Steven Souza, 24, was one of three prospects, along with shortstop Zach Walters, (who debuted in the majors last September), and left-hander Sammy Solis, (who's been discussed as a candidate for the major league bullpen in 2014), who were invited to NatsFest last month when the yearly gathering of Washington Nationals fans was held at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD.
Souza, who was selected out of Cascade High School in Everett, Washington in the 3rd Round of the 2007 Draft, was added to the Nats' 40-Man Roster this past November after a 2013 campaign spent mostly with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators in which the 6'3'' outfielder missed time with a shoulder injury but put up a .300/.396/.557 line in 77 games and 323 plate appearances over which he hit 23 doubles and 15 HRs.
Souza was ranked no.10 on Baseball America's list of the Washington Nationals' top prospects this winter.
When the list was released, he was playing in the Arizona Fall League, where Souza put up a .357/.426/.476 line with two doubles, a home run, five walks, 11 Ks and 10 stolen bases in 11 games and 47 PAs as part of the Mesa Solar Sox' taxi squad.
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Souza's road to NatsFest has been a long one, however, and his rise through the ranks was not without setbacks. The infielder-turned-outfielder struggled through a few rough campaigns at A-ball in the Nationals' organization, and Souza was suspended for 50 games in 2010 when he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. In 2011, Souza walked away from the High-A Potomac Nationals after an argument with manager P-Nats' manager Matt LeCroy, but he returned to the organization and in 2012 put together a combined .297/.366/.572 line with 22 doubles and 23 HRs in 97 games and 400 ABs between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.
A strong showing at Double-A in 2013. No.10 on Baseball America's Top 10. A strong run in the AFL, known as a "finishing school" for baseball's top prospects. Souza said last month he had a great experience in Arizona and is excited about getting started on the 2014 campaign. "It was incredible," Souza said of the Fall League. "We had so much talent on our team. We had the MVP [Cubs' prospect Kris Bryant] and the batting title. And we made it to the championship. And so it was really a great experience just to be around high-caliber guys and it really raised your level."
"It's really exciting is all I can really explain," Souza said, looking forward to what will be his eighth season in the organization. "From a couple years ago to maybe being let go from the team to where God's brought me here. It's really just humbling and it's really just exciting to think about I can have a chance to help this team basically just win a World Series."
Souza got a few at bats in Grapefruit League action last Spring, this time he'll be in major league camp from the start. His approach won't change. "I just kind of try to approach it like any other," Souza said. "It's still the same game and so I want to get my body ready. This year was a little shortened with the fall league, so I've tried to kind of condense everything. But, taking swings and making sure my body is healthy most of all. That has been a hindrance the last couple years, so I'm trying to get through a full season."
Looking back at the path he took to get to where he is today, Souza said his faith has played an important role.
"I think I got out of my own head," he explained. "Really I just kind of started playing for God and just enjoying the game so much. I got caught so much in making it to the big leagues instead of just playing the game and letting the path take itself. And so, really freeing up that mental aspect has really allowed me to just [play] the game and not put too much pressure and have a lot of fun."
Whether he starts the season back at Double-A or moves up to Triple-A, Souza said he thinks he's ready to contribute wherever the team needs him and he's looking forward to getting started. "I think I just need to come in, work hard," he said. "I'm not trying to shine bright. I just want to be one of the guys. And just do what I do. I think I can offer a lot and help out in multiple areas. Really, in any way that they need help."
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