Ailing Angels hope 105-mph fireballer Ben Joyce can make speedy impact
Around this time last year, Ben Joyce clocked the fastest pitch in college baseball history. On Sunday, as he fielded questions in front of a score of reporters and some cameras in the hallway outside the Angels’ clubhouse, Joyce was a major league player.
“It means everything to me,” Joyce said ahead of the Angels’ 2-0 loss to the Miami Marlins. “It’s what I’ve been working for since I was 3 years old playing baseball, trying to dream of making it to the big leagues and then finally hearing that call.”
The Angels sent for Joyce — who has been at their double-A affiliate, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, since he signed with the Angels last summer — on Friday night, amid uncertainty of the health of veteran Matt Moore.
Moore was put on the injured list with a Grade 2 oblique strain Sunday morning. Joyce’s locker was prepped and ready by the time he arrived at the clubhouse for the matinee game.
Brandon Drury and Matt Thaiss each hit home runs and Ben Joyce made his major league debut for the Angels in a 6-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Joyce went viral last May for throwing a pitch 105.5 mph for the University of Tennessee. Since he became a professional, Joyce’s pitching velocity has hit 104 mph during big league spring training (Joyce was a non-roster invite this year). And during a relief outing at Rocket City on Wednesday, Joyce hit 103 mph in a scoreless inning.
Reliever Aroldis Chapman holds the Guinness world record for the fastest pitch thrown at 105.8 mph, which he accomplished while playing for the Cincinnati Reds in a game against the San Diego Padres in 2010.
Joyce, whose parents are from Pittsburgh, grew up a Pirates fan and watched Chapman, who now plays for the Kansas City Royals, several times when the Reds and Pirates faced each other. Joyce doesn’t have “fastest pitch ever” on his list of priorities, but he’s aware of the possibility.
“Getting to see him do that was pretty cool,” Joyce said in February of watching Chapman, “and then knowing that I’m pretty close to that is a pretty crazy feeling.”
Joyce’s speed impressed early on, though there was a notable concern over his command.
Take Mark DeRosa’s comment about the pitcher after an exhibition in which Team USA, which DeRosa managed, played the Angels in March. DeRosa recalled a conversation he had with Pete Alonso, explaining one of the reasons he wanted to pull the New York Mets slugger from the game.
“The Joyce kid from the Angels is throwing a buck-0-3, the last thing I need is you getting one in the ribs right here,” DeRosa said on MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show.
But the fireballer has continued to evolve in his second season as a professional, adding to and working on the tools in his pitch arsenal, particularly the cutter he learned during the offseason.
Finding statistics on pitches thrown by minor league players in games is not easily accessible to the public without having seen the games live. Joyce explained that he has gotten swings and misses on his cutter and has had success getting ahead in counts because of it. He also highlighted his sweeper, which he said he has also been finding success with.
His progress helped prompt his call-up, though Angels manager Phil Nevin acknowledged Joyce is still a work in progress.
A dropped catch by Mickey Moniak and Matt Thaiss failing to tag home plate on a force out overshadow a strong start by Shohei Ohtani in the Angels’ 8-5 loss.
“Especially his last three outings have been really good, efficient innings,” Nevin said before Sunday’s game. “He’s commanding where we wanted him to be. There’s some things we felt like he needed to work on. We’re still developing here.”
Nevin also hasn’t ruled out Joyce becoming a multi-inning reliever. He has had three such outings at double A this month.
Joyce is the most recent of the Angels’ aggressive call-ups. Zach Neto, the Angels’ first draft pick in 2022, was called up mid-April from double A. Pitcher Sam Bachman, a 2021 draftee, was sent for before the Angels’ series against the Marlins, also a call-up from Rocket City.
Joyce will make the trip with the Angels through Chicago and Houston.
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