Spring training is right around the corner, so it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays. This is a talented team from top to bottom, and has as good a chance as any of making the playoffs. Each part in the series will focus on a key player – what they’ve done so far, and what they’re capable of doing in the future.
Finally given an opportunity to play everyday, Matt Joyce broke out in a big way for the Rays. His outstanding first half which saw the right fielder hit 290/351/513 with 12 homers and 41 RBI earned him a spot in the All Star Game. Joyce slowed down in the second half, but overall it was a positive season for the 26 year old as he’s proven he can hit in the middle of the lineup for the Rays.
Joyce is a solid defensive right fielder who can contribute all across the board. He shows good patience which allows him to post strong on base numbers, and he hits for good power (201 ISO). Joyce was a surprisingly good base runner this season, stealing 13 bases while only being caught once. Joe Maddon likes to play an aggressive style of baseball, and it’s possible that we could see Joyce stealing a similar amount in 2012.
The only flaw in Joyce’s game is that he can’t hit left handed pitchers. Over his career Joyce has an 867 OPS vs right handed pitching, but an embarrassing 601 OPS vs southpaws. So it’s likely that next season Joyce will be platooned so that he doesn’t start against lefties.
Tampa Bay acquired Joyce a few years ago in a trade with the Detroit Tigers for Edwin Jackson. At the time Jackson was just starting to scratch the surface of his potential, but the Rays had a significant amount of depth in their rotation. The outfield wasn’t nearly as deep as the rotation, especially with Carl Crawford nearing free agency. It was a good trade that worked out for both sides, as the Tigers would later use Edwin Jackson as part of a three team trade to acquire Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth.
Coming off a break out season many expected Joyce to be signed by the Rays to a long term deal. However, that hasn’t happened yet, which leads me to believe that Tampa doesn’t feel he’ll be valued properly in arbitration. Typically the Rays sign their core players early in their careers, which is why it was a surprise that Joyce hasn’t been extended yet.
Regardless of Joyce’s contract situation, he remains a key component of the Tampa offence. There’s less pressure on him being the lone pure left handed bat in the lineup with the additions of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena. Joyce could potentially be the best hitter of the trio, and a strong season by him could net him a big contract and a playoff appearance with the Rays.
2012 Prediction: 270 BA, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 65 runs, 10 SB.