for me,” Souza Jr. said. “I knew I could be a really good defender.”
He said he takes a lot of pride in his defense because that is the best way he can serve his pitchers directly. “I can save a run, I can stop a double from happening and that helps them out and them out directly, more than anything else that I can do.”
Souza Jr.’s range in right field was on full display in only his fourth game with the D-backs on March 8 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park.
With runners at first and third and nobody out in the bottom of the first inning, Travis Shaw lined a belt-high breaking ball into right-center field that was heading for the gap. Souza Jr. had other ideas. He raced in from his spot in right, ranging to his left and laying out to make an outstanding catch.
“(I) got a good jump on the ball,” Souza Jr. said. “I try and work on my routes in batting practice the best that I can and once I get close, I kind of judge whether I can take a leap after it. I closed in on it pretty good, took a leap and at that point it is about holding onto it.”
Then he had the awareness to get up and fire an accurate throw to double off Lorenzo Cain at first. But Souza Jr. said executing the double play would not have been possible if center fielder A.J. Pollock did not back him up on the play.
“A.J. did a great job of once I got the ball, letting me know that Cain was nowhere close to first base, so I could throw to first base,” Souza Jr. said.
Statcast in many ways has changed the way many players approach route running, but Souza Jr. said he does not pay attention to it.
“I know when I have taken a bad route and when I have taken a good route,” Souza Jr. said. “I really just trust my coaches in that aspect of seeing where I can improve in my routes.”
In the short time that Souza Jr. has been a Diamondback, he said D-backs first base coach Dave McKay, who also works with the outfielders, has had a big impact on him. “From base running to the outfield, he just wants me to be the best player I can and he’s not going to let me slip and I absolutely love that.”
Finding his way on a new team
Souza Jr. said he has already developed a great chemistry with Pollock and his new teammates in the outfield, which has helped him acclimate him to his new team.
“A.J. and I first started getting to know each other off the field,” Souza Jr. said. “To me, that really helps on the field. When you know somebody as a friend, you can really trust him. That is why Kevin (Kiermaier) were good for those years in Tampa because we were friends off the field and trusted each other.”
Souza Jr. was essentially a replacement for J.D. Martinez, who signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, but Souza actually finished 2017 with a higher bWAR (4.2) than Martinez (4.1). Although not by much, Souza Jr.’s defense and baserunning is invaluable.
Just ask teammate David Peralta. “He is a guy that everybody would love to have on their team, so we are really excited to have him,” Peralta said.
Manager Torey Lovullo said Souza Jr. will shore up right field and complement Pollock and Peralta nicely.
“We talk about a culture here and fitting in and making sure guys care and love one another,” Lovullo said. “For him to come in here and step in as quickly and as comfortably as he has is a credit to him and to the guys in that clubhouse.”
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