Saturday, February 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays prospect Brent Honeywell shines at All-Star Futures Game

MIAMI — Brent Honeywell has felt he was ready for the big leagues since the day the Rays drafted him in 2014, so it was hardly shocking when he made it clear early Sunday afternoon that his rapid rise through the system and to Triple-A Durham this year has only increased that already robust confidence.

"Am I a finished product? No," Honeywell said. "Could I get finished while in the big leagues? Yeah, I'd figure it out."

Nor was it surprising that he went out and showed off, zipping through a dazzling first two innings of the All-Star Futures Game, showcasing his broad arsenal — including one dastardly screwball — in striking out four of the game's elite hitting prospects and earning game MVP honors and a small place in Cooperstown.

"That's actually the coolest thing I've ever done," he said.

For now, anyway.

Honeywell, at some point — though not soon enough for him — will be the next great arm for the Rays, arriving with an intriguing mix of immense talent and confidence, packaged with long hair, baseball lineage (cousins with eccentric longtime big-leaguer Mike Marshall) and a country twang, plus the accompanying novelty of the now rarity, the screwball.

Word among the Rays is that the 22-year-old right-hander has to learn a few things (including being more open to suggestions) and make further refinements, standard stuff like fastball command, consistency in his delivery, strength/stamina to work deeper effectively. He already made one big adjustments after a few rough starts at Durham, moving — after watching video of Nationals star Stephen Strasburg — from the first base side to the middle of the rubber.

But also, once he gets it figured out, the potential for greatness is indeed legit.

"It's all there," Rays senior vice president Chaim Bloom said, "for Brent to be an upper-echelon big-league starter."

Rays infielder Brad Miller saw that for himself last week while with Durham on a rehab assignment.

"Honey is a stud," Miller said. "He's filthy. He fills up the zone, and he doesn't have just one pitch. He's nasty. …

"And that plays. He's going to be a major-leaguer for a long time, and he's not going to be satisfied with being an average major-leaguer."

That much is obvious, from the time and effort Honeywell puts in (like coming over to watch the big-leaguers throw before and after his spring minor-league workouts) to the high standard he sets for himself to the words that come out of his mouth.

On the majors being in sight now that he's at Triple A:

"I've felt close for two years. I think that's the biggest thing with me and everybody else, I feel close all the time."

On how much talented young starting pitching the Rays have:

"The only thing is now when do I fit in. … I want to fit in as soon as possible."

On the improvement he has made this season:

"I make the pitches I made in my last start, I'm getting everybody out at any level."

That bravado could be off-putting, but it doesn't seem that way coming from Honeywell. Maybe that's because he delivers it with such sincerity and a dose of southern charm. Or maybe just because he is good enough to back it up.

Excited to be picked for the Futures Game with a so-so 8-7, 4.54 record at Durham — though with a minors-high 119 strikeouts at two levels — Honeywell was even more thrilled to get the start and turned it into a showcase that ended with his cap going to the Hall of Fame.

He unveiled his full repertoire, a fastball that hit 97 mph, curve, slider, changeup and that screwball that — coming in to right-handers like a curve from a lefty — froze Dodgers prospect Alex Verdugo, who was still shaking his head afterward, saying he saw it coming and still couldn't do anything about it.

Honeywell typically throws only a handful of screwballs a game, using the changeup as his best and most effective weapon. Sunday, he threw the one to strike out Verdugo and decided that was enough.

"Probably couldn't throw it any better than that on TV," he said.

Honeywell had already gotten messages from a couple of the Rays, who he figured tuned in after their win over the Red Sox, and he hoped some of the bosses were watching, too.

Besides the cool trophy, he had another takeaway for the day.

"One step closer," he said. "I think that's the main thing, that it's one step closer to the big leagues."

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