Chicago Cubs: How will Steven Souza factor into the outfield picture?
Looking to rebound from a horrendous knee injury, veteran outfielder Steven Souza has a chance to leave his mark on the Chicago Cubs outfield this season.
It’s hard to come up with one central theme to sum up last year’s Chicago Cubs outfield. Kyle Schwarber broke out with a monstrous second half performance, Jason Heyward turned in the best offensive showing of his Cubs career when he wasn’t in the leadoff spot and center field was a complete and utter disaster for much of the season.
But with limited resources at his disposal, Theo Epstein is trotting out largely the same group in 2020. Schwarber will handle the majority of reps in left field, Albert Almora and Ian Happ are battling it out this spring for center field duties and Heyward, a five-time Gold Glover, is back in right.
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That being said, one of the bigger position player signings this winter is trying to force David Ross‘ hand when it comes to the outfield picture. That man? Steven Souza.
Souza, 30, is now three years removed from his best professional season, a 30-homer showing with Tampa Bay back in 2017. But after working his way back from a season-ending knee injury that took place last spring, he’s got nothing to lose and everything to prove.
"“I think that question in my head hovered a lot. ‘Am I going to have to be a different guy? Am I going to pepper the ball over the yard? Am I going to be able to drive it out?,’ he told MLB.com. “ Six months out of surgery, I was driving the ball. When I hit that mark and saw the exit velo and the ball leaving the yard, it was peace of mind.”"
Chicago is hoping he can be the guy who helped lead the Rays offense a few short years ago. It seems very unlikely he ever receives the bulk of reps in any one spot – but he makes sense as a platoon partner for either Heyward or Schwarber.
Heyward’s OPS against southpaws last year was nearly 300 points lower than against righties. He’s always struggled against left-handers, so dropping in someone like Souza could help matters. In his career, Souza carries a .759 OPS against lefties, including a .339 OBP.
Now, you’re obviously sacrificing defense when Heyward’s not in the lineup, but his longstanding struggles against same-handed pitching may very well prove to be enough for Ross to give Souza a look. I think it’s far more likely we see Schwarber work through at-bats against lefties (career .756 OPS) – but if the Cubs are looking for a different look or maybe giving Schwarber a blow, Souza fits here, as well.
"“He came in in great shape and is definitely moving well,” Ross said. “I’m just trying to communicate with the trainers as he communicates with them … We gotta make sure these guys get their legs under them, and [with] a guy that hasn’t gotten many at-bats and misses a year, you’re looking for timing at the plate, you’re looking for what their jump is on the baseball, how they’re moving on the bases.”"
So far, so good for Souza. He’s 4-for-10 this spring and hasn’t shown any signs of injury. Right now, it’s a day-by-day battle to show he’s healthy and ready to force his way into the Cubs’ plans. He’s definitely one of those buy-low guys who could make a big impact on the 2020 campaign which, as we’ve talked about before, is what the season is riding on at this point.