Steven Souza Jr. a familiar face to his new Diamondbacks teammates
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The jersey number is the same. Likely, so is the position in the outfield.
Steven Souza Jr. joins the Arizona Diamondbacks expected to replace J.D. Martinez’s No. 28 locker room stall and his outgoing production. Arizona’s inability to re-sign Martinez is hanging over Souza’s head, but in a way, the expectations set so high allow him to approach his new team with a realistic point of view.
“If I can hit 29 homers in a half (season), that would be great. I think we’d be doing alright,” Souza said via conference call Wednesday after being acquired by the D-backs in a three-team deal.
“To say that I’m coming in and trying to fill those shoes is a little far-fetched.”
There’s comfort with the expectations, and it helps that Souza is friendly with a handful of his new teammates, including Paul Goldschmidt after the two met through a mutual friend and went on a hunting trip together.
“His personality and mine kind of match up in the way that we think,” Souza said. “This may be one of the teams that I know the most guys on the team. I’ve known Goldy for a while now, I grew up with Jake Lamb, I came up through the minor-leagues with Robbie Ray, I’ve gotten to know Nick Ahmed a little bit.
“All of them reached out and they’re all super excited, which got me more excited.”
With that, the D-backs are already moving on days after Martinez agreed to a lucrative, five-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.
Souza’s numbers suggest they have reason to feel confident in their restructured outfield as they began spring training Wednesday with an exhibition against Arizona State.
With Tampa Bay, Souza clubbed 30 home runs last season while slashing .239/.351/.459. He’s what D-backs manager Torey Lovullo called an “impact bat” and for the first time in his four-year MLB career produced plus defensive Wins Above Replacement in 2017.
Now 28 years old, Souza improved his slugging percentage in each of the last three seasons after being dealt to Tampa Bay from the Washington Nationals in 2014.
“He was a young player that was finding his way,” Lovullo said of his new outfielder, whom he faced often in the American League East as bench coach of the Boston Red Sox. “He seemed to improve in every series that we saw him. The athletic ability, the ability to hit with power, the defensive ability. It was very obvious in the opposing dugout.”
Souza’s familiarity in the D-backs’ locker room only helps that the front office views him as a long-term fit. Arizona has three years of control over Souza, who is making $3.6 million this season.
“We’re trying to continue to spread out and lengthen this window while we can without sacrificing where we need to be long-term from a sustainability standpoint,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said.
Souza admits he didn’t see the trade coming.
A meeting with Rays general manager Erik Neander led him to believe he wasn’t likely to depart despite Tampa Bay rebuilding.
Now, he fills a hole in the outfield for a team that, on paper to start spring training, looks ready to contend for a playoff spot for the second season in a row.
“I think it was kind of a bittersweet, if you would,” Souza said of the trade. “One of the tough things about this game is you build great relationships, sometimes more rapidly than you like.
That said: “It was hard for me to sit there and not say I was excited to join a team that’s ready to contend and ready to go after it and win.”