In the early part of the college baseball season, the world was introduced to Ben Joyce.
A hard-throwing reliever at the University of Tennessee, Joyce became an internet sensation after his first few appearances for the Vols. Clips of a 6-foot-5, 225-pound reliever reaching fastball velocities as high as 105 mph made the rounds online. And the lockout gave baseball-hungry fans the room to put a face and personality to the fame.
Joyce would eventually be selected by the Angels with the No. 90 overall pick in this July’s Draft after just one season at Tennessee.
The Knoxville native began his college career at Walters State, a junior college in Morristown, Tenn., and pitched just 20 2/3 innings before a transfer to the Vols and Tommy John surgery. After sitting out a year following the procedure, the 21-year-old threw just 32 1/3 innings this season for Tennessee, striking out 53 and posting a 2.23 ERA.
He was little known coming into the year but became one of the most recognizable third-round names in this Draft. After a stint at the Angels’ facility in Arizona, the club assigned Joyce to Double-A Rocket City, where he currently plays alongside two other members of Los Angeles’ 2022 Draft class: Zach Neto (first round) and Sonny DiChiara (fifth round).
Joyce has allowed two earned runs and struck out 11 over nine innings with the Trash Pandas. Both runs scored in his first outing, and he’s rattled off eight consecutive appearances without an earned run since.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, the man the internet came to know as “The Volunteer Fireman” talks about his first experiences with professional baseball and viral fame. Joyce, the Angels’ No. 12 prospect, also breaks down his pitch mix and his work to get back from Tommy John surgery.
MiLB.com: It's been a few weeks now, and you're a professional ball player. How does it feel?
Ben Joyce: Yeah, it's been amazing. I mean, right after the Draft, went out to Arizona for a few weeks, just to get acclimated. And then they sent me straight out [to Double-A]. And it was the perfect place to start my career. I feel like it was -- the atmosphere is always awesome. The fans are always coming out. I mean, it's been really cool to get to start at a place like this, and on the team that's doing so well. And I mean, the competitiveness is kind of similar to what I had at Tennessee. They're all playing for each other, and they just enjoy going to the field every day and being around each other.
MiLB.com: What does it mean to you that the Angels trust you to go right to Double-A?
Joyce: It means a lot, and it makes me just want to continue to work hard prove them right, and to continue to develop and be a contributing part to their team as fast as possible. It's an awesome feeling to know that they trust me to start at this level and develop with with this team that's already having success and already gonna be in the playoffs.
MiLB.com: You're finishing up what's easily your biggest workload that you've had as a pitcher in a single season. How are you physically?
Joyce: I think the rehab definitely helped and taught me how to read my body better and know what I need to do to recover every day. And it really is, it's a full-time job in that you -- even when you're not at the field -- have to be focusing on your nutrition and your sleep and make sure everything's right in that department. Trying to make sure my arm is always feeling good. And if I need to take the throwing a little lighter one day I will. Just trying to be as ready as possible to pitch any day. And I think just going through that college season and starting this professional season, I've been able to find that right routine that works for me. And it's had my body feeling great the whole year. I don't really feel like I've slowed down at all. So, it's been good to know that I found that routine and just taking all the off-field stuff seriously.
MiLB.com: You come into your only season at Tennessee after Tommy John surgery. You obviously surpassed what could be considered reasonable expectations in terms of the results. So, what were your actual expectations for yourself?
Joyce: Going into the year, I really just wanted to stay healthy and contribute to the team as much as I could. And I mean, we wanted to win the national championship. We fell short. But we had great year. But it was really just staying healthy and contributing as much as I could. And then I ended up realizing that I felt better than I ever had before. And that gave me more confidence and helped me to continue to develop as a pitcher throughout the year and get bigger innings and bigger situations. I eventually got to start a game. And I never really expected that. So, that was awesome to get to experience all those different things.
MiLB.com: You got a lot of online fame in the early part of the season. What was that like?
Joyce: It was really cool. I saw it as the hard work paying off. And I was finally getting recognition for it. And I mean, the lockout was happening and just kind of having something that people could look forward to watching and just keep baseball in the back of their minds, or just keep baseball interesting was kind of cool to know that I was playing even a little part in that. It was kind of overwhelming at first. I had to turn off Twitter and Instagram notifications and all that because that was completely new to me. But it was it was awesome to -- especially around Knoxville. Just how they embraced me and coming back from injury. They're always behind me and knowing that I'm making an impact on kids in the Knoxville area was was really cool to see.
MiLB.com: Did you have a favorite memory or moment from the viral fame?
Joyce: I was a huge Pirates fan growing up. Both my parents are from Pittsburgh. And Andrew McCutchen actually reached out to me over over Twitter. That was a pretty cool thing to see. I was watching him my whole childhood. He was one of my favorite players and then just having him reach out. Just the fact that I can go anywhere -- I was in the airport going to Arizona the first time, in Denver, and I got recognized. They were like, 'Oh, that's the kid that throws 105 [mph]. It's just kind of crazy to know that it's that wide and that that far-reaching.
MiLB.com: What's the hardest you've ever thrown? We see guys online throwing lighter balls or taking running starts to throw into a net for a radar gun. Have you ever done something like that?
Joyce: I've never done any of the run and gun things. I've never had a radar for any of those. But the hardest I've ever thrown off the mound is 105.5 [mph].
MiLB.com: It looks like you throw a four-seamer, a split change and a slider. Could you break down that pitch mix?
Joyce: I've learned I can really use my four-seam pretty heavily, but now that I'm in professional baseball, I do need those secondary pitches a lot more than I did in college. And the slider has been a big development. Even in the few weeks I've been here, I've developed a lot, and it's got some pretty good horizontal sweep, and it's starting to get more depth to it. And as the velocity is increasing, I've seen a lot more success with it, and I'm able to control it a lot better. And then the split-change is anywhere from 88-93 [mph]. And it gets more of a drop. Arm-side run. And that's really a pitch I only threw to lefties in college. I only threw it a couple times. But as I got here and got more comfortable with it, I've started to use it a little bit more and throw it to righties a little more. I think that's gonna be a big pitch in the future as well. Just to be able to throw to both the hitters on both sides of the plate and know that I can see success with with three pitches rather than two, I think it's gonna help me a lot.
MiLB.com: Obviously you've done well as a reliever, but this is also a year you're working back from injury. Do you still have some hopes that over a full offseason you could stretch out to a starter?
Joyce: I don't see any doubt in my mind that I could. I'm just trying to be whatever the organization needs me to be. And I'm trying to contribute in whatever way I can. And if that's a reliever, then I'm going to try to be the best reliever I can be. And if they want me to be a starter, then I'm gonna try to be the best starter I can be. But personally, I don't have any doubt that I could start if that's what they wanted me to do.
MiLB.com: What was your Draft experience like?
Joyce: It was crazy. I had my phone ready the first day, and I kind of knew it was up in the air whether the first day would happen. And then going into second day there were some teams we thought it was gonna be, and really, to be honest, I didn't know the Angels were one of them. And then I think it was just two picks before I got the call Just having my family there was awesome. My twin brother was there. My girlfriend was there. It was awesome. My parents were crying. I kind of teared up a little bit just because it's been a dream of mine for my whole life. And finally hearing your name called and getting to experience that with them was an awesome experience.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.