Forget about the past, Steven Souza deserves your fantasy love


There’s no scientific way to determine this, but the Rays might be the least-respected power-hitting team in recent memory. They rank first in the majors in homers (86), eighth in slugging (.437) and fourth in isolated slugging (.187), and yet no one wants to take them seriously. The Rays have ISOs of .228 or better, and two of them remain widely available in fantasy leagues.

Logan Morrison, was the focus of last week’s waiver wire column. This week is Steven Souza.

Souza seems to be putting it all together in his fourth season in the league. He’s slashing .272/.384/.500 with 10 homers and 33 RBI in 220 plate appearances, providing the sort of power that made him worthy of being a key player in a trade involving Trea Turner and Wil Myers. Last year, it seemed the Rays were the clear (and only) loser in that deal, which sent Turner to Washington from San Diego, Myers to San Diego from Tampa Bay, and Souza to Tampa Bay from Washington. This year, however, Souza has re-written the narrative meaning all three teams can feel good about the deal.

Similar to his teammate Morrison, Souza can’t seem to catch the attention of fantasy league owners. It’s possible that owes to the fact that he has teased the fantasy community in the past, only to ultimately let it down. He hit 10 homers, drove in 22 runs, and posted a .475 slugging percentage in the first two months of 2015, and then slashed .265/.361/.353 in the second half while missing about six weeks due to injury. He put up nearly identical numbers in the first two months last season, but then hit .241/.298/.382 after the All-Star break, this time while staying healthy. Fantasy owners have seen this from Souza before, and gotten burned for believing. This season, however, is different.

It’s not hard to spot the greatest change in Souza’s game. He’s more patient than ever before and reaping the benefits. His walk rate is up to 14.5%, while his strikeout rate has dropped to 27.7%. That’s still an awfully high strikeout rate, but it’s more than four percentage points lower than his career mark, and 5.6 points better than it was last season. Souza’s o-swing rate – the frequency with which he swings at pitches out of the strike zone – is 23.5% this year. Last season, that number was 30.6% and has never been below 25.5% for a full season. These are the signs of a changed hitter.

Souza used to give away a ton of at-bats by hacking at almost anything, especially when he got behind in the count. The fewer at-bats he throws away by swinging at bad pitches, the more he will force pitchers into the zone with stuff he can drive. No one has ever doubted Souza’s power but his plate discipline completely undermined it, so with that issue largely out of the picture, his strengths are shining through this season.

It’s time for the fantasy community to learn to believe in him yet again.

Logan Morrison, 1B, Rays

We aren’t done with the Rays, or with Morrison. He’s going to be a fixture of this column until he either climbs above an ownership rate of 50%, or stops hitting, whichever comes first. I’m betting on the former. He’s now slashing .249/.355/.554 with 15 homers and 36 RBI, and is the No. 10 first baseman in standard 5×5 leagues. How much more proof do you need?

Cameron Maybin, OF, Angels

Assuming you play in an OBP league, Maybin should be of interest. He owns a .367 OBP and has swiped 13 bases in 14 tries this season. He’s not going to provide much power, but thanks to his strength in two other categories, it doesn’t matter. In the modern-day stolen-base climate, Maybin is a real weapon in all fantasy formats and given his on-base abilities, he’s likely to finish the season among the top-five base stealers. He may be just a two-category player, but he is great in both of those categories.

Chris Taylor, 2B/3B/SS/OF, Dodgers

Taylor’s days of fantasy relevance may be coming to an end, but he can still help you in the short term. He first rose to prominence in the Dodgers lineup when Logan Forsythe hit the DL, and has held onto a starting gig with Justin Turner nursing a hamstring injury. Turner is set to go on a rehab assignment, and when he returns, Taylor could be the odd-man out. Regardless, he has swung the bat well, giving Dave Roberts something to think about. He’s hitting .317/.414/.525 with six homers and seven doubles in 140 plate appearances on the year. Even if he is squeezed out of the lineup, he’s a worthy add until Turner is back on the field for the Dodgers.

Domingo Santana, OF, Brewers

Santana continues to hit, going 8-for-24 in his last six games, raising his season-long slash line to .273/.370/.467 with eight homers, eight doubles and 29 RBI. The Brewers are certain to call up top prospect Lewis Brinson to the majors at some point this season, and when that happens Santana could be out of a starting job. Until it does, though, it’s easy to see why he’s attractive for fantasy purposes. At the very least, he has short-term value. In the best-case scenario, he’ll be a top-35 outfielder for the rest of the season. That’s worth gambling on the Brewers delaying Brinson’s promotion.

Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Cubs

Happ has found MLB pitching to be a bit more challenging than what he saw in the Pacific Coast League during his time with Triple-A Iowa. The 22-year-old is slashing .214/.313/.429 with two homers and four doubles in 64 plate appearances. Things have been particularly ugly of late, with Happ going 2-for-28 in his last nine games. Still, Joe Maddon trusts him in center field, as well as the middle or at the top of the lineup, and that makes him a worthwhile add in deeper formats. Remember, there’s a low barrier to entry at second base in any league, and the outfield in leagues that start five outfielders.

Shin-soo Choo, OF, Rangers

When the history of this era of fantasy baseball is written, it will remember Choo as one of its most under-appreciated players. Choo was never able to reach his full potential because of injuries, but he has been a productive hitter whenever healthy. This year, that fact translates to a .258/.369/.423 slash line with seven homers, 28 runs, 26 RBI and four steals. Choo does a little bit of everything while contributing positively to the rate categories so there’s plenty of value and bring his ownership rate above 50%.

Joe Ross, SP, Nationals

Ross got knocked around in his last start, allowing five runs on 12 hits in four innings in a loss to the Padres. Don’t worry too much about that, however. It has been an odd season for Ross, with a couple of stints at Triple-A Syracuse mixed in, but he did enough over the first 32 starts of his career to earn some leash from the fantasy community. Remember, it was just 10 days ago that he tossed eight innings of one-run, five-hit ball in a win over the Mariners. There’s still good reason to believe that is the Ross we will get, more often than not.

Dan Straily, SP, Marlins

Straily threw another gem on Wednesday, striking out 10 Phillies in 6 2/3 innings while picking up his fourth win of the season. He allowed one earned run in the outing, pitching around nine hits and a walk, but it’s the strikeouts, once again, that stood out. Straily has now whiffed 64 batters in 60 2/3 innings this season and owns a strikeout rate of 25.7%. He hinted at this sort of strikeout ability in the past, posting a 20.5% strikeout rate and 7.6 K/9 last year, but has raised his game to a new level this season.

As always, we will keep a list at the bottom of our weekly waiver wire column of relief pitchers who are not closers, but can still be fantasy assets due to their strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP. The relievers are listed in order of fantasy value.

Carl Edwards, RP, Cubs

Hector Neris, RP, Phillies

Archie Bradley, RP, Diamondbacks

Will Harris, RP, Astros

Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles

Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies

Arodys Vizacaino, RP, Braves

Nate Jones, RP, White Sox

David Phelps, RP, Marlins

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