Ben Joyce, the right-handed fireballer from the University of Tennessee, went viral two months ago for throwing a pitch clocked at 105.5 mph during a game against Auburn.
Joyce, the hardest-throwing pitcher in college baseball history, drew attention with the velocity of his fastball, according to MLB Pipeline — which ranked him at No. 112 among draft prospects.
The Angels, who drafted Joyce at No. 89 overall Monday, see him for more than just his fastball.
“It’s a big arm and he has stuff,” Angels scouting director Tim McIlvaine said. “I think we feel like there are a few things that we can work on with him and make him even more effective, instead of just having to throw as hard as he can all the time.”
Of being drafted, Joyce said his advisor, Hunter Bledsoe, called him two picks before his name was called and asked, “Do you want to be an Angel?”
“I thought I was gonna have a heart attack,” recalled Joyce, who was with his family in their home near the University of Tennessee when he got the call. “It was a crazy call. Just to hear those words that the dream was finally coming true.”
Joyce’s fastball is difficult for batters to follow, since he throws it from a low arm slot on a flat approach angle and it typically averages 101 mph. He can get hit on the lower spectrum of the velocity range, especially when he does not have full command of it, per scouting reports on MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, which also express skepticism over his durability.
Joyce already has a significant injury history, missing time in high school and college with growth-plate, shoulder, and elbow issues. During his senior year of high school, he missed weeks of games at a time dealing with intense pain, MLB reported.
That senior year at Farragut High also included a rapid growth spurt of 8 inches. Joyce, now 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, attributed his rapid growth to some of those injuries.
He needed Tommy John surgery in 2020, which forced him to miss all of 2021, and he has pitched only about 50 innings since 2019. (The 2020 college season was also shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Joyce doesn’t see any of his past injuries as a hindrance and looks forward to his future as a professional baseball player.
“I don’t have any skepticism at all,” Joyce said. “I’m really just ready to see what my body can do and how much I can take pitching-wise. And just how much I built it up and my experience this year, getting to go longer outings, I think I’m ready to go.
“I have no worries about how my body’s gonna hold up.”
McIlvaine said he’s seen Joyce’s growth and development from when he attended Walters State Community College to his time at Tennessee. McIlvaine said he sees potential in Joyce’s breaking ball pitches, which he didn’t throw very much in college. Scouting reports particularly highlight his slider as his next-best pitch so far.
Joyce said he’s going to continue developing his secondary pitches, notably his slider and his splitter, and work on adding a cutter, a pitch he’s “been messing around with.”
The Angels were also drawn to his attitude, and McIlvaine described him as “fun to watch,” which was affirmed when McIlvaine and other members of the Angels front office traveled to see Joyce at the MLB Draft Combine in San Diego last month.
“He’s a good kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, very disciplined,” McIlvaine explained. “For us, it’s not just how hard you can throw or how far you can hit it, but also what’s inside, you know, in between the ears and he checks that box from us as well.”
McIlvaine said they plan to use Joyce out of the bullpen but won’t close the door on him being developed into a starter.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but we’re just gonna kind of take it slow and see where it goes,” McIlvaine said.
Joyce said he wants to fill whatever role the Angels put him in and just wants to make an impact on the future of the organization. He made five starts in junior college and just one start at Tennessee. Used mostly as a reliever at Tennessee, he also rarely made appearances against other SEC teams, and since he recently returned from Tommy John, the Volunteers were careful with his workload.
As for those fastballs, Joyce doesn’t plan on holding back. He signed Friday with the Angels for $1 million, about $300,000 more than his slot value.
“I’m just coming back from a pretty big elbow surgery, and this is really my first year pitching,” Joyce said. “So as I get more comfortable and as I continue to push my body every day, training and mobility and speed, I don’t see why I couldn’t continue to push that limit and see where I can get. I don’t have a cap on myself.”
The Angels drafted nine pitchers, plus one two-way player, with their 19 picks. Joyce was one of eight players the team drafted on the second day of the three-day draft.
Zach Neto, the shortstop from Campbell University whom the Angels drafted no. 13 overall in the first round, agreed to a bonus of $3.5 million, nearly $1 million under slot value ($4,412,500), per MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis.
Sonny DiChiara, the first baseman they picked in the fifth round out of Auburn, signed with the team for $172,500, about $200,000 below the $383,200 slot number. per Callis. He’s expected to go straight to the double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas in Madison, Alabama.
Other Angels picks Monday that inked deals include: right-handed pitcher Victor Mederos, who signed for $227,750; right-hander Roman Phansalkar, for $27,500; two-way player Dylan Phillips, for $42,500; outfielder Joe Stewart, for $7,500; and first baseman Matt Courtney, for $7,500.
On Day 3, they picked up the Dana brothers — Caden, a pitcher, and Casey, an outfielder. Caden, the Angels’ lone pick out of high school, signed for $1,497,500, a record for an 11th rounder, per Callis.
Picking mostly college prospects, McIlvaine explained, was a result of the way the draft unfolded and because they reached “a point where it’s tougher to sign some of the high school kids.”
The Angels other Day 3 picks were pitchers Jared Southard, Bryce Osmond, Sammy Natera Jr. and Max Gieg; outfielders Tucker Flint and Luke Franzoni; and catchers Sabin Ceballos and Brendan Tinsman.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.