SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Surprised to be traded, Steven Souza Jr. heads to Arizona for what promises to be a key role on a Diamondbacks team that expects to be good.
The 28-year-old outfielder knew the Tampa Bay Rays were making some big changes but felt assured by management that he still figured in their plans.
“As much as people were flying off the shelf, it seemed like I was not going to be one of those people,” Souza said Wednesday in a conference call from the airport before boarding a plane to Arizona. “It definitely caught me off-guard a little bit. I was definitely preparing for the role that I had there.”
Souza, a Cascade High School alum, came to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday in a three-team trade that sent infielder Brandon Drury from Arizona to the New York Yankees and left-hander Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay.
Souza batted just .239 last season, but hit 30 homers, drove in 78 runs and walked 84 times, all three career highs.
He will wear the same No. 28 that J.D. Martinez wore in his torrid half-season in the desert a year ago. Martinez signed a five-year, $110 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. Nobody expects Souza to approach the numbers Martinez put up with Arizona — 29 homers, 65 RBI in 62 games.
“That’s ridiculous,” Souza said. “I don’t know that anybody’s really done those types of things that he did in the second half. So to expect me to come in and say I’m going to fill those shoes would be a little far-fetched. But I’ll tell you I’m going to come in and play my game and I’m going to play as hard as I can every single game and I’m going to help this team win a ball game.”
He will, most likely, be playing the same position as Martinez and be the batter to provide some protection for Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup.
“We haven’t sat down with him to finalize the exact thoughts but this is an impact bat,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s going to play as much as he possibly can. … We haven’t finalized exactly what’s going to happen but if you want me to speculate right now, he’s going to play just about every day and play right field.”
That would mean David Peralta would be in left field and A.J. Pollock in center.
Speedy Jarrod Dyson, a former Seattle Mariner who signed to a two-year, $7.5 million contract on Monday with Arizona, will be “more than a fourth outfielder,” Lovullo said.
Souza said he has connections with several Diamondbacks players — Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, Robbie Ray and Nick Ahmed.
“There’s a lot of guys I know, and great dudes actually,” Souza said.
Souza said he met Goldschmidt through a mutual friend and the two took part in a leadership retreat, going hunting together.
“Man, we connected right away,” Souza said. “His personality and mine kind of match up, the way we think. What an amazing man he is.”
Lovullo wouldn’t say what would be done at second base with Drury gone to the Yankees. The Diamondbacks still have plenty of middle infield help.
One possibility would be to shift former Mariner Ketel Marte from shortstop to second. Nick Ahmed would mostly play at short with Chris Owings filling in all over the infield as well as in the outfield. Daniel Descalso also can play just about anywhere.
Marte said he would not object to the switch.
“I don’t care. I just want to be with the team,” he said. “I don’t care where I play. I can play anywhere. I just have to be ready to play anywhere.”
Lovullo watched Souza often when the Arizona manager was Boston’s bench coach.
“He was still a young player that was finding his way but he seemed to improve every time we saw him,” Lovullo said. “… The athletic ability, the ability to hit for power, the defensive ability, it was obvious to the opposing dugout that he was an exciting player.”
Souza credited his improvement last season to a number of factors, including his work with Tampa Bay’s coaches and “settling in and trusting my ability more and more.”
“I gave everything I had in the offseason to Tampa, I gave everything I had to those guys,” he said, “and now I’m ready to give everything I have to the Diamondbacks.”