The Brent Honeywell Buzz
There isn’t a more intriguing pitching prospect in fantasy baseball than Brent Honeywell. Undrafted out of high school, he attended Walters State Community College in Tennessee, where his fastball velocity skyrocketed into the mid-90’s. As a result, so did his draft stock.
Armed with a fastball that sits in the 91-94 mph range, Honeywell can crank it up to 97 at times. What separates him from every other pitching prospect in baseball is that his best off-speed pitch is a screwball. Yes, you read that right, a screwball. We didn’t know it at the time, but the Tampa Bay Rays may have gotten the biggest steal of the entire 2014 MLB Draft when they selected Honeywell with the 72nd overall pick.
Prospect values can change drastically in a short period of time. Prime examples of this phenomenon would be the meteoric rises of Mookie Betts or Dalton Pompey from last season or Jose Fernandez from the low minors all the way to The Show the year prior. If we were to re-draft last years class right now, southpaw Carlos Rodon and catcher Kyle Schwarber would be the first two players off the board, not Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, who went first and second overall, respectively, back in June.
Prospect values change. Outside of Rodon and Schwarber, whose otherworldly professional debuts, and close proximity to the big leagues, have put them head and shoulders above the rest of the class, the pitcher who has generated more excitement, and seen his stock rise more than any other prospect from last year’s draft class is Honeywell, without question.
The screwball makes Honeywell an enigma, one that minor league hitters can’t seem to figure out. Honeywell defined his screwball to MiLB.com in a recent interview as “a left-handed curveball out od a right-handed arm slot,” which he used to flat-out dominate the Appalachian League in his professional debut last summer, posting a stellar 1.07 ERA with 40 strikeouts (10.7 K/9) and just six walks (1.6 BB/9) in 33 innings.
Nobody throws a screwball because nobody teaches it anymore. However there are a pair of notable exceptions. One of them is Honeywell’s father (also named Brent), who learned the pitch during his time in the minor leagues from a guy named Mike Marshall.
Yes, that Mike Marshall. He was the “one guy who scared the living hell” out of the Cincinnati Reds, wrote Joe Posnanski in “The Machine”. A screwball purveyor himself, Marshall won the National League Cy Young award in 1974, setting a Major League record with 106 appearances as a reliever. He pitching in 66 of 97 games before the All-Star break that year, earning the nickname “Iron Mike.”
“Pitchers have given it up,” Angels coach Don Baylor told the New York Times. “Coaches don’t even talk about it. It’s not in the equation.”
According to the same New York Times piece, which ran last summer, Fernando Valenzuela was essentially the last prominent starting pitcher to feature a screwball in his arsenal.
For a long period of time, nobody was teaching pitchers in the minors (or at the high school or collegiate level either) how to throw a screwball because it was commonly believed that the pitch would eventually hurt your arm. If Honeywell becomes an instant sensation, and has success at the Major League level with the pitch, you can bet that the screwball will make a comeback.
According FanGraphs, in the PITCHf/x era, which began in 2007, only four pitchers in the last 15 years have even thrown a screwball. Hector Santiago and Alfredo Simon are the lone major leaguers who still throw the pitch, and each used it less than one percent of the time last year. To put it in perspective, there are more knuckleballers in baseball than pitchers who know how to throw a screwball.
Honeywell doesn’t just throw a screwball; it’s his best off-speed pitch. It perfectly complements his mix of a fastball, curveball, and changeup. He also isn’t impressed by the one Santiago reportedly throws either.
“There was a New York Times story saying that somebody else (Santiago) threw a screwball in the big leagues,” said Honeywell to MiLB.com’s Jake Seiner. “No. Sorry dude. That’s not one.”
“That looks like my changeup,” Honeywell continued. “It’s a good pitch. It’s a great pitch. I’m not cutting him down or nothing. It’s a great changeup. But it’s not a screwball.”
Honeywell’s poignant comments in the piece are emblematic of the “confidence” and “swagger” that prospect evaluators rave about constantly in their write-ups. Craig Goldstein and Ben Carsley of Baseball Prospecuts defined Honeywell earlier this offseason as having “more swagger than me standing in front of the fridge in the middle of the night.” If you’ve ever heard that dynamic duo talk about sandwiches, you know that’s some serious swag.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Rays rotation is in shambles at the moment. Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Alex Colome are all starting the season on the disabled list. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi headline the front of the rotation, but they are going to have to rely on a combination of Nate Karns, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford to fill out the rest of it. Yikes.
Honeywell’s odds of reaching the Majors anytime soon, as a starter at least, are extremely low, but I wouldn’t you rule it out completely if somehow the Rays were in the middle of a wild-card race late in the season. Like Kevin Garnett once said, “anything is possible.” Realistically, Honeywell is at least two years away, but by this time next year, he might be the best pitching prospect in the entire organization, depending on how you feel about Burch Smith, who missed most of last season in San Diego due to injury.
It’s hard not to get excited about a guy who throws a screwball and carries himself with more confidence than Ron Swanson in your local hardware store. It’s only a matter of time before Honeywell’s prospect stock rises to the point that he’s no longer a value in dynasty formats. The clock is ticking.
If “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect”, I’m going to throw caution to the wind, and gamble on a guy like Honeywell, who is so unlike every other pitching prospect in baseball and has a legitimate shot to make it to Tampa Bay within the next two years. If no current Major League hitters have ever even seen a screwball, what are the odds they can hit it right away? Once the screwball buzz hits the mainstream fantasy community, it will be too late to invest in Honeywell. The time is now to go after him in all dynasty formats. I’m all in.