Joyce, 104 mph heat leaving a mark

Halos' No. 11 prospect tossing zeros, turning heads at Spring Training

March 19th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After relief prospect 's fifth straight scoreless outing of Cactus League play in Friday's win over the Royals, Angels manager Phil Nevin was asked after the game about what he thought of Joyce’s performance.

Nevin couldn’t help but smile and revealed that Joyce’s final pitch registered at 104 mph, a mark that only seven Major Leaguers have reached since pitch tracking data was introduced in 2008. There’s no public radar gun reading on the scoreboard at Tempe Diablo Stadium, but the club’s internal pitch tracking data found that his final fastball was clocked at 104 mph, a figure only reached in 2022 by Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley.

It was a number confirmed by Joyce, who previously threw a record-breaking 105.5 mph fastball while pitching in relief with the University of Tennessee last year -- before he was selected by the Angels in the third round of the 2022 MLB Draft.

"That was pretty exciting to hear," Joyce said. "I got up there a few times in college and since then I haven't really got up there again. My arm’s been feeling great, it was exciting to see that number and I’m looking to keep ticking that up a little bit.”

Joyce, the club’s No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline, fared well in his first taste of pro ball with Double-A Rocket City last year, posting a 2.08 ERA with 20 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings. His fastball regularly hit triple digits, but he didn’t reach 104 mph in a game until Friday.

Of course, there’s more to pitching than just throwing hard, even at that elite velocity. Case in point -- that 104 mph pitch was hit to left field for a flyout off the bat of Royals Minor Leaguer Morgan McCollough, and wasn’t one of Joyce's two strikeouts in the inning. That’s why he’s added a hard slider that he’s calling a cutter to go along with his sweeping slider this season.

"I’m getting more comfortable every outing," Joyce said. "The cutter has been working great. The sweeper has been getting better. But I'm trying to do more things like pitch up and in the zone, so I'll occasionally spray a few fastballs or whatever. But overall I feel great with all my pitches, and I think the command is coming along."

Joyce’s fastball and impressive spring make him a tantalizing option for the Angels to add to their bullpen on Opening Day. But there are a few factors working against the 22-year-old, as he isn’t on the 40-man roster and has walked four batters in five innings this spring.

The Angels have only one open spot in their bullpen and the favorite to claim it is right-hander Andrew Wantz, who had a strong second half last year and has looked sharp this spring. He’s also on the 40-man roster, which gives him an advantage. Going with Wantz would allow Joyce to go to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning and to work on his control before getting called up later in the season.

Joyce, for his part, said he’s trying not to think about the bullpen competition -- focusing instead on improving his game.

"I'm just trying to go out every day and get better and do what I can to get outs," Joyce said. "I'm trying to treat every game like it's like it's a big game like I always do, and just go out there and be myself. And whatever happens, happens. It's in God's plan at that point. So I'm just trying to go out there and make an impact as much as I can, and leave the decision up to everybody else."

Another question mark for Joyce is his availability to pitch on back-to-back days, which is something he wasn’t asked to do at Tennessee and something he didn’t do with the Trash Pandas last year. But Nevin said the plan is for all of the club’s relievers, including Joyce, to pitch on consecutive days before the end of Spring Training.

"We’re going to do that next week with all of our relievers," Nevin said. "It might be pitch in a game and then the next day in a controlled environment, go out and throw 15-20 pitches in a Minor League game. But they will all do that. Joyce included."

Joyce said he believes he can handle regular bullpen usage and pitching on back-to-back days, especially with the way he feels after a full offseason.

"I feel like I could, for sure," Joyce said. "My body feels great. I'm recovering really well. I feel like I could right now."