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Rangers' Walbeck proud of Joyce

Rangers' Walbeck proud of Joyce

ARLINGTON -- Rangers third-base coach Matt Walbeck couldn't help but crack a little smile as he saw Matt Joyce rounding the bases after his second home run Tuesday night. He knew it wasn't good for his current employer, but he also realized that his former player is finding a home in the Majors.

Other than the fact that the homer came against his current club, Walbeck couldn't be happier.

"It's kind of a strange feeling, mixed emotions," Walbeck said Wednesday. "But to know that he and I have worked together and I've watched him progress to this level, it's a great feeling -- for the game and for me personally."

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Before Joyce became a big leaguer, he was usually playing for Walbeck in the Tigers' farm system. He is one player that Walbeck managed at both of his Minor League stops -- first at Class A West Michigan in 2006, then at Double-A Erie last year.

Walbeck has had players who have reached the big leagues, including former Tigers left-hander and current Marlin Andrew Miller. With Joyce, however, he can watch a player he worked with for two years test his talents at baseball's highest level and try to find a long-term spot.

Joyce's numbers were remarkably similar in those two years, but he made good strides as a hitter to get there. The results are paying off this season, as he tries to become a left-handed power source in the Tigers' lineup.

The fact that Joyce got here wasn't a surprise to Walbeck. The timing was going to be the question.

"It was a matter of the opportunity presenting itself and staying healthy," Walbeck said.

Joyce hit 17 home runs last year at Erie, but Walbeck didn't consider him simply a power hitter. As Walbeck explained, he's more a hitter to the power alleys, with a natural swing that can produce power.

As he has watched Joyce in the Rangers' current series against the Tigers, Walbeck has seen him take some big steps as a hitter.

"He has a natural, sweet power swing," Walbeck said. "What I'm impressed with is his ability to drive the ball the other way, because I didn't see that two years ago. Last year, I saw it a little bit. This year, I can see where he's starting to figure out how to drive the ball to left-center."

Both of his homers Tuesday featured more traditional left-handed power down the right-field line. If Joyce can combine those threats and hit to all fields with some authority, Walbeck sees a great future in line.

"He's a big leaguer," Walbeck said. "He's going to be a big leaguer for a long time."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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