From 5-foot-5 to 105.5: Joyce

Former FHS standout grows, sets college baseball mph pitch record

When Farragut High School baseball head coach Matt Buckner first encountered Ben Joyce, little did he imagine he was looking at a kid who might be a Major League pitcher.

Making national news a few years after his playing days as a Farragut Admiral, Joyce became a college baseball record-breaking relief pitcher for a Tennessee Vols team ranked No. 1 in the nation for a majority of the 2022 season.

Even less did Buckner know that on May 1 against Auburn in UT’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Joyce threw the fastest recorded pitch in the history of college baseball — 105.5 mph — the second fastest in the history of the game, including the Major Leagues.

“Actually, I didn’t know until after (the game) …,” Joyce said about his 105.5 mph record while helping the Vols win the game, and the series, versus Auburn. “It’s crazy to think about afterwards. I tried not to think about it during the game.”

“I met them (Joyce and his twin brother, Zach Joyce) when they were in middle school,” Buckner said. “Really, really hard-working kids. Really, really small when they were young.”

However, “They really weren’t all that good when they were young,” the Admirals coach added with a laugh. “And then they grew a ton, and by the time they were seniors they were really good on the mound.”

Joyce added another record on a huge stage late last week.

Though the Vols’ season came to an end Sunday, June 12, in the Super Regionals at home versus Notre Dame, in the first game Friday night, June 10, Joyce pitched three-and-a-third innings in relief, giving up just two hits and no runs.

In so doing, he threw 29 pitches clocked at 101 mph or faster. No pitcher in baseball history has ever done that.

For the season, Joyce threw 32.1 innings (2-1 record), compiling a 2.23 earned-run average (eight earned runs) with 53 strikeouts and just 14 walks and 18 hits allowed.

Growth, then Walters State

As for needing to grow, when Joyce entered FHS as a freshman in 2014, he was, to put it mildly, not an imposing prospect.

He stood 5-feet-5 and weighed 100 pounds.

But by the time Joyce graduated in 2018, he stood more than 6 feet tall. He’s currently 6-foot-5.

Joyce played mostly his junior and senior years in high school because of some injuries.

“Senior year he pitched a good bit … did a good job,” Buckner said.

However, “He wasn’t, like, your high-level prospect that was going to an SEC school,” he added. “He went to Walters State (Community College). There he emerged as a prospect to go to Tennessee.”

According to Buckner, his velocity started to approach triple digits at Walters State.

After two years at WSCC, Joyce transferred to UT but missed all of his first season there because of an injury requiring Tommy John surgery.

Major League chances

Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello believes Joyce’s ability to throw the high heat gives him a good chance to make a Major League roster.

“I don’t want to tell scouts how to do their job, but I hope whoever drafts Ben will give him an opportunity to be a starter,” Vitello said May 14. “I think he can do it.”

Buckner said of Joyce’s likelihood to be a successful pro, “Hardest thrower in the history of college baseball, so I’d say pretty good.”