Brent Honeywell, the Rays top pitching prospect, is undoubtedly one of the most exciting players in the organization.
His pitching repertoire includes a devastating screwball that has given him an advantage over minor league hitters, and with his recent dominance in the Arizona Fall League, it’s worth salivating over.
For those unfamiliar, allow me to introduce Brent Honeywell, his screwball, and his recent rise in the Rays farm system.
The Honeywell Hope
Brent Honeywell was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 2nd round (34th overall) of the 2014 June Amateur Draft out of Community College. Now, after skyrocketing up the Rays pipeline, he’s the Rays most prized young arm.
The right-hander dominated Double-A after a promotion last July, posting a 2.28 ERA and .231 opponent’s batting average in 59 1⁄3 IP. He also posted impressive 22.5% K- and 5.9% walk-rates.
MLB.com ranks Honeywell as Tampa Bay’s second best prospect. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report.
His velocity has steadily increased over the past few years to the point where he now operates in the mid 90s and can reach back for a few more ticks as needed, and scouts believe he could add even more velocity as he grows into his lean and athletic frame. Honeywell’s outstanding screwball represents his best secondary offering and is anything but a novelty, as he’s adept at using his advanced arsenal to set up the pitch. He also mixes in an above-average changeup and serviceable curveball.
Although Honeywell has garnered significant national attention because of his screwball, it’s important to understand that it’s not just a goofy gimmick he uses to throw off hitters. It has become an important part of his four-pitch arsenal, which also includes a 97mph fastball, making for one of the deadliest two-pitch combos in all of Minor League Baseball.
Still, the narrative will remain all about the pitch no one else seems able to throw.
According to Ted Berg of “For The Win”, the term “screwball” is used far more often to describe a player’s odd personality than it is in its original definition, which connotes a logic-defying breaking ball that moves toward a pitcher’s arm side — sort of a reverse curveball.
For his part, Honeywell encapsulates both descriptions, known behind the scenes to have a goofy and adventurous personality, but he also has a humble side.
In this interview with Neil Solondz, Honeywell speaks with deference to his coaching and life experiences, and visually demonstrates exactly how he throws his signature pitch:
In the video, Honeywell details the exact workouts he goes through to maintain his ability to throw the odd and difficult pitch.
As Solondz notes in the interview, there are few pitchers throughout Major League and Minor League baseball that can effectively throw the screwball today.
As you can see, it's not a changeup with heavy tail, or a forkball -- it's literally a curveball in reverse.
Now, there’s a reason why the screwball isn’t popular: It’s difficult to execute, it can cause arm issues, and it can cause command issues.
For example, Twins LHP Hector Santiago came up to the majors as mainly a fastball/screwball guy, then pretty much dropped it completely over the next few years because of the command issues it brought with it.
Santiago has completely abandoned the screwball from his arsenal, throwing just one over the past two seasons.
Whether or not Honeywell will be able to continue his usage of the pitch will be determined by how effective it is on major league hitters, and whether he can maintain a healthy arm while throwing it.
Honeywell missed time during the minor league season with an elbow injury, but was able to rest for two months and return to form alongside a mid-year promotion.
Carrying over success
Honeywell’s masterful 2016 minor league showing earned him Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors, and after the breakout campaign, the Rays gave him an opportunity to continue his success by sending him to the Arizona Fall League to gain a full season’s workload against even more advanced hitters.
Sure enough, Honeywell continued to make batters look silly, dropping the screwball into the dirt against top prospects such as Franklin Barretto (A’s #1 prospect) and Anthony Alford (Toronto’s #3 prospect).
Overall, Honeywell displayed great command for the Peoria Javelinas, striking out 14 while walking four in 15 innings, holding opponents to a .204 batting average.
Named the starter in the Arizona “Fall-Star” Game, he would strike out five of the six batters he faced:
MLB.com’s 39th ranked prospect will head into the offseason trying to stay cautious with lofty expectations.
"I'm looking forward to going to big league camp, I'm assuming," he said. "I probably shouldn't assume stuff like that, but it's one of those things that hopefully I can contribute to the big league club sometime next year." - MiLB.com
The screwballer will likely start the 2017 campaign in Double-A, but if he continues to accelerate at a high rate in the minors, we could see him on a major league mound as soon as September.
Until then his reputation will precede him, particularly now that the national media has caught on to not only his screwball, but his full arsenal of controllable pitches and quality arm strength.
Still, several don’t believe a screwball pitcher can be successful in the majors, as noted by mlb.com’s Chris Landers in his profile of Honeywell:
There remain plenty of screwball skeptics – it has developed a reputation for producing arm injuries. Others, like Buster Posey, are skeptical because they’ve never seen it used effectively in the MLB. and Buster Posey even claimed that the pitch didn't exist back in 2014.
Honeywell's response back in 2015: "Just give me a couple of years."
It’s about time those couple years were up.