Steven Souza Jr has loads of potential and could very easily be one of the best power hitters in the league for years to come. Anytime he makes solid contact, the ball just springs off his bat and usually goes a long way.
The problem is that he doesn't make that sweet, solid contact too often. More times than not, he waves through strike three and heads back to the dugout with his head and down and bat in tow. The Rays know they have something special in him and if he can work on his plate coverage, something that massively applauded during his prospect days, he could be elite.
Unfortunately, the major leagues is a poor place to develop, so why not send him down to Durham to work on his approach?
In his place, the Rays would be able to keep the quartet of James Loney, Logan Morrison, Steve Pearce, and Desmond Jennings on the roster, eliminating a log jam for the player who was a rookie last season.
Why Send Him Down?
In 2014. Steven Souza enjoyed the best performance of his young career as he blasted Triple-A pitching while still in the Nationals' organization. He got on base at a ridiculous rate, slugged close to .600, and showed some impressive speed as he stole 26 bases. However, the most impressive statistic of that season, was how much he lowered his strikeout rate, while still improving his power numbers.
Then, when the Rays acquired him to take the place of former rookie phenom Wil Myers, he was given Myers starting job in right field and expected to produce close to the same results.
Souza fit his billing as he did provide the pop that was expected, blasting one of the team's longest homers of the season back in April. However, as he provided the pop, he also provided an astronomical amount of strikeouts, waiving through pitches at one of the highest rate in Rays history. In fact, it was the second highest with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, behind only Jared Sandberg, who had a 34.7 K% in 2002, while Souza had 33.8 K% last year.
Some of this can be attributed to adjusting to major league pitching and also major league umpires' strike zones, but still it was obvious that his approach needs to be worked on, and injuries prevented that from happening in-season.
Souza will turn just 27 years old in April, so he isn't very far from reaching the peak ages of his career. The Rays can send him down to Durham in order to have him fix up the kinks that are detrimental to his game and possibly allow him to become an elite level of hitter the Rays think he can be.
Who Replaces Him?
One of the main topics of the off-season has been the Rays log jam at first base and in left field. Sending Souza down would plausibly fix both of those problems.
By sending Souza down, you're able to rotate Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson, and Desmond Jennings between starting in right field, at DH, or occasionally seeing the bench in order to stay rested. At first base, James Loney and Steve Pearce would platoon, and all parties remain on the 25-man roster.
To be clear, I would propose against right handed pitching to either give Dickerson the start in right, with Loney or Morrison starting at first, and then either Morrison or Pearce at DH depending on pitching match ups. Against left handed pitching, it would then be Brandon Guyer and Desmond Jennings getting the starts in the outfield, with Dickerson at DH, and Pearce is the starting first baseman.
There may be some drop off in production, but not a very steep one if the Rays can rotate players in an optimal way, and if everything goes well, Souza does not need to spend the entire season in Durham. He would only stay there until an inevitable injury or trade is made, or until he just mashes his way back up the show.
The jump from Triple-A to major league pitching is the biggest change a player will face whenever he makes the show. In Triple-A, Kevin Witt mashed 36 home runs in one season. During his five tries in the majors, he had less than half that. Souza needs to show that he can provide the power that he did last season on a consistent basis while also cutting down on his historic strikeout rate...or he may just find himself on Kevin Witt's career path.