Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is outfielder Steven Souza Jr.
The Cubs signed Souza to a one-year deal in January, spelling the end of Nick Castellanos’ tenure on the North Side. The 30-year-old missed all of last season after a devastating knee injury in the Diamondbacks’ penultimate spring training game, suffering a torn left ACL, LCL, PCL and posterior lateral capsule tear.
Souza played 72 games in 2018, with multiple stints on the injured list. He delivered a career year with the Rays in 2017, hitting .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+ in 148 games.
Expectations for this season’s role
The Cubs starting outfield looks set to feature three left-handed bats in Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward. Souza’s primary position is right field, but the Cubs will work his right-handed bat into the lineup (in either corner spot) against lefties. He’s also played some center this spring.
When he starts, Souza will likely hit sixth. He hasn’t hit for much power this spring but feels good physically. He could hit fifth if he starts for Schwarber, with Willson Contreras hitting cleanup,.
With how Schwarber hit in the second half last season (which includes marked improvement against lefties), most of Souza’s starts will come in right field. Heyward won’t sit against every lefty, but the Cubs will pick their spots to put him in the best position to succeed.
Some numbers to consider:
-2019 Cubs vs. LHP: .239/.322/.428, 94 wRC+
-Heyward career vs. LHP: .233/.304/.343, 79 wRC+
-Souza career vs. LHP: .243/.338/.418, 108 wRC+
-2017 Souza vs. LHP: .262/.388/.397, 119 wRC+
Souza performing somewhere between his career averages and 2017 totals against lefties would be an upgrade for the Cubs lineup. Anything more than that would be welcomed, obviously, and would give the club more certainty behind the Kris Bryant-Anthony-Rizzo-Javy Báez-Schwarber-Contreras conglomerate.
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on the Opening Day roster