Terry Doyle, the 29 year old veteran in Double-A with the Baltimore Orioles, has never made an appearance in the Major Leagues. He has played for ten different teams in four different organizations. He's played in four countries. This is his eighth season competing in baseball professionally. For many players in his situation, this would be about the time to start thinking about hanging up their cleats. But Doyle is taking a different approach. In fact, he is having the best season of his life.
Looking back over his career, we can see a certain pattern in his development as a player. High hopes, followed by periods of low achievement. But yet he keeps going, in a way that seems to defy the odds. In a 2012 interview on the blog The Baseball Historian, Doyle himself admitted, "I don't have anything that makes me stand out." When asked why he hadn't advanced further, Doyle said, "The way I feel anyways is that after a game hitters are asking themselves 'how come I didn't hit that pitch better?' To me, it doesn't matter why the hitters miss a pitch, but scouts are trying to predict success at the next level. . .It's difficult to predict success at the next level when my 'stuff' is defying the odds at every level I play at."
Consistently, Doyle's career has been defined by obstacles and disappointments. But it has also been defined by an unusual amount of perseverance and a certain ability to excel below the radar.
Terry Doyle went to Salem High School where he helped bring the Blue Devils to the New Hampshire State Championships. He then decided to go to Boston College. performing reasonably well in his freshman and sophomore years. He had a great summer in the Cape Cod League, where he won the BFC Whitehouse Outstanding Pitcher Award. He had a 2.89 ERA and finished second in the league with 52 strikeouts. Others who have won this award include Chris Sale and Andrew Miller. He seemed on course to be drafted in the second or third round.
Despite this success just months earlier, in his junior year Doyle struggled, mostly due to severe dermatitis. According to the Birmingham News, Doyle had a bad case of eczema on his middle and index fingers, making it difficult for him to throw his breaking balls effectively. He tried many remedies, and even slept wearing a glove. By the time the eczema finally cleared up, it was too late to salvage his season. Doyle finished 2007 with a 5.87 ERA and his K/BB walk ratio fell to 1.57, a full point behind his mark in his sophomore season. He was drafted in the 21st round by the Dodgers, but opted not to sign to try and improve his draft stock.
In his senior season, he struggled even more, and there were reports of mechanical issues that caused his fastball to lose velocity. He was drafted in the 37th round by the Chicago White Sox. They took a chance on him, as although he had a horrendous year, his strikeout numbers were still good, with 73 strikeouts in 75 innings. He was assigned to Bristol and did well as a reliever there, his strikeout numbers still high, averaging over a strikeout an inning.
Doyle has an underwhelming fastball, averaging around 90 MPH with little to no life. He also throws a two-seam fastball in the high 80's. But it is not his fastball that got him drafted. He has good control of all his pitches and can induce weak contact. He has a solid curveball, and an average slider and change-up. Nothing stands out, but he is a workhorse.
In the 2009 season, Doyle was assigned to the Great Falls Voyagers, another team in Rookie ball. He did well enough there in 57 and a third innings, with an immense 11.77 K/9 and 2.59 FIP. He seemed to overmatch hitters in Rookie ball, possibly because he was a little over two years older then the average player in the Pioneer League.
In 2010, Doyle went to the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Chicago White Sox's Low-A team. He performed extremely well, to the tune of a 0.96 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 47 innings. Although this was mostly thanks to an insanely high LOB% at 94.5%(the average is around 72%), it was still a little bit of a breakout for Doyle and he was promoted to Winston-Salem. He had a solid season, but against better competition, his K/9's went down significantly, to only 7.34 per nine. In Low-A his strikeouts per nine innings was at 11.11.
Doyle stayed in Winston-Salem to start off the 2011 season and had another solid start to the season, although the downward trend of his strikeouts continued, now at only 49 strikeouts in 73 innings. Still, his steady ascent continued, as in late May he was promoted to Double-A. He did well enough for the Barons and the Chicago White Sox decided to send the 25 year old to the Arizona Fall League.
By now Doyle was working as a substitute teacher in Warwick, Rhode Island, where he and his family lived. Although the episode with dermatitis on his hand was unfortunate, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he was able to obtain his degree in math. This allowed him to teach algebra and precalculus in high schools as a substitute teacher in the off-season.
