Flamethrower Joyce, Angels' No. 9 prospect, called up

May 28th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- Reliever first gained national prominence on May 1, 2022, when he threw a fastball that clocked in at 105.5 mph while pitching for the University of Tennessee.

It was the fastest pitch in college baseball history and two months later, the Angels selected him in the third round of the 2022 Draft. And now, less than a year later, Joyce is in the big leagues, as Los Angeles selected his contract from Double-A Rocket City on Sunday with lefty Matt Moore heading to the injured list with a right oblique strain.

Joyce, though, will have to wait to make his debut, as he didn't appear in Sunday's 2-0 loss to the Marlins that completed a frustrating series sweep. Lefty Patrick Sandoval allowed two runs over six innings, while relievers Jacob Webb and Aaron Loup combined to throw three scoreless frames. But the offense was shut out for the first time since Aug. 21, 2022.

Joyce, the club’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, found out the news late Friday night, as he woke up to a call from Trash Pandas manager Andy Schatzley to inform him he was getting called up to the Majors for the first time.

“It was the craziest feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Joyce said. “I was crying and shaking. All the emotions hit me.”

Joyce, 22, said his parents, Alan and Joni, were in Alabama to watch him pitch with Rocket City and he had to call them 10 times before they finally woke up. The family shared a cry over the phone and quickly changed their travel arrangements, while Joyce’s brother, Zach, and his girlfriend, Anna, also made the trip out west for his potential debut, which is now likely to happen in Chicago or Houston.

“It means everything,” Joyce said. “It’s what I've been working for since I was three years old playing baseball. It was my dream to make the big leagues and to hear that call is everything. It's all the hard work that you put in, it's paying off and it's awesome.”

Joyce posted a 4.60 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 13 walks in 15 2/3 innings with Rocket City, as he said it took him some time to adjust to the pre-tacked balls at Double-A this year. ​​The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder fared better last season with the traditional ball, registering a 2.08 ERA with 20 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings. But he said he got more used to the pre-tacked balls, while also getting a feel for the Major League balls he used during bullpens and side sessions.

And he had been pitching better recently, throwing five scoreless innings over his last three appearances with seven strikeouts and one walk. He also showed the ability to go two innings in two of his last three outings. He’s yet to pitch on back-to-back days but Joyce said his body has been recovering well.

“His last three outings were really good,” manager Phil Nevin said. “Some efficient innings and his last outing was two innings. He’s commanding where we wanted him to be. He’s developing here but he has the kind of stuff to get big outs.”

Joyce said developing a new cutter was key for him this year to pair with his high-velocity fastball and his sweeper. His fastball reached as high as 104 mph in Spring Training and usually sits between 99-102 mph, but he knows that velocity isn’t everything and he has to change speeds to keep hitters off-balance. 

“I think just changing how I approach hitters and gaining confidence was a big thing for me,” Joyce said. “I think adding that cutter was big for me because there was such a velo difference from the fastball and the sweeper. It adds something in between. But I think confidence was the biggest thing.”

Joyce is the latest youngster to be brought up to fortify the bullpen, as he joins 23-year-olds Chase Silseth and Sam Bachman. Bachman, the club’s No. 4 prospect, was called up for the first time on Friday and made his debut, allowing one run over two innings with four strikeouts. Shortstop Zach Neto, 22, was also called up from Double-A in mid-April.

It shows the Angels are being aggressive with their prospects and Joyce is excited about the chance to make an impact. Neto and Joyce are the first two players from the 2022 Draft to reach the Majors, while Silseth was the first player from the 2021 Draft to reach the Majors last year.

“We were down in Double-A a few weeks ago and they were saying if you could put together some good weeks and to do good things, you’re gonna move up quick,” Joyce said. “And they were true to that so it's awesome to see.”