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Treasure rest: Relaxed winter helping Souza

Right fielder hopes to build on strong 2017, eliminate late-season scuffles
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Getting ready for the next season is one thing. Healing from the previous season is another. Steven Souza Jr. is pleased that he's no longer having to do both.

After an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, Souza had hip surgery. The offseason that followed dealt with healing from that surgery first, then prepping for '17.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Getting ready for the next season is one thing. Healing from the previous season is another. Steven Souza Jr. is pleased that he's no longer having to do both.

After an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, Souza had hip surgery. The offseason that followed dealt with healing from that surgery first, then prepping for '17.

"Last year was a really stressful offseason, having to get up at 5 in the morning, sit in traffic for an hour, drive to town, rehab, help my pregnant wife, or take care of my kid," Souza said. "So I'm just super thankful for this offseason."

In addition to the anxiety of recovering from surgery, Souza had to deal with performance. He'd been a Triple-A superstar in the Nationals' farm system, but his performance in the Major Leagues had only shown glimpses of what had been forecast for him.

"The 2016 season wasn't the one I'd like to hang my hat on," Souza said. "But I think every year I've tried to get better, and I'm going to keep trying to do that until I stop playing. There was a little uncertainty going into last season. But this offseason has been kind of a different animal."

Video: BAL@TB: Souza Jr. speaks on his success during '17

Souza showed a lot of improvement in 2017. The power-hitting right fielder hit .239 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs, but he wants more.

"How do I make it better?" Souza said. "How do I take that next step forward? I don't know that that mindset has changed a lot, just trying not to be guaranteed anything. I just treat it like I'm coming in, I'm not letting anybody take anything. I'm going to go get it."

Souza seemed to run out of gas late last season, hitting .183 in August and .152 in September/October.

"I fell off the table a little bit in September, and I think I hit a roadblock," Souza said. "That's sort of been my motivation this offseason. How do I not let that happen again this year? How do I finish strong, where I'm not tired when I get to September?

"The hip surgery [after the 2016 season] kept me from doing any running and I didn't get to do any lifts. But I need to be more disciplined with my conditioning during the season. Because when you get to the end, if you slacked in May, June and July, you're going to pay for it in September. I just have to be more disciplined. Arrive to the park every day with a fresh mindset to the very end. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be a lot of work."

Video: OAK@TB: Souza belts a 453-foot home run vs. the A's

Souza showed improvement in 2017 and is trending in the right direction.

According to MLB.com's Statcast™ data, Souza improved his plate discipline, which could be seen in several categories. His walk percentage went from 6.6 percent to 13.6, which ranked second on the Rays behind Brad Miller, and his strikeout percentage dropped from 34 percent to 29. He also enjoyed a drop in his chase rate (swings at out-of-zone pitches) from 27.5 percent to 22 to lead the team.

Souza is a faster runner and better outfielder than people might think. His Sprint Speed of 28.3 feet per second ranked better than the Major League average (27.0 ft/sec), placing him among the likes of Javier Baez, Xander Bogaerts and Didi Gregorius.

Video: BOS@TB: Statcast™ measures Souza's five-star catch

Finally, on defense, Souza had plus-9 Outs Above Average, Statcast™'s range-based defensive metric. That tied him for 11th in baseball. Teammate Kevin Kiermaier ranked sixth, at plus-12.

So Rays fans, take heart; Souza's best is yet to come.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

 

Tampa Bay Rays, Steven Souza Jr.