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Rays top prospects of all-time: No. 13

After 20 years of Rays baseball, we’re counting down the top prospects in franchise history.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
Brent Honeywell is one of the most interesting, and one of the most talented, prospects in baseball
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

For one post, we’re back on the mound. We also have our second of three active prospects.

20. SS Reid Brignac
19. RHP Matt White
18. RHP Chris Archer
17. RHP Wade Davis/LHP Jake McGee
16. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
15. 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
14. SS Tim Beckham

13. RHP Brent Honeywell

Acquired: No. 72 pick by Rays (2014)

Baseball America Top-100 ranks: 30 (2016), 65 (2015)
Rays Top-30 ranks: 2 (2016), 3 (2015), 8 (2014)
League Top-20 ranks: 4 (2017 International League), 5 (2014 Appalachian League), 7 (2015 Midwest League), 7 (2016 Southern League), 9 (2015 Florida State League), 12 (2016 Florida State League)

League best tools: Best changeup (2017 International League)

So far in his career, Honeywell’s prospect peak is the No. 30 prospect in baseball. He achieved that by reaching Double A in his second full season, continuing to dominate all professional hitters he faced. In 115 13 innings, he struck out 117, walked just 25, and posted a 2.34 ERA between two levels.

That success made him the ninth-best pitching prospect in baseball at the time. It was still early in his professional career, but he was already establishing himself as a complete prospect. His Baseball America scouting report ($) noted he has three potential plus pitches and throws five pitches for strikes. That combination of stuff and control is rare.

That wasn’t always the case with Honeywell. To be honest, when he was drafted, I didn’t know anything about him. As is usually the case, the Rays knew what they were doing, and I didn’t.

What was clear about him is that he threw a screwball. Screwball! Screwball! Screwball! Screwball! Screwball!

To be clear, it wasn’t wrong to focus on Honeywell’s screwball. That’s a unique attribute. Does anyone in the majors throw a screwball? Does anyone else in the minors? When a prospect actually does something differently than everyone else, it’s fair to focus on that aspect. You can only say “this is a projectable pitcher with a promising breaking ball and feel for a changeup” so many times.

But at this point, it’s clear there’s much more to Honeywell than that screwball. In fact, according to BA’s report from this offseason ($), he only throws it a few times per game. While the pitch got him early recognition in his career, there is so much more to talk about with him than just that one pitch, however rare it is.

As a professional, he went to work quickly developing all the aspects of his game that have led us to the point where the screwball is merely a footnote in his scouting report and not the headline. In 33 23 innings in the Appalachian League, he struck out 40 and walked just six. His continued to show improving fastball velocity, and his changeup developed. Prior to the draft, it was deemed a potentially average pitch. After his pro debut, BA called it a “developing plus pitch.”

That success continued in his first full professional season in 2015. In his first 12 starts, Midwest League hitters proved to be no match for Honeywell. In 65 innings, he had a 2.91 ERA and 76 strikeouts with just 12 walks. He was promoted to the Florida State League, and after his first two starts in which he was charged with 11 earned runs in 8 13 innings, he posted a 2.21 ERA over his final 10 starts, limiting batters to a .543 OPS.

In 2017, if Honeywell wasn’t already well known, he would be by the end of the season. The organization’s pitching depth landed him back in Double A to start the season, but he wasn’t there long. After striking out 20 batters over 13 innings in his first two starts, he got a chance to move up to Triple-A Durham, where he continued to pitch well. In late June, he was named to his first Futures Game.

At that Futures Game, he was outstanding, becoming the second (Devil) Ray to win the Larry Doby Award as the game’s MVP. Catcher Toby Hall did so in 2001. He was the first pitcher to win that award since the game’s inception in 1999. In two scoreless innings, he allowed just a single and struck out four.

In an eight-start stretch that included the Futures Game, Honeywell was as good as it gets. He didn’t allow more than two runs in any of his outings, totaling 40 23 innings. His ERA was a microscopic 0.89, and he struck out 54 with just seven walks.

His great season wasn’t without controversy, however. A day after Durham clinched its division, Honeywell delivered one of the worst outings of his career. He was pulled after recording just one out, charged with two runs on two hits and three walks. He would later serve a brief suspension for “disciplinary reasons,” according to Marc Topkin.

Despite that, he finished his season on a high note. In his final regular season outing, he threw 5 13 scoreless innings. In three postseason games, including a Triple-A Championship appearance out of the bullpen, he struck out 14, walked three, and posted a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings.

Barring serious injury, Honeywell will make his major league debut in 2018. Not only is he extremely talented, he has the confidence — or swagger — that many top pitchers do. His attitude may bother opponents or rival fans, but it should be an asset as he develops into a quality major league starter.