Foresight is 2020: What role will Steven Souza Jr. have on Cubs?
Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. But as the 2020 Cubs season gets underway, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight — foresight is the only option at the moment. So let’s play a game of 20 questions, tackling the most important topics surrounding this Cubs team entering the campaign.
Next up: What role will Steve Souza Jr. have?
Over the winter, the Cubs signed two players to guaranteed big-league deals: veteran reliever Jeremy Jeffress and Souza.
If healthy, Jeffress looks primed for a big role in the Cubs bullpen, but Souza’s fit on the roster isn’t quite as clear.
Souza turns 31 in April and is coming off a lost season after tearing his ACL slipping on home plate last spring training. He only played 72 games in 2018, but the last time he was healthy for a full season, Souza posted a very solid 2017 campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays — 30 homers, 16 stolen bases, .351 OBP, .810 OPS.
“It’s been a grind,” Souza said. “Coming off the year I had in ’17, I was excited for the future and what it held for me and just kinda ran into a couple injuries that really derailed my last couple seasons. It’s been frustrating, but all that’s behind me.
“Personally, I don’t believe in accidents. I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that reason was [for the devastating knee injury], but I know that I’m stronger for it mentally. If there’s a silver lining, I got to spend a full year with my son and my newborn daughter and my family, which as we all know in this game, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our family. It was a huge blessing and I’m looking forward to moving on from that.”
The Cubs would certainly welcome that 2017 stat line from Souza in 2020, but he notched 617 plate appearances that year and doesn’t have as clear of a path to playing time on this team.
Jason Heyward has won 5 Gold Gloves in right field and is coming off his best offensive season in a Cubs uniform (21 homers, 62 RBI, .772 OPS). Kyle Schwarber posted a monster second half and looks primed for a big season. Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. are duking it out for the everyday center fielder role.
At the very least, expect the right-handed Souza to man one of the corner outfield spots in place of Heyward or Schwarber against left-handed pitchers. Both incumbent outfielders have struggled against southpaws in their careers, but Schwarber had a bit more success against same-handed pitchers in the second half last season (.809 OPS).
Souza also could play center field if injuries strike or Happ and Almora continue to struggle through growing pains. Souza has only appeared in 8 games in center in the big leagues, but he spent his entire career playing alongside A.J. Pollock and Kevin Kiermaier — two elite defenders.
“When he’s healthy, he’s pretty real,” David Ross said. “He can get significant at-bats out there. I think that’s up to him. We’ve got corner outfielders that are left-handed and depending on what goes on in center, he can get some significant time against a tough lefty and then that role can progress according to his play.
“I really like the way he goes about his work. He’s got a little edge to him too, just in the locker room and talking to him.”
Ross and the Cubs have been cautious with Souza in spring training and he has been wearing a brace on his left knee until he reaches the one-year mark from his injury (March 25).
Early in camp, Ross said he felt like Souza’s timing was off just a bit after all the missed at-bats, but that hasn’t shown up in Cactus League play — he’s hitting .300 with a .391 OBP and a pair of doubles in 23 plate appearances.
Souza’s exact fit on the roster and in this lineup will develop over time, but for now, he’s focused on being healthy for all 162 games and anxious to get to the North Side of Chicago.
“I tell you what, that was one of the things that brought me here was the fans and the environment that Wrigley brings,” Souza said. “I’m super pumped. No offense, but I played in Tampa and Arizona and those aren’t the greatest markets in the league.
“I’ve always enjoyed going to Wrigley; I’ve had some good success at Wrigley. I know those Cubs fans bring it every day and I’m looking forward to that.”
As we approach the start of the regular season, read more on our “Foresight is 2020” series:
–Will Nico Hoerner start the year in the majors?
–How does Jason Kipnis fit into the Cubs mix?
–How will second base shake out?
–Will Jeremy Jeffress regain his 2018 dominance?
–Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
–Who will emerge in Cubs bullpen?
–Can Kyle Schwarber put it all together after a huge second half?
–What role will Steven Souza Jr. have?
-Will somebody grab the everyday center field role?
-Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019?