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Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce Looks Ready For Starring Role

Thanks to baseball economics, Matt Joyce no longer figures to be left out of the right field equation. While some of us thought Joyce would have a chance to be the Rays right fielder in 2009, Gabe Gross and his ~$1 million salary proved to be an average alternative while saving the Rays a year of Joyce's service time . With Gross up for a raise in arbitration in the neighborhood of $2 million, it looks like the economic tables have turned.

If Joyce turns out to be the next Gabe Gross (average hitter + above average fielder) the Rays will have a decent platoon player on their hands. However, looking at some of his minor league numbers, there is reason to believe that Joyce will be quite the improvement.

In nearly 300 MLB plate appearances in 2008, Matt Joyce showed that his power is legit. We saw that briefly here as he blasted three home runs playing sporadically over 11 games for the Rays. Joyce continued to flash that power in Durham where he slugged .482 and carried an ISO of .209 in 493 plate appearances. The power numbers are nice, but there were other pleasant surprises from Joyce in 2009.

Joyce has gotten on-base at a decent clip, but only once did he have an OBP over .340 during the last three seasons. In 2009, his OBP jumped to .373 thanks to an improved batting eye. He has always been a 10% walk guy, but in 2009 his improved to 13.8%. While walking more, he cut down his K% from 31.0% (2008 AAA numbers) to 21.9% (2009 AAA numbers).

Initially, it seems that Joyce will be paired up in a platoon with Gabe Kapler. We all know Kapler crushes LHP and one of the question marks concerning Joyce was his ability to handle south paws. If his 2009 numbers are any indication, then Joyce will do just fine. Of course, these are minor league numbers, but Joyce hit .273/.345/.508 against lefties in nearly 150 plate appearances. Kapler is the safety net, but I'm sure the Rays will try and see if Joyce can replicate those numbers at the next level.

Defensively, we've heard good things about Joyce. He projects as an average fielder at worst and has the potential to be above average in the corner. Joyce played nearly as much center field as he did right in his brief stint with the Rays, but was a +11 right fielder in the minor leagues. For those not familiar with the minor league defensive metric Totalzone, it's pretty simple; 0 is average, +10 is well above average. If Joyce can be a +5 in the Majors, I think we'll be happy.

The plan hasn't moved as quickly as some of us had hoped, but Joyce won't have that "getting used to playing in the majors" hurdle that most young players face. Sure, he is projected to be a platoon player at first, but if the numbers continue to pile up and he glows like a lightsaber then maybe a star will be born; clap for him.