Since being acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Edwin Jackson following the 2008 season, Matt Joyce has experienced quite a few memorable runs. It began in 2010, when he rode a big second half in his first full year with the team to earn a pair of starts in the ALDS, getting a hit in both. But that was only setting the stage for 2011, when Evan Longoria went down but Joyce stepped up to carry the team, hitting to a .370/.430/.636 line with 9 home runs in April and May and even leading the AL batting race for a time. Things did not go as well after that, but he did rebound with a strong performance to finish the year. Then in 2012, he was big in the first half (.279/.387/.512 line), but wasn’t the same after an oblique injury in June. Finally in 2013, he went on another tear from mid-April to mid-June (.292/.379/.579) to emerge as the Rays’ leadoff hitter, but then he fell apart once again. Joyce has found his moments in every year with the team. His promise has been evident and everyone has been waiting for him to emerge as a star. But those transient glimpses of greatness are not enough, and even solid overall numbers belie the stretches where he has been an automatic out.
As a player with limited defensive skills and an inability to hit lefties, Matt Joyce has to mash against right-handed pitching to be a productive player. He has not done so consistently enough, and it has been frustrating for everyone involved. Joyce is firmly aware of everything that has been afflicting him. After agreeing to a one-year, $3.7 million contract to avoid arbitration with the Rays, Joyce told Marc Topkin that his goal was to be more consistent. More importantly, now he is finally doing something about it. Topkin reports that Joyce has added 20 pounds this offseason, and he hopes that will increase his power and help him survive the grind of the season. Joyce should have taken on that type of strategy years ago. Joyce has been 6’2″, 205, but the perceived athleticism that comes with that frame hasn’t helped Joyce defensively or on the basepaths. Joyce still hasn’t hit 20 home runs at any level as a pro, and adding a few more would certainly help his value. And in regards to his consistency, if his peaks and valleys each year have had anything to do with weakness as the seasons have progressed, maybe adding strength can help that as well. It is too late for Joyce to learn to hit lefties or improve his defense, but he is doing what he can to maximize the skills that he has
In 2014, Joyce will spend most of his time as a designated hitter with Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, and David DeJesus occupying the three outfield spots. With that in mind, he took playing less in the field as an opportunity to bulk up and attempt to improve the inconsistent offense that has driven him insane the last three years. Only time will tell if it works, but Joyce has been long overdue for a change and now it is finally happening.