BRADENTON, Fl. – The Pirates made the Matt Joyce signing official this morning, with Joyce receiving a minor league deal and an invite to Spring Training. Joyce arrived at Pirate City this morning, and met with the media before workouts. If there was any doubt as to what role he was competing for, he definitely cleared it up.
“Clint said that they’ve seen me as the fourth outfielder, but obviously I’ve got to come in and win a job and show them that I am ready,” Joyce said. “Other than that, it’s a great organization. The Pirates are awesome here, and they’ve had a lot of success.”
Joyce is coming off a bad year with the Angels, hitting for a .174/.272/.291 line in 284 plate appearances. His power was way down for the second year in a row, and unlike 2014, his average and on-base percentage weren’t there to keep him as a valuable option. Joyce said that there were multiple factors which led to his struggles last year.
“I think it’s a combination, can’t really nail it down to one thing, but obviously you can talk about mechanics and you can talk about defensive shifts,” Joyce said. “I think it’s a group of those things. I think it’s a handful of those things that kind of happened and transpired into the frustrating year that I had. I went to the Dominican, really worked on a lot of things. Had a lot of success over there, and feel good. I felt confident going into Spring Training.”
Joyce was previously a really solid outfielder. He was just under a 2.0 WAR player most of his career with the Rays, which is good enough to start for a lot of outfields, but makes a great fourth outfield option for a team like this. He will need those adjustments in the Dominican to work in order to get back to that player and make the Pirates’ roster. As for those adjustments, Joyce wasn’t very specific, but touched on a few things he worked on.
“Just the necessary adjustments,” Joyce said of the changes. “I worked with a couple of guys in the off-season, and even at the end of the season there. Just small hitting mechanics. Where your angles were set up. How I was approaching the ball. Just little things that go a long way when you’re in the box and you’re talking about hitting a baseball at 90-94 MPH. Little things that matter. I feel like I’m in a really good spot, and I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Joyce said that he fell into some bad habits last year, and didn’t realize what was happening until later in the season when he started talking to people and started reviewing what he was doing.
It’s really frustrating, because you know what you’re capable of,” Joyce said of the struggles. “As a player, you know you’re capable of being an All-Star player, and when you don’t go out there and do it, that’s the most frustrating thing in the world. To constantly fail at something you work so hard at. For me, it’s just fuel for the fire. You have to look at failure as lessons, and you’ve got to learns from them and learn from them quick in this game.”
Joyce will come into camp competing to be the fourth outfielder. However, the Pirates’ roster isn’t exactly cut and dry with a fourth outfield competition. They’ve got a flexible infield, with a few utility options who can play the outfield, if needed. They’ve also got guys like Michael Morse or Jason Rogers who can fill in, in a pinch. Neither of those guys have good defense though, and while Joyce isn’t the best defender, he would be a better option.
At this point, I don’t expect Joyce to hit for the power he had before the 2014 season, when he was a double-digit home run threat putting up an ISO of .180 or better. But I do think there’s a chance he could return to hitting for average and getting on base at a high rate, and as I wrote yesterday, the Pirates are switching to a high OBP/low strikeout approach. Joyce definitely fits that mold with where he’s at in his career.
“I know I’m capable of being an All-Star player. I’ve always brought to the table having great at-bats, having great walks, and being on-base a lot of times,” Joyce said. “I feel like I really worked over the years to be a good base runner. I don’t obviously fly like McCutchen and have the same speed as those guys, so I have to rely more on taking great routes to the ball. Just being prepared, what’s going to happen next, and what I’m doing with the ball or just trying to anticipate the game a little bit better than I used to. For me, I feel like I can drive the ball in the gaps, I can hit the ball for power, and I feel like I can bring a lot to the table when I feel right. I feel right, and I’m ready.”
One interesting aspect here is that Joyce told Clint Hurdle that he wanted to start transitioning to first base as his career progresses. He noted that he’s not trying out for the position, and that position from the left side is already filled by John Jaso, with Josh Bell on the way. He will get some work at first base this Spring, but it’s mostly to add some depth and another option. If Jaso goes down with an injury, and Bell isn’t ready, that could make Joyce an option, assuming he rebounds from last year to being a good average/OBP guy.
It’s ironic that Jaso is blocking him at first, and that Sean Rodriguez’s versatility could prevent the team from using a specific fourth outfielder. Those two played with Joyce for many years with the Rays. Cole Figueroa, who also made it up to Tampa in 2014, will be a guy battling Joyce for a roster spot, with Figueroa having the ability to play all over the infield, and play the outfield. That’s a lot of former Rays players on the team, although Joyce said that didn’t impact his decision to join the Pirates.
“It’s kind of icing on top of the cake,” Joyce said of playing with his former teammates. “When you kind of go into a situation, and you feel comfortable because you do know a couple of guys in the clubhouse. I think it might be along the lines that it’s just their type of personalities fit this atmosphere, this team, and this organization pretty well. That’s reassuring to me. It’s definitely nice to know some guys in the clubhouse, and feel comfortable as soon as you walk in.”
One thing to watch with Joyce is his contract status. He’s an article XX-B free agent, which comes from being an MLB free agent with six or more years of service time who signs a minor league deal. In order for the Pirates to keep Joyce into the season, they have to pay him a $100,000 retention bonus at the end of Spring Training, or release him five days prior and sign him to a new deal. If they do retain him, he would have an opt out on June 1st. So if Joyce is going to make it to Pittsburgh, it would have to be in the first two months. And if he’s looking good, the Pirates might decide to give him a shot, just to keep all of their options available.
If Joyce can rebound from last year, though, and show he can be a guy who can hit for average and get on base, then there would be no question about whether the Pirates should keep him, as that player would be good off the bench, and a strong fourth outfield option that fits the OBP philosophy the team is going for this year.