This season is a big one for many Arizona Diamondbacks players, but no more so than right fielder Steven Souza Jr.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are relying on right fielder Steven Souza Jr. to be a big bat in the lineup this season. With Paul Goldschmidt gone, the Dbacks need Souza now more than ever to flourish into the player they hoped he’d become when they traded for him two years ago.
The pectoral injury that interrupted his 2018 season proved more severe than it seemed at first blush, but he’s healed now and ready to go. The injury was a bizarre one for baseball, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, and it was mismanaged in small ways as a result, but Souza has no regrets. He has one and a half pectoral muscles, and no regrets.
Still, the ups and downs of injury recovery can certainly impact a season, and it’s fair to wonder if that’s what happened with Souza. The Diamondbacks haven’t even sniffed at free agent outfielders, so it would see they think he can be the power backbone they thought they acquired after 2017.
Souza’s first season in Arizona produced a meager .220/.309/.369 in 241 at-bats – not exactly an enforcer in the bottom half of the order. The 30-homer season with .479 SLG in 2017 feels a distant memory. His isolated power year-over-year confirms the anomaly: .174 ISO in 2015, .163 in 2016, .220 in 2017 and .149 in 2018. While the Dbacks would like to chalk up last year’s disappointing season to the unusual pectoral injury, 2017 is the more obvious outlier.
The Diamondbacks suffered a lack of power in 2018 that caught them off guard, with Souza a primary culprit. They ranked tied for 17th in home runs (176 HRs) and 13th in isolated power (.162 ISO) – this a year after finishing 12th in home runs (220 HRs) and 2nd in isolated power (.190 ISO).
Of course, there were other contributors as well. Jake Lamb poor season played a role in the year-over-year .028 drop in ISO, as did the unusually strong performance they got from half a season of J.D. Martinez in 2017 (.440 ISO in 62 games!).
For Souza, time is running out to prove that the 2017 version is the real deal. He’s set to make $4.125MM this season with one more year of arbitration left. If he’s not able to produce closer to his 2017 levels, he will be a non-tender candidate next winter.
For the Arizona Diamondbacks, this season only works out if he is able to protect David Peralta in the lineup – and that means hitting for power. Fully healthy now, Steven Souza Jr. has a chance to establish himself as a prime player in the dessert. There’s not much depth behind him, so he should have the year to figure it out, but there’s no extension. Either he finds 2017 Souza Jr., or he’ll have to go looking for him somewhere else.