Matt Joyce: The Emergence of a Star for the Tampa Bay Rays

Dustin HullAnalyst IJune 1, 2011

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 06:  Outfielder Matt Joyce #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays takes batting practice before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field on March 6, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

During the past couple of seasons, many wondered what would become of Matt Joyce, the outfielder the Tampa Bay Rays traded for while sending Edwin Jackson to Detroit.

Many considered the trade lopsided in the Tigers' favor, after Jackson won 14 games the next year, while Joyce ended up taking a trip to the minors at one point before rejoining the Rays.

Now the trade doesn't look lopsided at all, unless you're talking in the opposite way. Joyce has torn apart opposing pitchers through the first two months, and seems to only be getting stronger as the season goes along.

His .370 average through the first 51 games of 2011 leads the entire MLB, and his .430 on-base percentage puts him among the league leaders in that category, as well.

He's also making progress against what has been the Achilles' heel so far in his career: hitting left-handed pitching. Two hits against Texas lefty Derek Holland on Memorial Day and a home run off of another Ranger left-hander, C.J. Wilson, show that he's becoming a more and more complete player by the day.

Joyce has shown a bit of power, with nine home runs and 30 RBI, but has been an even more consistent player with getting on base. He's also a threat with his well-above-average arm and solid glovework in the outfield.

So, in an all-of-a-sudden fashion, Joyce has turned into one of the better young players in the American League at the age of 26. Joyce hit .414 in May, including .429 in his past 14 games.

No one knew what to expect from him coming into this season. Not even Joe Maddon or hitting coach Derek Shelton could have seen this type of start coming from the former Armwood High and Florida Southern product.

It was a great story when Joyce returned to Tampa, coming back to his roots around the area. But it was quickly replaced with questions of when he would take the step into a productive player, or if he ever would.

The wait has been more than worth it to the Rays, and while Jackson was traded for what has become an assortment of young players for Detroit, the Rays have their guy—the one who leads the majors in batting.

So as he continues to become a better all-around talent, expect Joyce to continue his raking of the opposition. It may have taken awhile, but Joyce is now going beyond expectations and it doesn't look like he'll be stopping any time in the near future.