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Tampa Bay Rays, new outfielder Joyce share mutual admiration

Outfielder Matt Joyce, left, is welcomed to his hometown team by Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Outfielder Matt Joyce, left, is welcomed to his hometown team by Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.

ST. PETERSBURG — When Matt Joyce looked from afar at his hometown Rays last season, here is some of what he thought:

"Everything was going right. They have all the key components that you need to be successful — the young pitching, the great pitching, starting from top to bottom. … The defense. The young talent they have and they're bringing in — they're going to be good for a lot of years. … Just all around, it's a great team."

When Rays manager Joe Maddon looked at Joyce playing outfield and swatting home runs for the Tigers last season, and did more research since, here is some of what he thought:

"The offensive side of things could really become prodigious over time, and he's a very good defender already. … He's an exciting guy to have. … He grades out really high defensively on the corners. … Look at the potential OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) side of things and it could be very high, and he takes his walks. … Solid average to above-average arm. … I heard he's a real details guy, and his work ethic is really good. So all those things matter."

And when executive vice president Andrew Friedman looks at the 24-year-old Tampa native and Armwood High grad he acquired from Detroit last week for Edwin Jackson and at the makeup of his team, he thinks this could be the start of a long-term relationship.

"We think he's got a chance to develop into a very good player, and even short of that, feel like he's going to be able to help this team for many years," Friedman said. "The fact that he'll be here for a minimum of six years is something that's valuable to us. We feel like he's going to fit in extremely well.

"I'm not sure yet what type of impact he'll have in '09, but I feel like he will certainly contribute. But we also feel like he is someone who will help us win games in 2010 and beyond as well."

As the Rays introduced Joyce to the media on Tuesday, and themselves to Joyce, their tepid endorsement for the upcoming season wasn't much of an issue.

They might want to see him on the field themselves. And it may be part of their recruiting efforts to add a free-agent hitter — a bid Friedman remains "cautiously optimistic" of being successful — because having an opening in rightfield could be a lure and helpful negotiation point with some.

Besides, Joyce, happy to be back from winter ball in Mexico, thrilled with the prospect of playing at home, has his own plans.

"Coming up through the minors, I was drafted in the 12th round, so I'm not handed anything," he said. "So you earn each step along the way and you work for what you get. So come in and hopefully raise a few eyebrows. Show them I can play at this level and I should start. Hopefully."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

FAST FACTS

More about Matt ...

• He is a natural right-hander and does everything — eat, write, throw, play golf — that way except hit. That's because his dad, Matt, taught him to do so. "He was left and that's how he knew how to hit and that's how he could teach me."

• Growing up in Brandon and Seffner, he attended a fair amount of Rays games and his favorite player was Fred McGriff. "We had a big poster,'' he said. "We liked to watch him play."

• He has a flare for the dramatic or, as he said, a "pretty cool fairy tale little story." His dad, who'd never seen any of his 45 minor-league home runs, came to Detroit when Matt was first called up in May while battling back issues and a cancer scare (since alleviated). "That's in the back of your head and you're kind of like, 'I get a chance to play in front of my dad, at least he gets to see me here in the big leagues and stuff.' And my first at-bat in front of him was actually a home run. So, just unreal. You come around, touch home and kind of point up in the stands, like, 'That one's for you, dad.' So, it was cool."

Tampa Bay Rays, new outfielder Joyce share mutual admiration 12/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 2:12pm]
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