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Rays beat writer on Steven Souza: Made big strides in 2017 as hitter

Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. lines an RBI single off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tim Adleman during the third inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Rays' Jesus Sucre scored. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

LISTEN: Roger Mooney, Tampa Bay Times writer

He won’t be able to do everything J.D. Martinez did for the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, but Steven Souza will be the main player tasked with replacing him.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal, the outfielder was brought in by the D-backs the day after Martinez agreed to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

While Souza is 28 years old, he’s still growing as a player and hitter, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Roger Mooney put it.

“He became a lot more consistent of a player last year,” he said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo Tuesday.

Playing in a prominent role for Tampa Bay since arriving in 2015, Souza has had at least 400 at-bats for the Rays and topped over 600 last year, playing in 148 games.

“[The D-backs] got a guy who figured out how to be a more consistent hitter in the major leagues and I think he made big strides last year,” Mooney said.

A big problem for Souza is balancing his power as a 30-home run hitter in 2017 with strikeouts. He hit .239 and punched out in 29 percent of his at-bats, tied for 10th in the majors, per FanGraphs.

Where Souza balances that, though, is with a great walk rate, getting to first on four balls in 13.6 percent of his at-bats. That was ranked 12th in baseball last year, and he joins new teammates Paul Goldschmidt (eighth) and Jake Lamb (11th) as two other hitters who excel at racking up walks.

Add in Souza’s 16 stolen bases and you’ve got a unique outfielder. He was one of six right-handed hitters to hit at least 30 home runs and have 84 or more walks, while also being one of five righties to have 30-plus home runs and at least 16 stolen bases.

Mooney calls Souza “streaky,” the type of hitter who can carry your team for a couple of weeks but also disappear over some stretches.

“I think he will be a good fit for [Arizona],” Mooney said.

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