But this off-season, he was assigned to a good Mesa Solar Sox, where he played with 2015 all-stars such as Gerrit Cole, Brock Holt, Brian Dozier and DJ LeMahieu. Surprisingly, Terry Doyle was arguably the best player on the team. He was 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.62 WHIP. In truth, he vastly outperformed his peripherals and was incredibly lucky, with a 5.37 FIP, a 97% LOB% and a .127 opponents BABIP. Many thought that Doyle was ready for an opportunity and the Minnesota Twins agreed, taking him second overall in the Rule 5 Draft.
This was finally his big opportunity. Doyle came into spring training, as a 26 year old rookie. Many saw him as a backend starter, including John Sickels. After the Rule 5 Draft, John Sickels reported, "He could end up being a useful fifth starter, and Minnesota seems like a good fit for his skills." But in what was starting to become a pattern, he tanked in spring training, letting in 10 runs in only 5 and a third innings. He was given back to the Chicago White Sox and resumed his steady climb in the White Sox organization, now in Charlotte.
He was having another good year, when out of the blue he decided to sign with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, a professional team in Japan's top league. As noted on New Hampshire.com, Doyle said that the Hawks would pay him 480,000 dollars a year, much more than in the minor leagues. Doyle left for Japan, seemingly off to pursue a career there, and giving up on the dream to make it to the show, at least for the near future. But after only three starts, in the offseason Doyle left Japan to return to the minor leagues. He couldn't give up on that dream.
Doyle signed then with the Boston Red Sox in 2013, returning to New England, with a spring training invite. He performed well enough in Spring Training, with a 3.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 14 innings. Even doing well, he was assigned to Portland, where he struggled. Despite this, the Red Sox promoted him to the Pawtucket Red Sox. He struggled even more there, and was granted free agency. He had a short stint in the Mexican Winter League and then went back to Rhode Island to teach.
In 2014, Doyle signed with the team that started it all, the White Sox. By now, he was 28 years old and this was his seventh season in the minor leagues, never to make an appearance in the Major Leagues. He didn't get a spring training invite and started his season with Birmingham. He had another rough start, his strikeouts declining still more and his ERA at 5.93.
He was released by the White Sox in mid-May and was signed by the Braves to a minor league contract a few weeks later. He spent a short time in Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A. He did well for the Gwinnett Braves, but at the end of the year was granted free agency again.
At this point things did not look good. No teams were interested in him, and many players would have started wondering if it might be time to move on. But Doyle went to Venezuela and did well in the winter league. He had a 3.86 ERA, but his last few starts were impressive and the Baltimore Orioles offered him a minor league contract. He signed.
Doyle came into the year with no expectations. He had struggled the last few years and he knew it. In an article about him, Doyle said that in previous years he wanted to pitch so well that the organization had to promote him. Doyle noted that "this year, it's kind of just go out and pitch and see what happens." He was assigned to the Bowie Baysox and started the year as a reliever. He was viewed as organizational depth. He was a reliever at first, and struggled. When some starters were called up to the Triple-A team, Doyle took their place. Doyle, for the first time, had no expectations, and maybe because of this, exploded.
He made a spot start on May 10th, taking over for Dylan Bundy. He pitched four scoreless innings and got the win. He has been in the rotation ever since. In Doyle's last ten starts, he is 9-0 with a 1.31 ERA. His strikeouts have increased a little bit, but not noticeably. His FIP is relatively close to his ERA, his LOB% is average, his BABIP is consistent with his career average and his HR/9 haven't lowered.
So what has really changed? It's his walk rate. Previously in the upper minors, his walk rate was about 2.75 BB/9. This year, it's 1.04 BB/9. Why? In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Doyle said, when asked what had changed, that "I don't really know what the difference is other than I'm throwing more strikes and walking fewer people then I have in the past." Gary Kendall, Bowie's manager, told the media, in the same article, that "Any time he goes to the mound he's going to keep you in the ballgame and give you a chance to win." Kendall also said, for a Mid-Atlantic Sports Network article, that Doyle was helping teach the younger guys on the team and that he always worked hard.
Terry Doyle has played for ten different teams in four different organizations. He's played in four countries. This is his eighth season competing in baseball professionally. He is the epitome of perseverance. He has never given up, no matter what. He has been released, cut from spring training twice, and in all his time never made an appearance in the Major Leagues. For the first time ever he made the All-Star team in the Double-A Eastern League. Terry Doyle, the 29 year old phenom. I'm rooting for you.