ST. PETERSBURG — For OF Matt Joyce, the past several months might be tough to top. Winning the Triple-A championship with the Durham Bulls then getting engaged to girlfriend Randi on a trip to Ireland in November gave him plenty to be thankful for.
Joyce hopes 2010 begins with a bang as well, and earning a spot in the Rays rightfield platoon in spring training would certainly do the trick.
Joyce, a 25-year-old Tampa native, showed flashes of power and athleticism in two stints in Tampa Bay last season, offering glimpses of why the club traded RHP Edwin Jackson to the Tigers to acquire him just more than a year ago. But it was how Joyce diligently improved on some little things, learning the "Rays way" in Durham, that has him and the club anticipating he could be ready for a role.
"I don't think I'm gonna go in and expecting to have it," Joyce said. "I'm going in with the mind-set I have to go win it."
That won't be solidified until spring training, but Joyce laid the groundwork in Durham after getting sent back down in June.
Joyce had hit three homers with the Rays but struck out seven times in 32 at-bats and finished 0-for-15 before getting optioned to the Bulls. He knew he had to be more consistent and admitted that he put pressure on himself not playing every day, especially after an 0-for-4 day.
"It's tough, but it's a big-league spot, and you try to go out there every day and prove you belong there," he said.
Joyce improved in Durham, where he hit .273 with 16 homers, 66 RBIs and a team-high 67 walks. But there were other aspects the Rays wanted Joyce to work on, such as being a more aggressive baserunner and getting good jumps in the outfield. "And I took that to heart," he said.
Durham manager Charlie Montoyo said it showed.
"He just got a lot better in the outfield," Montoyo said. "He was a good outfielder to begin with, but he's an above-average rightfielder right now. … At the plate, he needs to be more consistent, but that almost goes for every young hitter. …
"The sky is the limit with this kid; I really like him."
Montoyo liked how Joyce handled the disappointment of not being a September callup. "A lot of guys when they came down, they all have the excuse, 'Why are they doing this to me?' " he said. "When (Matt) came down, he was ready to work and get better. He never was upset."
Joyce went 14-for-19 stealing bases in Durham, and though he won't be passing Carl Crawford, the left-handed slugger's speed surprised Montoyo.
"I didn't know he was that fast," Montoyo said. "I knew the kid had power, and he could hit for average, but I didn't know he could run. … He's a complete player. All it's going to take for him is to be consistent, and he'll be a very good player for the Rays for a long time."
So is Joyce ready for a role in the big leagues now?
"That's not my call," Montoyo said. "But if they asked me, I'd say yes."
Rays rumblings: Ex-Ray closer Troy Percival was one of several former Angels riding the city of Anaheim's float in the Rose Bowl parade. … C Shawn Riggans, non-tendered by the Rays, said he'd love to return. … Ex-Ray C Toby Hall will have his celebrity golf tournament at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 21 at the Bayou Club in Largo; foursomes and sponsorships are still available (contact Tracey at firstname.lastname@example.org). … Durham RH reliever Winston Abreu was the MiLBY winner for Triple-A reliever of the year.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.