New Approach Pays Off For Nationals' Steven Souza





WASHINGTON—Steven Souza added a suffix to his name, Jr., and spread out his stance a bit in 2012. He says his biggest alteration, though, was finally learning not to worry about what he can't control.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Souza had the best season of his six in his pro ball, hitting .297/.366/.572 with 23 homers and 14 steals in 353 at-bats at two Class A stops.

The 23-year-old made a successful adjustment from first base to the outfield—mostly right—and put up a .981 OPS in 27 games for high Class A Potomac after managing a .726 figure the year before.

"I don't feel like I changed my swing at all," said Souza, a third-round pick in 2007 out of Cascade High in Everett, Wash. "There are a few things I emphasized more, but it was more of a mindset."

Brent Lillibridge, the veteran big league utilityman who is in camp with the Cubs this spring, invited Souza to church in Lynwood, Wash., in December 2011. The following month, Souza was baptized.

That preceded a season when Souza, at the insistence of low Class A Hagerstown hitting coach Mark Harris, focused less on the long ball. In the process, the righthanded hitter reached career highs in home runs and RBIs (85).

Less than three years after being suspended 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, Souza has become a player that farm director Doug Harris compliments for having "a better understanding of who he is a hitter."

Souza said he had been thinking of paying tribute to his father, a senior manager with Boeing, for a while. So he added the "Jr." to his walk-up introduction.

"I had just wanted to do it and never made a big deal out of it," he said. "He wasn't necessarily a big baseball guy until I came along, but he put in some serious hours to help me."

CAPITAL GAINS

• Third baseman James Brooks, a 20th-round pick from Utah last June, played for hometown Melbourne in the Australian Baseball League this offseason, batting .172/.200/.241 in 29 at-bats.

• The Potomac Nationals released renderings for the stadium they plan to open in 2015. The asymmetry of the playing field and a presidential box would pay tribute to Griffith Stadium, home to the Washington Senators from 1911-61.