Everybody Loves a Souza March
Last night’s game against the Orioles was one of many low points in the 2013 season, but looking up at the score board at Camden Yards and seeing four players in the lineup with averages under the Mendoza Line–.200–was more discouraging still. Tyler Moore swung and missed at the same Freddy Garcia junk all night long. It was enough to send the devoted fan scurrying for a minor league roster sheet. “Don’t we have anyone who can hit in this organization?”
The Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Souza in the third round of the 2007 amateur baseball draft. Ross Detwiler was taken first and Jordan Zimmermann was a second round selection that year and both of them have been playing at Nationals Park for several years now.Both pitchers were drafted out of college, while Souza was a raw talent out of Cascade High School in Everett, Washington.
Baseball America described Souza going into the draft as the second best high school player coming out of Washington, with “plus bat speed and leverage in his swing.” According to the scouts his bat would carry him, but they expressed concern about his “maturity.”
Souza confirmed those early concerns about his immaturity when he tested positive for PED’s in 2010. He admitted taking a stimulant for the short term benefits promised by having a little extra energy. Souza was suspended for 50 games for betting on something other than his own talents.
Baseball demands mental toughness and concentration to succeed and nothing in Stephen Souza’s resume shouted out that he had either when he was suspended. Yet from this career-threatening event, he has crafted a compelling comeback.
After serving his suspension, Souza started the season for the Potomac Nationals and struggled to find consistency after the layoff. He hit only .228 for the season though he occasionally flashed the raw power that had made him such a tantalizing talent in 2007.
When the 2012 season began, Souza was demoted back to Hagerstown. The good players torch every level at which they play and are promoted quickly up the ladder. A demotion like Souza got to start 2012 could have been taken as a death sentence. He was 22 years old and going backwards. He was playing in Low-A ball after five seasons as a pro.
Souza took the demotion as a challenge, as a starting point on the road back. He began mashing against Sally League pitching from the first game. He hit 17 long balls in the first half of the season and earned a promotion back to Potomac where he was even better, fashioning an impressive .319/421/.560 slash line. The Nationals organization was impressed with the young man from Washington state.
“Souza worked on his plan and approach at plate and that has made big difference,” according to Byron Kerr, long-time Nationals analyst for MASN. That assessment from Nationals hitting coach Mark Harris earned Souza a promotion to Harrisburg and the Double-A Eastern League to begin the 2013 season. Now 24 years old, Souza is finally going in the right direction.
More important still, Souza is continuing to mash the ball. He started the season hot but an injury to his shoulder incurred running into a fence at Potomac in 2012, put him on injured reserve. Undeterred by the latest bad luck, Souza has returned like a house afire. He has hit safely in all seven of the games he has played in May, batting .395 and continuing to slug the ball at a robust .737 clip to yield a 1.202 OPS (By comparison, in Tyler Moore’s breakout season at Harrisburg in 2011, his OPS was only .846 despite hitting 31 home runs).
According to Kerr, the Nationals like Souza’s leadership skills and he will continue to move up the organizational ladder as far as his bat takes him. There may be a “Help Wanted” sign hanging from the Nationals Clubhouse in the near future and while Stephen Souza may need to prove himself a bit more, his day is coming soon.
Everybody loves a Souza march, the steady pulse puts a smile on the face and sets the foot to tapping. Stephen Souza is marching to the big leagues at a pace that is once again just as undeniable. But his comeback story is what could put a smile on this baseball season, one that is badly needed.