On Sunday April, 11th Brent Honeywell Jr. finally made his Major League Debut. While Honeywell has been well-known in baseball circles for a while, his status as a prospect has taken a significant hit over recent years due to a string of injuries. Before this season, Honeywell had been sidelined over 1,300 days since his last competitive appearance during the 2017 Triple-A playoffs due to four arm-related surgeries. Despite the fact he was optioned back down to the alternate site shortly after his debut as expected, Honeywell was recalled by the Rays on April 20th and is set to be the Rays opener on Saturday, April 24th.
During his debut on April 11th, Honeywell was impressive despite this extended absence and what appeared to be slightly diminished fastball velocity from his peak prospect days. He pitched 2 perfect innings against the Yankees lineup and was able to strikeout 2 in the process.
I’ve been one of the bigger Brent Honeywell Jr. fans since I first saw him pitch for the Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods in the Midwest League back in 2015. One of the things that made Honeywell stand out from others back then was his screwball. This is quite a rare pitch nowadays and during his debut April 11th, Honeywell threw the first pitch classified as a screwball in Major League Baseball since 2018. While Honeywell technically threw the first pitch classified as one since 2018, I have had my issues with the pitch classification system used by Major League Baseball in the past and it seems very likely some more have been thrown in that time period (looking at you Devin Williams). Either way, as a result of it being such a rare offering, many are not as familiar with screwballs as they are with other offerings.
The easiest way to describe a screwball is as a curveball with opposite horizontal movement and Honeywell himself has described it as a “reverse curveball”. Despite this being the pitch he is most known for, he doesn’t throw it very often. In fact, out of his 48 pitches in the Major Leagues so far, only one has been classified as such.
At first glance, the pitch might appear very similar to a change-up in terms of movement. Also, the grip Honeywell uses for the pitch is also very close to the grip of a circle-change.
As Eno Sarris mentions in that tweet, Honeywell throws another offering with arm-side movement. This pitch is a more traditional change-up, but visually it is easy to see the similarities to the screwball. These pitches are so similar to one another that the Rays broadcast crew and many on Twitter were confused by what this particular pitch actually was.
Despite the clear similarities of these pitches, there are some differences that can be used to correctly distinguish between them. As was true back in the day when I first saw Honeywell, the first clear difference is in the velocities of the pitches. While the screwball Honeywell threw during his debut was 82.3 MPH, the change-up typically comes in a little faster and averaged 85 MPH during his first Major League outing.
The second difference is in the spin rates of the pitches. The screwball thrown by Honeywell during his debut on April 11th had a spin rate of around 2,000 RPM’s, while his change-up averaged closer to 1500 RPM’s. The pitches do spin at slightly different axes, but what really makes the screwball stand out is the pronation of the hand/arm at release. The pronation used while throwing this pitch has been known to lead to arm issues, which may help explain why Honeywell has struggled to stay healthy during his professional career. While we don’t have access to public spin efficiency data for any of Honeywell’s screwballs yet, the arm pronation used by Honeywell contributes to the more distinguishable vertical movement the screwball features compared to his change-up despite the similar grips.
Using BaseballCloud’s BallR technology, we can see an approximation of what his screwball looks like as it travels towards home.
Also using BallR, we can look at his change-up to see how it differs from the screwball.
In addition to the change-up and screwball, Honeywell also showed a 92-95 MPH four-seam fastball with solid life and a cutter in the upper 80’s that looks like another potential solid offering for him. This cutter features a spin efficiency of around 40% and the pitch plays well of the change-up/screwball.
Despite him being optioned back down shortly after his Major League debut, the Rays clearly saw enough to call him back up to the Majors a little more than a week later. While no one is denying the fact he has massive injury risk at this point, he showed he ability to locate all of his offerings in his first appearance. A lot of the talent that led to him being such a highly thought of prospect a couple of years ago now is definitely still there.
Despite his second appearance not being as impressive as his first, it has still been very nice to see him finally reach the Major League level. Hopefully he is able to stay healthy so that we can see more of him and his unique arsenal in the Major Leagues in the near future.