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Bernie Pleskoff's Column: Matt Joyce Gets His Chance

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.


Matt Joyce has been enjoying success at Triple-A Durham. Carl Crawford, the outstanding left fielder of the Tampa Bay Rays is experiencing left shoulder pain and he may need time to allow for healing. The net result of Joyce hitting well and Crawford needing time to heal is a major league call for the 25 year- old left-handed hitting Joyce. It's a move Rays fans have been waiting for. Joyce will see most of his playing time in left field until Crawford returns, at which point he might DH.

Joyce played high school baseball at Armwood High in Seffner, Florida, right outside of Tampa. He attended Florida Southern College where he had the opportunity to play an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. In the 2005 first year player draft, the Tigers selected three of Joyce's teammates in addition to Joyce. The Tigers selected Matt Joyce with the 360th pick in the 12th round. Other FSC players selected in that draft were Geoff Stickland (Rockies) Jeff Howell (Royals) and Matthew Mercurio (Red Sox).

Joyce had initial success in the Tigers minor league system, but the team's need for starting pitching led them to trade him for right-hander Edwin Jackson in December 2008. Jackson was then moved to the Diamondbacks in the deal that yielded Ian Kennedy as well as Jackson for Arizona. Jackson threw a 149-pitch no-hitter June 26th.

Clearly, many people felt Detroit got the better of the deal for Matt Joyce. Perhaps now we may learn more and see for ourselves if the critics were correct. While Jackson has produced so far in the big leagues, Joyce hasn't as yet proven himself. But to be fair, he hasn't had much of a chance.

For the 10 days prior to his recall from Durham of the Triple-A International League, Joyce hit .324 with three home runs and 12 RBI. Of importance is the fact that he has improved against left-handed pitching. That was one factor keeping Joyce away from the bigs. To be sure, he still struggles somewhat against lefties, but he has shown improvement.

Frankly, there are scouts and fans alike that believe Joyce should have been playing for Tampa Bay long before this call. Just as an aside, Joyce has an engaging personality and he's endeared himself to fans. If he hits and sticks, he could become a fan favorite.

In spring training, the Rays had him behind several other players on their depth chart and they waited to see his progress before calling him to join the club. It's likely he will serve as a platoon player, hitting mostly against right- handed pitching. Crawford's aching shoulder may have been the impetus that finally got Joyce back to the big league, but his bat will be the reason for him to stick.

Matt Joyce is a 6'2" 185 pound solidly built athlete. He has strong arms with a quick bat. There is little doubt that Joyce has pull power to the right side of the diamond. He has probably reached his maximum height and possibly his weight, but there is still some potential for increased muscle development. It's the power potential that has intrigued scouts since they first saw Joyce hit in high school. Joyce also has enough speed to steal bases. His instincts on the bases are good and he is fundamentally sound in most aspects of the game. I do believe he will steal some bases at the big league level.

There are a few concerns about Joyce that contributed to the fact he did not break with the Rays at the end of spring training. First, he did have some lingering elbow pain that he had to overcome. The pain had some impact on his swing and it took some time to heal. Most importantly, however, Joyce did tend to be a free swinger with a few too many strikeouts. His contact rate needed improvement. He's accomplished that. He now has fairly good plate discipline and he's accepting bases on balls while reducing the strikeouts. That's the type of progress and improvements big league front office personnel like to reward. The other flaw to Joyce's game has been his tendency to be a pretty consistent pull hitter. When he learns to take pitches where they are thrown and use the entire field he will have improved almost every phase of his hitting. Joyce has a wide stance at the plate and he doesn't really generate much torque from a limited weight shift from back to front. His slight stride results in most of his power coming from his strong wrists and arms, and his quick hands.

Defensively, Matt Joyce is seen as a good fielder with a strong and accurate arm. In fact, he can probably play all three outfield positions and do an average to above average job at each. His playing time will certainly depend upon the health of the Rays outfielders as well as the pitcher on the mound. Even with the improvement against left-handed pitching, he is still probably considered a better bet against righties. Those reputations generally stick to players.

So now the Tampa Bay Rays have chosen to give Joyce a chance to play at the big league level. They dropped catcher Dioner Navarro to make room for Joyce on the roster. They will count on Joyce to use his level swing and quick bat to generate some pop when he gets his chances. While he may not play full-time, it's clear that the team wants to see what Joyce can do. And of course, with a potential lingering shoulder problem for Carl Crawford, Joyce may be a major player in the Rays' attempt to make the playoffs. For fantasy purposes, Joyce fits best as an outfielder in American League only formats, as he really won't have enough at-bats this year to make much of an impact. However, he could become an important component of the Tampa Rays next year or be used as a trading chip to fetch another piece for the contending club.

Watch carefully in the coming days, as the slight injury to Carl Crawford might give Joyce his best opportunity for playing time. It's also possible that Joyce could ultimately be considered for the center field position in Tampa if the team loses B.J. Upton. Joyce has upside remaining and his potential is intriguing. His skill set has not been tested over time against major league pitching. Power hitting is a premium in baseball. This is his opportunity, if he gets to play.