Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Souza pursues elusive eliteness

NEW YORK— Steven Souza Jr. can do a lot of things that leave his Rays mates and bosses wondering how.

Sometimes they are marveling at the good, such as the monstrous 461-foot blast for his second home run Thursday at Yankee Stadium. Other times they are shaking their heads at the bad, a play or a decision.

Getting a better read on what Souza can be counted on to do consistently is one of the Rays' clear priorities through September. They have to decide whether they can bank on him to be the impact player they projected — a middle-of-the-order bat and above-average outfielder — when acquiring him in December 2014 at a high cost, or if they need to gulp, accept their mistake and look for someone else.

"He can be a very special player," manager Kevin Cash said. "Physically … I don't know if you can count five players in baseball that can hit a ball as far as he did (Thursday) night. As far as the speed, the power, the arm strength, those are talents that a lot of people wish they had.

"Now it does come to a point where you've got to put it together and watch it play out over a consistent period of time. And this is a big month. We're all pulling for 'Souz.' We want him to go into the offseason feeling good about himself. And if (Thursday) night is any indication of things turning his way, we're all on board with that."

There was another positive sign Friday, when Souza homered again in a 7-5 thrice rain-delayed loss to the Yankees, finishing the night hitting .241 with 16 homers, 47 RBIs, 153 strikeouts in 431 plate appearances (with only 26 walks) and a .698 OPS.

His physical ability has been obvious and mostly unquestioned, though his proclivity to strike out at a majors-most rate is somewhat concerning.

But baseball is a mental game, too, wrought with failure, and that is where Souza candidly admits he has to improve.

"I think I have to mature as a player," Souza, 27, said. "I think I've got a little bit to go as far as not trying to overthink things, not trying to break things down too much, and come to the ballpark with a mature game plan and stick to it.

"And I think I've done a really poor job of sticking to my game plan and trusting my abilities. And I think the more I can trust those abilities I've been born with, I think (I'm) going to be more consistent."

Souza, who overcame personal battles early in his career, needs help in evolving.

And the Rays might be best served by making the help a team effort.

On Wednesday, for example, after watching Souza flail and strike out in his final at-bat, looking "like he was playing against the guy on the mound and in the box," pitcher Alex Cobb offered his buddy a few words of advice about taking a much simpler, "see ball, hit ball" approach.

Chase Whitley, another pitcher and friend, offered a similar message Thursday, telling Souza to relax, not to try so hard, to have confidence that his ample talents are enough.

"Steve has probably as much talent as anybody else that puts on a uniform throughout the big leagues," Cobb said. "He can do everything.

"The one thing he does is he tries too hard, and that can be a character flaw. He wants it so bad. He wants to outwork everybody. And sometimes when you go down that path, you can be your own worst enemy. I think just relaxing a bit — this game is pretty stressful — will do wonders for him."

There were more kind words later Thursday afternoon when Souza met with new hitting coach Chad Mottola, who reminded him of their first session together. It was early in spring training 2015, and Mottola, then a minor-league coordinator, marveled at the skills Souza showed during a drill — a unique drill and his favorite one, hitting golf ball-sized foam balls while wearing goggles that intermittently block his vision.

"He needs to realize how talented he is," Mottola said. "And every once in a while you need to be reminded of that when this game is so evil."

All that praise got Souza to thinking — which, he admits, can sometimes be dangerous — about making the game as simple as possible, like playing wiffle ball as a kid.

"I kind of connected the two and said why don't I just go up there and just try and see the ball like I do when I do those (drills), because that's what I did for the longest time," Souza said. "The problem with that is that it takes a lot of faith and it takes a lot of trust in what you're doing and what your ability is to just go up there day after day knowing no matter who is on the mound, I'm going to trust my ability and not try and overthink or do too much or waver based on the fact if I get a hit or not."

At this point, faith seems to be the key word for Souza, and for the Rays.

Comments
Why free agency hasnít turned out fun (yet) for ex-Rays pitcher Alex Cobb

Why free agency hasnít turned out fun (yet) for ex-Rays pitcher Alex Cobb

RHP Alex Cobb never expected to be going into late January without knowing where he was going for spring training.The longtime Ray's first foray into free agency hasn't gone as planned, much like the 150-plus others waiting for something to give in a...
Published: 01/20/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Rays infielder Daniel Robertson lends a hand to help families dealing with cancer

Rays infielder Daniel Robertson lends a hand to help families dealing with cancer

Rays infielder Daniel Robertson has much to be excited about heading into his second season in the majors.But before packing for spring training, he took some time last weekend to provide help for families needing assistance in dealing with cancer.Hi...
Published: 01/19/18
Ex-Rays star Longoria dons Giants jersey, looks forward to full-stadium environment in San Francisco

Ex-Rays star Longoria dons Giants jersey, looks forward to full-stadium environment in San Francisco

Longtime Rays star Evan Longoria was formally introduced in San Francisco today, adding the visual of him pulling on his new Giants jersey, switching to No. 10 since 3 is retired.Longoria said he welcomed the chance to play on a contending team stock...
Published: 01/19/18
What do Rays look like now? What will they look like March 29?

What do Rays look like now? What will they look like March 29?

ST. PETERSBURG — Since entering an off-season planning major change and pledging to be open to "anything and everything,'' the Rays have made a few minor moves and one massive one in trading franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to San Francisco....
Published: 01/19/18
Reminder: Rays spring tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m.

Reminder: Rays spring tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m.

The Rays will put single game tickets for spring training home games on sale today at 10 a.m. via raysbaseball.com.The Rays are playing 14 home games in Port Charlotte, starting with the Feb. 23 opener vs. Pittsburgh. Tickets will be available at the...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay Rays 2018 spring training schedule

Tampa Bay Rays 2018 spring training schedule

Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd., Port Charlotte, 33948Get tickets here: (941) 206-4487Pitchers report: Feb. 13. Squad reports: Feb. 19TEAM SCHEDULE(games at 1:05 unless noted)(ss - split squad)Feb 23 at Orioles (ss) (Sarasota)Feb 23 PIRATE...
Published: 01/19/18
Ex-Phillies, Indians manager Charlie Manuel to get Ted Williams Museum award

Ex-Phillies, Indians manager Charlie Manuel to get Ted Williams Museum award

Former Phillies and Indians manager Charlie Manuel will receive the Ted Williams Lifetime Achievement Award on Feb. 10 in Clearwater.The honor is bestowed by the Ted Williams Museum at its annual Hitters Hall of Fame induction, moving this year from ...
Published: 01/19/18
Former Rays OF Matt Joyce to hold annual charity baseball camp at North Brandon complex

Former Rays OF Matt Joyce to hold annual charity baseball camp at North Brandon complex

Armwood High product Matt Joyce, the current A's and former Rays outfielder, hosts his ninth annual Sweet Swingin' charity baseball camp for kids 6-12 on Sunday at the North Brandon youth baseball complex (2929 S Kingsway Rd, Seffner).Registration st...
Published: 01/18/18
Rays spring tickets go on sale Friday

Rays spring tickets go on sale Friday

The Rays will put single game tickets for spring training home games on sale Friday at 10 a.m. via raysbaseball.com.The Rays are playing 14 home games in Port Charlotte, starting with the Feb. 23 opener vs. Pittsburgh. Tickets will be available at th...
Published: 01/17/18
A look at Rays 40-man roster with spring training starting in less than a month

A look at Rays 40-man roster with spring training starting in less than a month

With the start of spring training now less than a month away, here is what the Rays roster looks like, with the most glaring hole at first base, which at this point seems likely to be manned by Brad Miller, and some questions about the pitching staff...
Published: 01/17/18