It’s been 655 days since Cubs’ outfielder Steven Souza Jr. has stepped into the box for a regular-season at-bat, but the new addition to the Cubs roster this past winter says that he’s ready to go, and feeling great.
In March of 2019 during an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox just days before the start of the 2019 season, the then Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfielder suffered a devastating injury while touching home plate.
Souza Jr. underwent season-ending surgery to repair an ACL tear, LCL tear, partial PCL tear, and posterior-lateral capsule tear in his left knee after landing awkwardly on home plate.
In his first season in Arizona in 2018, Souza Jr. was limited to just 72 games due to injuries and hit .220 with five home runs and 29 RBIs in 272 plate appearances in limited action after being traded to Arizona in February of 2018 as part of a three-team deal between the D-Backs, Rays, and the New York Yankees.
Needless to say, it’s been a trying couple of years for Souza Jr. since being shipped from Tampa Bay to Arizona, but that chapter of his career is over, and after signing a one-year deal with the Cubs for just $1 million dollars late in the offseason, Souza Jr. is looking to get his career back on track.
While speaking to the Chicago media on Tuesday, Souza Jr. said that the COVID-19 pandemic and its delay of the 2020 Major League Baseball season might have been a blessing in disguise for him as he works his way back from his injury-riddled two years in Arizona.
“What a silver lining in a kind of tough time for the world of baseball,” Souza said. “Personally, it was for me. You know I felt great during the offseason, but having three more months to get in shape and add strength couldn’t have been better for me. I was able to test the waters in Spring Training and then come back home and know what I needed to improve on.”
Souza Jr. said that the pandemic might have shut baseball down, but it didn’t stop him from continuing his work once he arrived home in the Seattle area, in fact, he was lucky enough to face major-league pitchers who were also training at his local facility, BASE by Pros in Lynwood, WA.
Souza Jr. said that he was able to get live at-bats in against fellow Cub, Casey Sadler, and former Indians reliever — and current Yankees non-roster invitee — Dan Otero during the COVID-19 downtime.
“I didn’t stop, I went home and I kept swinging,” Souza said. “I felt like I needed that for my body, I felt like I needed to work on some more timing things.”
When asked what in particular he felt he needed to focus on when he left Arizona for Seattle back in March, Souza Jr. keyed in on his hamstrings and his timing at the plate as his two major points of focus over these past few months.
“I think just kind of solidifying some hamstring strength was kind of the last key for me. Running around the bases and stuff, my hamstrings didn’t hurt, but I knew I needed some more work, and I was able to get that. That was probably the main piece that I needed.”
While Souza Jr. is feeling great after a nearly 16-month recovery from major knee surgery, the 31-year-old outfielder doesn’t know where he’ll figure into the Cubs plans in 2020, but he’s ready to do whatever manager David Ross asks him to do, and he hopes that he can ultimately play a contributing veteran role on a team hoping to compete for a World Series Championship.
With Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward having the corner outfield spots locked down heading into 2020, Souza Jr. will likely see the bulk of his at-bats come at the DH position, especially with Jason Kipnis running away with the second-base job, and relegating Nico Hoerner to a bench or taxi squad role to open the season.
“I just work here. So, wherever Rossy wants to put me, I’m going to do the best I can out there,” said Souza Jr. “Having said that, I feel completely confident to handle as much work as possible in the outfield.”
In his last healthy season in 2017, Souza Jr. had a breakout season for himself with the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting 30 home runs — after hitting a combined 33 in his previous two seasons — and driving in 78 runs.
Now after a lengthy battle with injuries, Souza Jr. will try to earn a crack at reaching the heights of 2017 once again.
Feature Photo: Marquee Sports Network