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Mike Hollimon & Matt Joyce

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Joyce, Hollimon make push for spot on 'Wolves

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: March 29. 2007 7:00AM

LAKELAND, Fla. -- From the crack of the bat, Erie SeaWolves right fielder Matt Joyce made a good read on the low, sinking liner.

Charging in and moving a few steps left, he dove and gloved the line drive a few inches above the turf, robbing Toledo second baseman Kevin Hooper of an extra-base hit.

The third-inning play was one of the few highlights in Erie's 4-0 loss to the Triple-A Mud Hens on Wednesday morning at the Tigertown minor-league complex.

As Joyce trotted back to the Erie dugout, SeaWolves manager Matt Walbeck wasn't about to let the play go unnoticed.

Turning to his players sitting on the bench, Walbeck yelled, 'Let's give it up for M.J. for that sweet catch.' "

One of the first players waiting in line to high-five Joyce was infielder Michael Hollimon.

Joyce and Hollimon have heard it all before from baseball people, how making the jump from Class A to Double-A might be the toughest climb up an organization's professional ladder.

Both players might be on the verge of landing jobs on the SeaWolves' roster after playing key roles on low-A West Michigan's Midwest League championship team last season.

"I don't know if I've made the squad, but if I'm fortunate enough to make the team, it's going to be a great opportunity," Hollimon, 24, said. "Double-A is where the best of the best are. You have to keep your wits about you and stay composed and not get too far out in front of yourself."

Baseball America ranks Hollimon 15th and Joyce 23rd among the Tigers' top minor-league prospects.

Joyce, 22, is tempering his enthusiasm regarding his chances of heading north with the SeaWolves.

"I'm not trying to get my hopes up too high because I kind of got let down last year," Joyce said.

They should know within a couple days if they bypass high Single-A Lakeland and break spring camp Sunday with the SeaWolves, who open their Eastern League season April 5 at home against the Altoona Curve.

A native of Dallas, the switch-hitting Hollimon batted .278 with 15 homers and 54 RBI in 128 games with West Michigan last season.

Joyce, who bats left, hit 11 homers and led the Whitecaps with 86 RBIs in 2006. He hit .258 in 122 games.

Joyce played college baseball at Florida Southern, just a few miles down the road from the Tigertown Complex.

"Every year we just got so excited about playing the Tigers in spring training," said Joyce, who lives in Riverview, Fla. "One year we ended up tying them. It went 10 innings and we were pumped."

Imagine the thrill Joyce felt when the Tigers selected him in the 12th round of the 2005 draft.

"I couldn't have picked a better place," he said.

"Matt has really impressed a lot of people in the organization with his defense and his hitting," Walbeck said. "It looks like he might be able to jump a level from West Michigan to Erie. He's been having a great spring. Even in the big-league camp, when he's had an opportunity, he's done well."

Hitting cleanup at West Michigan last season, Joyce attributed much of his run production to having Cameron Maybin, the Tigers' No. 1 draft pick in 2005, hitting in front of him.

"He could run like the wind, so a lot of those RBIs came from him," Joyce said. "I'm going to miss him this year if I don't get to play with him."

Hollimon opted for college after completing his high school career. He played three years at Texas before transferring to Oral Roberts for his senior season. The Tigers selected him in the 16th round of the 2005 draft.

"I decided to go to college and it was the best thing I could have done," Hollimon said. "I faced adversity and I know how to handle it now. Having the college experience made me mature into a man and taught me how to handle problems that I now know how to deal with."

Hollimon led the Midwest League with 13 triples a year ago and ranked in the league's top five in extra-base hits, walks, total bases and slugging percentage.

After playing shortstop in his first two pro seasons, his biggest challenge this spring has been making a transition to second base.

With Brent Dlugach, another Double-A rookie hopeful, expected to be the SeaWolves' everyday shortstop to begin the season, the Tigers feel Hollimon can handle the switch to second, a position that might better suit his range and arm strength.

