Steven Souza, a former Nationals farmhand, had to settle for a minor league contract, similar to the one Yasmany Tomas signed with Washington this year.
For Nationals fans Steven Souza will always be remembered for his diving catch in the outfield, to save a Jordan Zimmermann no hitter. He was also the piece the Nationals parted with in a trade which netted them Trea Turner and Joe Ross. What Nationals fans probably won’t remember Souza for were his 23 at-bats and .130 batting average in 2014, prior to being traded.
Souza arrived on the scene late, making his major league debut a week before his 25th birthday. He was 28 when he had his breakout season in the majors. In his third season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Souza hit 30 home runs and drove in 78, both career highs. The Rays sold high, and traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade that offseason.
His baseball life went downhill from there. Over the course of two years Souza played just 72 games with the Diamondbacks, hitting just .220 with five home runs. Knee surgery kept him sidelined the entire 2019 season.
The Chicago Cubs signed Souza for 2020, though he played in just 11 games, hitting .148 before being released before the end of the season.
If Souza wants to get back to the big leagues he’ll have to work his way up from a non-guaranteed contract, after the Houston Astros signed him to a minors pact with an invite to spring training. Having lost 2/3 of their starting outfield from a year ago, this seems like a good fit for Souza making the roster out of camp.
This move parallels the one the Nationals made early in the offseason when they inked Yasmany Tomas to a minor league deal a couple weeks into free agency. Much like Steven Souza, Tomas is looking to find the stroke which helped him belt 31 home runs in 2016. Tomas seems like a longer shot to make the team than Souza, as he hasn’t played in the majors since 2019 or collected a hit in a big league game since 2017.
Two former sluggers forced to take the same route in hopes of getting back to the big leagues. Players have turned minor league deals into quality major league seasons before. Will either of these hitters be examples of that in 2021? Only time will tell.