Outfielder Steven Souza is having an outstanding first half for Double-A Harrisburg, and his play has been rewarded with an invitation to the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 10.
"It is an honor," Souza said recently. "It is going to be a fun experience. I just thank the lord for blessing me with such a good season and some good teammates to help me through the year. I am looking forward to spending it with my family and my agent."
Souza is batting .280 through 48 games, with 11 doubles, 11 homers and 22 RBIs. He has hit two home runs in back-to-back games July 3-4.
Souza has made himself into one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Nationals system the past two seasons by turning his career around. He did this thanks to a new-found focus, based on faith and belief in his capabilities on the diamond.
Potomac Nationals hitting coach Mark Harris talked about how Souza's approach has a measured pace to it now. Harris uses Souza as an example of a hitter that figured out a calm and confident approach that works for him.
Souza has cut out all the noise and there is a nice rhythm to each at-bat. Just like a cheetah waiting in the brush, Souza pounces on the moment when the pitcher gives him that pitch to hit.
"Everybody is going to have different stuff every single day, so you are going to try to adjust your gameplan to what they are going to come at you with," Souza said. "But overall, I am just going to go in there and compete. I think overthinking too much gets you into the ground and gets you into a slump."
Souza talks frequently with former Mississippi State star and Nats outfielder Tyler Moore about the psychology of hitting. The prime directive is to not let the pitcher dictate the at-bat.
"One of my best friends is Tyler Moore, and we talk about it all the time, and he says it best - if you think his stuff is better than your swing, you are going to lose," Souza said. "But if you just go out there and compete and say his stuff isn't better than my swing and let the results take care of themselves, then you are going to win every pitch and every at bat and that is all you can ask for."
To understand where Souza is today, you have to flash back to the end of the 2011 season. That season, he struck out 131 times as his average dropped to .228, leaving him frustrated and angry.
Souza faced a deciding moment in his career at the end of that season with high Single-A Potomac, that fragile moment where a life decision based on attitude and belief in your own talents can change everything.
Souza rededicated himself in many ways that fall, and has turned himself into one of the best power hitters in the Eastern League.
"Jesus has definitely came into my life and saved it for sure," Souza said. "From the people that knew me before and the way I carried myself, it would be impossible for me to change myself from how bad I was. But you have seen the results of how the priorities of baseball haven't really taken over my life anymore.
"So I can just go have fun. It is such a fun game, it is such a fun group, it is such a fun manager. So the opportunity has really awakened me into to just be thankful. Just be thankful for the job I have here in Double-A. Just be thankful that I am healthy, that I am happy."
In 2012, he hit a combined 23 homers with two teams, cut his strikeouts to 74, hitting .297 with 85 RBIs.
Souza said he is taking care of what is right in front of him now instead of worrying about two or three years down the road.
"The small things are what I focus on now. And before, it was more, 'When am I going to get to the big leagues? Who am I going to beat out? This guy is doing better than me,' " he said. "It is wasted time. I want to see every one of these 25 of these guys make it to the big leagues. I am just rooting for them so much. That may not happen but I am just excited to see where all of them are headed."
Last season, he injured his shoulder going after a ball into an outfield wall. He also missed some time this year with a sore shoulder. Does that mean Souza is changing his fearlessness on defense?
Far from it.
Souza says that undaunted attitude is similar to a certain left fielder who just returned to the Nationals.
"It is the style of play I have," Souza said. "(Bryce) Harper and I are pretty similar in that sense. He does a lot of things way better than I do. But he plays the game hard, he dives and he is going to give his pitchers all he got. That is what I am going to do.
"I am going to go out there, if that means running through a wall, diving into the ground, sliding into the wall, breaking up a double play, throwing as hard as I can to save a run for a pitcher. Whatever I've got to do, I am going to try to do it to the best of my ability and make sure I left it all on the field."
It is this selfless disposition that has brought Souza peace and you can see it in his approach, his swing, his demeanor. He is smiling again, he has a spring in his step, he is no longer worried about tomorrow.