"He's a college guy and has some age on his side," Walbeck said. "With his maturity and knowledge of the game, we think it should be a pretty easy adjustment for him. He has great work habits and this could be a possible good position for him."

Aside from playing second in only a handful of games in high school, Hollimon admits he is a neophyte at the position, though he says he is adjusting well to the change.

"All of the instructors have been working hard helping me try to get comfortable over there," Hollimon said. "It's a different angle than shortstop and you have different responsibilities and priorities. I think it's going well. You can never work hard enough. One of the things I pride myself on is getting after it and working as hard as I can."

West Michigan dominated both halves of its 2006 season, finishing 89-48 and winning its second Midwest League championship in three years under Walbeck, who was appointed Erie's manager in early November.

"Last season was special," Hollimon said. "That was a great season. The team developed together well and that's what we're going to try and do this year. If I'm part of this Erie team, I'll do all I can to bring that feeling to the SeaWolves."

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070329/BASEBALL01/703290423/-1/SPORTS

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Hollimon will be there for SURE, I thought Joyce looked like he should be there as well. He's had a very good spring and I'd rather have him out there in right than any of the other options I've seen on the field or heard on these boards. If he comes, that puts Melian, Blue and Torres as guys battling for the 3rd and 4th outfield spots.

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Hollimon was expected.... Joyce though is a bonus and is exciting news.

I wonder who that pushes to Lakeland? Boesch? Does it push one of the guys that were expected to be in Erie down to Lakeland? Should be interesting to see what the organization decides.

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I would like to see them near the top of the lineup.

Thomas CF

Joyce RF

Holliman 2B

Kirkland 3B

Larish 1B

Melian DH

Dlugach SS

Graham or ? C

Blue/Torres LF

Melian could play LF and the 9th could be for the DH including McIntyre.

I could see the Seawolves picking up a good bat for the OF/DH spot for some of the last day cuts at the major league level.

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The problem with this story is Matt Joyce was in LF for the Lakeland team Wednesday, Maybin in CF and Rameriz in RF playing the WM Whitecaps.

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Wilkin in WM? I don't know if there is a lot of room in that OF unless they are bumping Scram/Boesch up to Lakeland.

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Sorry, those three were on the Lakeland squad vs the Whitecaps. The AA/AAA squads were on another field. Boesch has been a couple early games on the Lakeland team.

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Sorry, those three were on the Lakeland squad vs the Whitecaps. The AA/AAA squads were on another field. Boesch has been a couple early games on the Lakeland team.

Oh I completely misread the statement. That makes sense and is about the OF I expected in Lakeland along with Justice/Hernandez.

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I have only noticed Justice on Lakeland once and Mike several times and i agree. I expect both in Lakeland. I thought we would see Cotto, but he has been a regular at AA.

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NATE,

That's the lineup that would look very good. Without Joyce there, I guess you move Hollimon up in the line up and go from there as there's not a really good 2 hole hitter of the other hitters available. Besides, with Hollimon hitting in the 2 hole, it creates a situation that Erie is not as exposed to LHP, being that Hollimon switch hits..............

They may even copy the model from the big club with hitting Thomas leadoff v. RHP and move him down in the order v. LHP

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Just for the record, I'm not sure Joyce to Erie is a done deal just yet, but, with him playing with them so much in ST, it's obviously a big consideration for Ezell, DD and staff. I like the move very much, but, at the same time, I still would not be surprised to see the Lakeland OF of Justice, Maybin and Joyce on opening day---------subject to change very quickly

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Just for the record, I'm not sure Joyce to Erie is a done deal just yet, but, with him playing with them so much in ST, it's obviously a big consideration for Ezell, DD and staff. I like the move very much, but, at the same time, I still would not be surprised to see the Lakeland OF of Justice, Maybin and Joyce on opening day---------subject to change very quickly

Its a very fluid situation. But if he has been practicing with Erie all spring (which some seem to indicate) other than a couple of games here and there with the Lakeland crowd it seems he might be on the Erie opening day roster. It would certainly be an interesting move and something to watch. Certainly a big deal for someone that won't be 23 until August.

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