Because of the overwhelming number of injuries, the Los Angeles Dodgers have sent a whopping 21 different position players to the plate this season to face opposing pitching. From prospects to journeymen to career minor leaguers, there has been no limit on who the club might select to fill a specific role.
Early in the year, we saw a handful of prospects used to provide depth in the forms of Keibert Ruiz, Edwin Rios, DJ Peters, Sheldon Neuse, and Luke Raley, although the latter four players have probably surpassed their prospect qualifications because of age. A new trend has seen the club purchase the contracts of a few veterans, including Andy Burns and Steven Souza Jr. on the field, in addition to Nate Jones and Mike Kickham, who were both used earlier this year in pitching roles.
In Friday night’s opener against the Diamondbacks, the righty hitting Souza ended up being one of the heroes of the game, as his solo shot in the eighth inning provided the team with a spark of offense that was previously nowhere in sight. The 32-year-old Souza also made an impressive catch in foul ground down the right field line in the seventh inning that might prove important when determining his future role with the team.
Souza has only played two games with the Dodgers so far, but he logged 22 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier in the year, producing a .280/.444/.603 slash line alongside six homers, four doubles, and 16 RBI. More importantly, he saw time at all three outfield spots and even made two appearances at first base, which no doubt weighed heavily in his activation to the parent club.
Obviously, it’s impossible to accurately predict how much Souza will contribute to the Dodgers moving forward. Quite simply, there’s no way to tell if he can stay healthy after suffering an injury that tore apart his left knee back in 2019. He tried to stick with the Cubs last year, but the two sides parted ways after he slashed just .148/.258/.333 in 31 plate appearances. Souza spent 2021 spring training with the Astros, but he didn’t make the team after going just 2-for-21 with 13 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances.
Right now, Souza doesn’t have any team options, but it’s still hard to say if he’ll stick around if he produces at a decent level. Soon, the club will need to make room for the returns of Max Muncy, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger, so there will be players bumped around in the process.
When healthy, the Los Angeles primary outfield consists of Bellinger, Mookie Betts and AJ Pollock, with Chris Taylor, Matt Beaty, and Zach McKinstry providing another tier of depth. Both Taylor and McKinstry have seen significant time in the infield this season, but that might diminish with a healthy Seager and Muncy back in the lineup. Conceivably, if he does continue to productively contribute, the decision to retain Souza might come down to optioning either McKinstry or Beaty back to Triple-A, assuming that Burns might be the first victim of the roster crunch. Certainly, all that hypothetical thinking depends on the concept of the Dodgers staying healthy, which so far this season they haven’t been able to do.
Moreover, with only about six weeks left before the 2021 summer trade deadline, the Dodgers might have a plentiful stock of resources to use when making prospective player improvements to the active roster.
Even if Souza ends up getting bumped by the Dodgers to create roster space, he could find an opportunity elsewhere in the league, should he be able to avoid injury and stay on track with his production.
Although Souza has never been a player to hit for a high average, he has shown flashes of outstanding power at some points of his career. For the Rays in 2017, he slugged 30 long balls and 21 doubles for the Rays over 148 games.