Confident Joyce tries out new glove
Veteran outfielder adding to versatility by working out at first base
ST. PETERSBURG -- At first glance, the extra muscle spread across Matt Joyce's shoulders and chest is most noticeable.
But it's Joyce's confidence and calm that comes through after talking to him. Even though the veteran outfielder is from the Tampa Bay area, he finally seems at home with the Rays.
Joyce came to the team prior to the 2009 season in the trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the Tigers. Since then, he has endured many ups and downs, primarily due to injuries. Then came the 2011 season, when Joyce put forth his best work to date.
The Tampa, Fla., native carried the team during the early part of the season, when he led the American League in hitting for a prolonged period. Though he tapered off, Joyce provided a solid presence in the batting order, as well as a deep threat. He finished with a .277 batting average, 19 home runs and 75 RBIs.
With Spring Training fast approaching, Joyce has had a chance to glance in the rearview mirror and appreciate the 2011 season.
"That's what the offseason is for," Joyce said. "To take some time off and kind of reflect on what went right. What went well, what didn't go well. What adjustments I can make and you grow as a player and a person.
"It's one of those things you look back and you learn from it. It was a great year, a great experience. It was a fun ride. [We] would have liked to finish better as a team, but [you] look forward to this year. You don't really get too much of an offseason.
"And I think after what happened with us in the playoffs [an AL Division Series loss to the Rangers], a lot of the guys were still pretty hungry and weren't satisfied. So we have to get back out here and get after it."
Hoping to help the team in any way possible, Joyce has been working out at first base during his offseason workouts at Tropicana Field.
"They like their guys to be versatile," Joyce said. "They just asked me if I would come out and take some ground balls, just in case something happened where they needed to move me around or move some guys around. [It] just gives us some extra flexibility."
Tom Foley coaches Tampa Bay's infielders and believes Joyce can handle playing first base, giving the Rays another option.
"When you look at Joyce in the outfield and you see how loose he is, how easy he is, how he sets things up, he's got a chance to come in and try this out a little bit," Foley said. "He's got nice soft hands. He's got to get used to the first baseman's mitt. It's just to see if he can go over there in a pinch."
But the true litmus test won't happen until the team gets to camp in Port Charlotte, Fla.
"You can do as much work as you want, but you have to throw him in a game," Foley said. "With Spring Training coming up, we can find out if we need somebody in a pinch; can we put Joyce over there for two innings? And you find that out in Spring Training. Right now, he's just doing the basics -- ground balls, short hops, balls in the dirt at first base, footwork, all that."
In addition to working out at first base to help the team, Joyce has been helping out in the community. In January, he held his "Sweet Swingin' Baseball Camp" at North Brandon Little League, where he played as a youngster.
Joyce's camp offered coaching in myriad areas on the diamond, utilizing the help of former Rays reliever Grant Balfour, now with Oakland, and Arizona reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.
Almost 100 kids showed up for the event, which raised approximately $10,000 for North Brandon Little League.
Good deeds and offseason workouts done, Joyce now looks forward to the coming season and what this year's group can accomplish.
"Everybody's looking forward to the season," Joyce said. "The guys are ready. We've got a little pep in our step."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.