This week in Swing Mechanics, Curt and I have decided to look at recent Nationals import and DRB Community Prospect #3, Steven Souza. Well, when I say Curt and I, I mostly mean Curt. Well, when I say mostly Curt, I mean entirely Curt. I’m basically a GIF monkey with a laptop and a heart of gold.
Before we start, Curt has expressed on interest in making this a weekly series. We’re both interested in running this kind of analysis on as many prospects as we can. Right now we have videos of Mahtook and that’s it, so if you like these articles and want to keep them going, please feel free to link videos of prospects in the comments section. The best kind of videos are the ones with the perpendicular planes like we had last week, but as you’ll see in today’s articles, other camera angles can be very useful as well. With enough community support, we’ll be able to do this just in time for the big move to Montreal!
Souza’s more or less projected to start with the team come Opening Day, unless Silverman decides to do some creative service time accounting. In the past, Andrew Friedman has justified keeping young studs in the minors (e.g. David Price, Wil Myers) by saying that they’ve still got some stuff they need to work before promotions to The Show.
Although it seems to ring hollow, in both cases it wasn’t as invalid as you might think. Price would’ve benefitted from a lower walk rate, and Myers can’t seem to swing at a breaking pitch without swinging out of his shoes. These inconsistencies were picked at in the majors, and both players had to learn to deal with the competition, with varying degrees of success.
So, how’s Souza compare? Would he benefit from some extra seasoning in Durham? Let’s take a look at the early part of his swing.
That’s Souza side-by-side with Albert Pujols, the man with one of the sweetest swings of all time. This is the point in the swing where the batter has reached his Toe Touch position.
It’s important to remember that Toe Touch should be a universal form, unlike Stance which is subject to variation. The best hitters in the world have the same Toe Touch position. It’s the Rosetta Stone of swing mechanics; from here, everything flows outward.
Check out that blue line. Souza stands up straight, with the meat of his body split by that line. That’s a 50/50 stance, and it shows that he’s balanced.
Even without that line, you can see how his body isn’t that symmetrical at Toe Touch. His knees even look a little awkwardly bent. Souza’s balance will go a long way toward the development of his power.
Now let's get to the hands, and compare the movement.
I’m placing these two movements together to show how Souza starts his swing after Toe Touch. In this case, the comparison to Pujols is favorable.
Souza’s hands are level with his shoulders, which is an excellent starting position. What’s even better is how Souza keeps his hands back as his swing truly begins. His hands stay right on the line.
Here’s another O’Conner comp:
See how his hands dive below that red line? When you put your hands in front of your body that quickly, you lose all the potential power from torque. The hands just sort of swat at the ball, and the ability for long flyballs is sapped.
Note this comparison between Souza’s and O’Conner’s hands at roughly the same point in their swings.
Souza’s hands haven’t even crossed his shoulder yet. His back elbow is at his back hip, but the hands are outside the body. This is what you, the Rays fan, should get excited over. There’s so much power harnessed in this type of swing. You can almost see the tension in that picture. Souza’s bat is like a rubber band about to snap.
That’s Souza next to some guy named Jose Bautista. It’s like his upper body was copy-and-pasted onto Souza.
Again, I’m not trying to kick around ol’ Justin O’Conner here. These things are correctable, especially when you’re as young as he is. O’Conner can still learn to adjust his swing, keeping his hands back more and developing a legitimate power game.
What’s more, it’s useful to compare Souza’s swing through a range of swings from "one of the best" to a "work in progress." But maybe you don’t want me to bring up O’Conner any more. I get it. Maybe there’s another, more familiar face to which we can compare Souza’s swing.
The picture’s grainy but any True Rays Fan™ will be able to recognize that long-limbed, batting glove-less hacker as Wil Myers.
Myers has considerable power, with a batting Stance similar to that of Evan Longoria, but unfortunately his actual swing is strikingly similar to that of O’Conner. His hands absolutely dive on the ball, and by comparison, they are out in front of his body before Souza even has time to move his hands away from that blue line.
When your hands are that far ahead, you don’t have time to adjust to pitches. It’s all guesswork. Myers here is thinking fastball or bust. I’m no baseball genius, but I’d betcha this would explain a lot of Myers’ problems with the offspeed stuff down and away.
Did Silverman know this when he traded him away? You bet he did. From a swing mechanics standpoint, the Rays just traded for a serious upgrade.
Souza’s got power. He’s got a strong core (in the biz we call it an "engine") and serious pop. Curt believes that, by looking at what Souza does right, it’s absolutely not out of the question that Souza can hit 30 home runs. He’s got a lot of what you want in a power hitter, without a lot of extraneous movement. Anyone who has watching an inning of Rays baseball in the past five years knows how important a power hitter would be to this lineup.
But Souza’s not a hitting coach’s dream. There’s still a couple of things that aren’t perfect about what Souza brings to the table. For one, his bat angle:
The best hitters in baseball illustrate the exact same bat angle once they hit Toe Touch. It’s just as universal as keeping your hands level with your shoulders and keeping them back to build up torque.
You should be able to draw a straight line from the bat right to the catcher’s feet. Souza’s bat angle, as it stands right now, is a little too vertical. What this lends too, among other things, is an inability to build up quality bat speed.
On the right, that’s Troy Tulowitski, AKA Evan Longoria’s Dirtbag Buddy.
What Tulo is able to do (in part due to his bat angle) is drop his bat as the pitcher releases the ball. The blue lines in that gif should illustrate what that extra movement from bat does to Tulo’s swing. Guys like Souza who don’t drop their bat can only accelerate their swing so quickly.
Tulowitski has stupid good pop because he starts "swinging" early, whipping his bat around and building up speed before others have even had the time to blink. He’s revving the engine before the light turns green, and it gives him a serious head start.
Here’s what else Tulo can do. As if dropping your bat like that wasn’t enough, Tulo also swings his bat behind his shoulder, leveling it out as soon as possible. It’s pretty hard to see in the gif, but Tulo’s bat is angled right at the fan in the powder blue hoodie. Tulo's bat's cross-section is tiny, whereas Souza’s bat is essentially still vertical. Since the bat is flattening out sooner, it will stay on the correct plane for longer. It won’t be a looping swing. Plus, it’ll cover more of the strike zone, and there’s more of a chance that contact will be made.
So on a mechanics level, Souza’s a fascinating player. He’s got the power potential to be a serious heavy hitter, thanks to the amount of sheer torque he generates through his hands and core muscles. He has a couple of problems with the initial angle of his bat, which leads to an inopportune swing plane and less chance of being a consistent hitter for high batting average. What’s more, he doesn’t drop his bat when he swings: not a damning indictment of his mechanics, but more of an area where, without adjustment, he won’t be elite.
And it leads us back to our first question, which will also be our last question: Does Souza need more time in the minors to polish his game?
Well, as Curt mentioned before, it’s all a matter of whether or not a guy buys into the system and what the coaches are preaching. Can a swing be adjusted in the middle of a season? Something like that would be better off done in the minor leagues.
The bigger question seems to be: Is a guy who will be 26 years old in April that open to change, when he probably has the stuff to be a 2 WAR player just this year? As to that Last Question: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER... but it's a safer bet than Myers.
We’ll just have to wait and see.