PORT CHARLOTTE — Standing in the Rays clubhouse, Brent Honeywell Jr. pulled his sweatshirt up enough for you to see the scar on the inside of his right elbow, his pitching arm.
Friday, the opening of the Rays’ spring training schedule, also was an anniversary. It marked one year to the day since the deliciously confident Honeywell and his can’t-miss future threw his very first live batting practice at spring training. He made about 10 pitches. Then he threw a fastball as if he was trying to throw 10 fastballs at once. Something blew. Honeywell let out a scream and a curse. His 2018 was done.
“I knew right then I wasn’t making the team,” Honeywell said. “If I could have gotten through that one, no telling what would have happened. I think I would have made the team last year. I don’t think they would have had a choice. That was my intention. That’s my intention every time I step on a field.”
Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament wiped out a season that seemed destined to include 6-2, 195-pound Honeywell’s major league debut and the beginning of his ascension to being Rays Cy Young winner Blake Snell’s wing man. Instead, no mid-90s fastballs, no breaking balls, no screwballs, no nothing, just a year on the shelf. It gnawed at Honeywell.
“Not to take a shot at anyone else, but the missing piece that I saw was they needed an extra guy, an extra starter,” he said. “I was hurt. They won 90 games, they played really well the last month and the month before. If this didn’t happen, if this didn’t happen at all, hopefully I’d have been helping them win a hundred games.”
That’s tall talk coming from someone who has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. But Honeywell, who turns 24 next month, is still rated one of the Rays’ top prospects, also one of the top prospects in baseball, even after the injury, which taught him there’s no rushing back. Boy, he hated that.
“You can’t not be patient with something like this,” Honeywell said. “But, no, I’m not a patient guy.”
The Rays insist that they have seen some patience from Honeywell.
“Brent has worked very hard,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s chomping at the bit to play, to get on the field, but I think we’ve seen a more mature mindset. For him to say ‘these guys know more than I do, they’ve experienced this,’ shows that he’s come a long way with the injury.”
The plan is to keep Honeywell in Port Charlotte when the Rays break for the regular season. He currently throws every Tuesday and Friday. He’ll build up his endurance, get up to four or five innings, then head to Triple-A Durham and see what happens.
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“If he’s healthy, if he gets his feet under him, he’s a traditional starter,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said.
“I’m not trying to get there for myself,” Honeywell said. “I don’t play this game for myself. I play it because we’ve got a clubhouse full of guys who want to win a championship. One day, hopefully one day I wrap a gold jacket around myself. I want to win a Cy Young. I want to do that.”
Honeywell began playing baseball when he was 3. He could become the second player from his high school in Royston, Ga., to make the majors. The other: Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
Honeywell’s father, Brent Sr., pitched three seasons in the Pirates organization. While playing for St. Leo University, senior learned the screwball from the St. Leo coach, former screwball closer Mike Marshall. He passed it on to his son, who says he has the game in his blood. He’d like to manage someday.
“If someone doesn’t take pride in what they do, it’s a problem,” Honeywell said. “It’s my pride, man. This is all I wanted to do growing up. I didn’t want to be a fireman. I didn’t want to be a police officer. That stuff’s hard. This isn’t hard. This stuff is easy.”
It can’t be any easier than Snell made it look during his Cy Young season.
“The biggest thing with that guy is it’s just power on power,” Honeywell said. “There is no art to it. He’s just blowing it by you. He’s better than you. There it is. It’s simple. This game is not complicated. That’s how guys stand out. I want to be the guy who stands out amongst everybody else.”
Honeywell is driven, consumed. It can be annoying, or misunderstood, as he says it was after his back and forth with then Rays veteran ace Chis Archer last spring. The gist from Honeywell’s end: You do your job and I’ll do mine.
“Half of what you read was me and Archer supposedly getting ticked off and fighting with each other, which wasn’t like that,” Honeywell said. “It wasn’t a throw down. I spoke first. He spoke second. It got all twisted around. Me and Archer are good friends. I’ve got no problem with the dude. I wish he was still on the team.”
Snell, for one, says he’ll love it when Honeywell joins the Rays, whenever that is, and brings his confidence.
“It’s healthy for him,” Snell said. “That’s what keeps his motor going, that’s what makes him believe in himself. I played with him in Triple-A about a month and a half. He was my favorite guy by far. We’d go at in the clubhouse, not arguing, just pushing each other.”
Snell added, “This is just the start. That man’s a beast. I’m telling you, he’s going to come up and make some noise. He’s a guy with confidence. That’s what you need. You can’t be like ‘Oh, hopefully I get my shot.’”
This is the portion of the column where Brent Honeywell Jr. talks about the last year being humbling.
“Humbling? Why? I was angry. You want to humble me? Beat me.”
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly