Outfield prospect Steven Souza’s terrific season at Class AAA Syracuse has earned him a handful of awards. After leading the International League in several offensive categories, Souza was named Tuesday the league’s MVP and rookie of the year.
Souza, 25, is currently on a minor league rehab assignment at Class A Potomac as he returns from a shoulder injury, but his breakout season earned him his first call-ups to the majors. Even though he hasn’t played for Syracuse since Aug. 3 because of his most recent promotion, Souza leads the IL in batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.601).
Souza, already an Class AAA all-star, also smashed 18 home runs, drove in 70 runs and stole 24 bases. He is the first Chiefs player to ever to win both the MVP and rookie of the year awards in the same season. The winners were selected by league managers, coaches, media and club officials.
Souza is a likely candidate to be added back to the Nationals roster when he is finished with his rehab assignment and rosters expand on Sept. 1.
Syracuse’s stellar season was also recognized with skipper Billy Gardner Jr. being named the IL manager of the year. In his first season in the Nationals’ minor leagues and in Class AAA, Gardner became Syracuse’s first manager of the year since Bob Bailor in 1989.
Syracuse is 78-58 entering Tuesday’s games, 3 1/2 games in first place in the IL North division and nearing a playoff spot. After seven years as a Class AA manager in Tampa Bay’s minor leagues, Gardner was hired away by the Nationals to lead Syracuse. Players speak glowingly about Gardner’s attitude, positive demeanor and leadership.
The Chiefs are the first IL team since
1976 the 1995 Norfolk Tides to have the league’s MVP, rookie of the year and manager of the year all in the same season.
In addition to awards for Souza and Gardner, shortstop Emmanuel Burriss and third baseman Brandon Laird were named postseason all-stars. Burriss, a D.C. native, is hitting .307 with a .383 on-base percentage and strikes out every 13.16 plate appearances, the lowest rate in the IL. Laird is hitting .303 with 16 homers, 31 doubles and 81 RBI.
Earlier this week, outfield prospect Michael A. Taylor was named the Class AA Eastern League rookie of the year. Before being promoted to Syracuse and serving a stint in the majors, Taylor hit .313/.396/.539 with 22 home runs and 34 stolen bases at Harrisburg.