Rays expecting big things from Joyce

Rays expecting big things from Joyce

ST. PETERSBURG -- A text message to Matt Joyce in Mexico last Wednesday night echoed all the way from his hometown of Tampa.

The text read: "You're coming home."

"And I was like, 'OK, you're out of Mexico,' and I didn't even get it that I had been traded," said Joyce on Tuesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Joyce, of course, had been dealt to the Rays by the Tigers in exchange for right-hander Edwin Jackson, which Joyce gathered from the text messages he received from his father and his agent telling him as much.

"It was cool, man -- coming home to play for your home crowd," Joyce said. "What more could you ask for?"

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has maintained since the night of the trade that the team is not certain what the immediate future holds for its newly acquired outfielder. One thing is certain -- the left-handed-hitting Joyce has a large upside if he can realize his potential. He is an above-average outfielder with a strong arm and he has some power.

Rays manager Joe Maddon liked the deal.

"To me, he's the kind of guy that I really like to work with," Maddon said. "He's very interesting -- high-end, tool-wise. [He's] just on the verge of really finding himself. It's exciting. So even if he doesn't appear on that Opening Day roster, we really believe he's going to contribute now and in the future."

While the Rays hope the trade will impact the team in 2009, they are looking to the future with Joyce, which is the only way for Tampa Bay to remain competitive in the American League East.

The Rays control the 24-year-old Joyce for six years, and he also has options, which means if he's not ready for prime time, they can send him back to the Minor Leagues this season without running the risk of another team claiming him.

Being a Tampa native, Joyce could be found at Tropicana Field watching Rays games from the beginning. And another Tampa native, Fred McGriff, was Joyce's favorite player.

"He had that little helicopter finish," Joyce said.

Joyce was a surprise for the Tigers in 2008 after an early season callup from Triple-A Toledo. He batted .252 with 16 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 33 RBIs over 92 games in Detroit, including the final three months. He followed with a strong winter-ball performance for Mexicali in the Mexican Winter League, batting .295 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 35 games.

"We've got really good reports on his work ethic, on his makeup," Friedman said, "on the intangibles that elevate his tools in terms of being a baseball player. And it's kind of the ultimate compliment for us if we're going through and looking at guys. It incorporates baserunning and defense and the attention to detail. And the smaller things we feel can impact a game. We've gotten very good reports on those things and feel like he's got a chance to be a really good player."

Joyce is well-versed on the team he is joining.

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"They have all the key components you need to be successful," Joyce said. "All the great pitching, from top to bottom ... the defense. The young talent they have, they're going to be good for a lot of years, the speed, the power. Just all-around, it's a great team."

A team he's not sure he'll break camp with this spring, since the Rays are not simply giving him the job. If the season started today, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez would likely split time in right. But Joyce isn't afraid of competition. He learned early in his professional career there are no free lunches in baseball.

"Basically, you come in and earn everything that you get," Joyce said. "I was never really expecting anything to be handed to me from the get-go. ... I was drafted in the 12th round, so I haven't been handed anything. So you earn each step along the way and you work for what you get. So [I'm going to] come in and hopefully raise a few eyebrows; show them that I can play at this level. So I'm hoping."

But in Joyce's mind, he believes in his abilities.

"Yes," said Joyce when asked if he thinks he's a Major Leaguer. "And I think you have to think that way. Not a cocky attitude, but a confidence that you can play at this level and you deserve to play at this level. If you go up there thinking, 'I don't know if I can play with these guys,' you're not going to have any success."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.