Screwball-throwing Honeywell prefers low profile
For 30 minutes in the late afternoon of July 9, Brent Honeywell was the biggest thing in orbit around baseball. The Durham Bulls right-hander struck out four in two innings in the All-Star Futures Game in Miami, but it was not just the result that captured imaginations, it was the allure of his pitch.
Honeywell featured the almost mythological pitch of yesteryear, the screwball, and it befuddled ascendant stars on the World team. The Internet buzzed over the country boy from Carnesville, Ga., who struck out New York Mets No. 1 prospect Amed Rosario, Toronto Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and then-Chicago Cubs No. 1 prospect Eloy Jimenez.
Rosario, who has since been called up to the big leagues, swung over the 79-mph screwball, a slow curve from a right-hander into a right-hander. The ball just disappeared from Rosario’s sight and underneath his bat.
It was a party for Honeywell with a Gatorade shower and the MVP award ... and then it was over. He was back to business.
The 22-year old with five pitches — “five fingers, five pitches,” he says — refused to be a sensation past that day.
He said he kept his nose out of social media and did not want that fling with glory to go too far.
“I got one job to do, and that’s to get to the big leagues, and I’m not going to get to the big leagues thinking about what people think I did in the Futures Game,” said the Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect, according to MLB.com.
Honeywell (11-7) is on a magnificent seven-week roll but first he had to overcome a three-game downturn in starts on June 19, June 24, and June 29 during which he gave up 12 earned runs in 13 2⁄3 innings.
“I wasn’t locating the fastball very good at that time,” Honeywell said. “That was probably the worst time in my career throwing fastballs. I wasn’t throwing the pitch off the next one. I just wasn’t making good pitches at all.”
In eight starts since then, Hon- eywell has given up eight earned runs in 44 2⁄3 innings (1.62 ERA). Through his Aug. 19 start, Honeywell was tied for the International League strikeout lead (147).
“Once I kind of busted out of the slump, it was night and day,” he said. “I was locked in. It’s never fun getting hit. It’s never fun watching guys run around bases. I told myself I had to figure out something, do something.”
There are a couple of notables about Honeywell’s run. One, it is steamy in August, but he looks strong. Beware the pitcher who looks strong in the dog days, he said.
“You train for this time, you train in the offseason for this time,” Honeywell said. “You train not to have a breakdown. I can physically handle whatever they want to throw at me. This is where you see the really, really good guys stand out. You’ve got to stand out this time. Those are the guys you have to keep an eye on.”
Two, Honeywell is in a groove with those five pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup and that screwball. He throws only about 25 warm-up pitches before a game, and he leaves the bullpen with a feel of what he has and doesn’t have that night.
Honeywell says his best pitch is his changeup because it is a faster version of the screwball, a reverse action. The former has the required 10-mph difference in speed between a fastball (94) and changeup (84), and the screwball has a bend to the right at 79 mph.
Honeywell is from Franklin County, Ga., home of Ty Cobb. Is Franklin County about to have another major leaguer in September? Perhaps, but don’t tell Honeywell. He’s too busy trying to get there.
“I was about as close as you can cry without crying.” — Minnesota Twins pitcher Aaron Slegers, after pitching 61⁄ innings and giving up two runs in his major 3 league debut Aug. 18. Slegers was 13-4 for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings before his debut.
“I got one job to do, and that’s to get to the big leagues,” says Rays prospect Brent Honeywell, who garnered attention for his screwball and his success against elite hitting prospects at the All-Star Futures Game.