Outfielder Steven Souza is continuing his upper trend after a solid campaign last season with Double-A Harrisburg and an even better showing in the Arizona Fall League. Alongside Matt Skole, Souza is considered one of the top power hitting prospects in the Nationals' system.
I caught up with Souza this week and he talked about the start spring training in Viera, Fla., with the Nationals.
"It is going great," Souza said. "It is just nice to get back on a diamond and get my feet underneath me and hang around some real baseball players. It (has) just been real fun."
Souza has worked with Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Tyler Moore and others these first two weeks, absorbing their advice and asking questions.
"They have all been extremely helpful," Souza said. "I have been really humbled by it. I feel like I am back in school again. I am all ears, trying to listen and pick up anything I can. (Jayson) Werth has been great working on outfield stuff. He is really taken the time to help me out. Desi has been great. Tyler (Moore) is one of my best friends. I listen to those guys and how they go about their business, the way the game is played at the big league level. It has been super helpful."
Souza said he will play the corner outfield spots and get tested around first base, just to open up more versatility for his professional playing future.
Limited to 77 games with Double-A Harrisburg due to right shoulder tendinitis, Souza was outstanding when healthy, hitting .300 with 15 homers, 20 stolen bases and 44 RBIs. He also hit .357 in 11 games for the Mesa Solar Sox.
His on-base plus slugging percentages (OPS) were also impressive: .953 with Harrisburg and .902 in Arizona. Souza said the AFL experience was a springboard to hitting the ground fast in Viera.
"I think it was huge," Souza said. "God had a really good plan not just baseball-wise, but just mentality-wise. The competition (was very good), I know Double-A there was solid pitchers in our league, but every day I was playing in Arizona I was against their number one guy, a number one prospect.
"To have the success I did out there I was blessed. It gave me the confidence bridge the gap from Double-A to big leagues. The guys are good up here. I have never played in a major league game so I can't tell you. But it gives you a little bit of confidence when you have success against high level guys like that."
He said not having any form of a leg injury last year helped his stolen bases numbers, a combined 30 swipes in 88 games.
"I know I was injured a couple of times, they weren't significant," Souza said. "When I came back, times when I was healthy, my legs, for the most part, all year were great. I had the ability to run, so I just ran. In years past, my legs kind of killed me a little bit. I had that knee injury a couple of years ago.
"This year I got my legs back underneath me. It was really easy to steal when I had Billy Burns and Brian Goodwin in front of me. And I get on, they aren't paying as much attention to me. It was good. (Nationals first base coach and former outfield coordinator) Tony (Tarasco) worked so much with me learning the timing and stuff, it was just an awesome opportunity to utilize and show my speed."
While with the Mesa Solar Sox, Souza stole 10 bases in 11 attempts. He played in just 11 games. Eligible to play only twice a week, Souza decided to take advantage of the situation.
"I thought of it as I knew I was on the taxi squad," Souza said. "I am going to get limited opportunities and if they are not going to pay attention to me, I am gone. That is what kind of happened.
"My biggest thing is in life or on a baseball field, whenever I am given the opportunity I want to take it. I want to be ready."
I recently asked current George Washington University baseball coach (and former Pirates hitting coach) Gregg Ritchie if he had any power on his team this season. He told me, "we don't look at it as power, we are looking for hitters. We have hitters." That same mentality is something Souza has adopted in his career.
"I think that is just AB's," Souza said about his hitting. "It comes with maturity, seeing more pitches, not being a sporadic, immature hitter. I owe that to a lot of hitting coaches that have taken the time and worked with me.
"I read an article about (Angels first baseman) Albert Pujols. Someone asked him, 'you are the best power hitter in the game', and he stopped the interview right there and said "woah, I am just a hitter who happens to have power'. And to me that really grabbed my attention. This guy hit 40 homers in a season six times, what do you mean he doesn't have power?
"I really tried to grasp on that. Just take whatever the pitcher gives you and be a hitter. That is what I have tried to do."
Souza has made great progress the last couple of seasons, with 49 homers and 61 stolen bases since 2011, priming himself to be a hitter in D.C. very soon.