We’ve been waiting for Brent Honeywell to get his chance for years and after multiple injuries holding him back, the Rays finally gave him the call to start against the Yankees. Well, open, as we anticipated just two or three frames as Michael Wacha was set to follow, in modern-Rays fashion.
After boasting low walk rates and flashy strikeout and SwStr numbers in the minors through 2017, we had zero data across the last four years. We’ve heard legends of his screwball and solid fastball command and I was excited to see the full arsenal on display in Tropicana field.
Here’s what I saw from Brent Honeywell’s MLB debut across 14 GIFs.
Brent Honeywell’s first pitch in the majors was a fastball up-and-in to DJ LeMahieu and…it was fine:
I’m not one to judge a pitcher from just one pitch, but I feel like I should note that it didn’t give that air of excitement. The electricity, a je ne sais quoi. It was just a plain ole fastball that missed.
After pumping a heater for a strike, Honeywell gave us a first look at his premier breaking ball – an 87 mph slider that missed down-and-away:
That’s a fine looking breaker! Sure, it could have been spotted a little better to induce a swing, but I can see it missing bats down the road and push up his strikeout rate. Obviously, I need to see him actually do that and express that command, but that movement certainly suggests it. By the way, Savant is calling this a cutter, I’m leaning slider. Tomato, tomato, you know?
At 2-1, instead of going back to the heater, Honeywell dipped into the pot and showed us his much-discussed “screwball”:
It’s a changeup. Look at the slow-motion and notice how he’s not turning his index finger forward like a reverse-curveball, but instead falling off to the left in a ton of pronation, not unlike Devin Williams or Luis Castillo when they feature their elite changeups. Regardless of its title, it’s a solid pitch and one I imagine Honeywell will trust plenty.
I should mention, that’s three different pitches across his first four thrown. I mentioned in the intro that Honeywell isn’t expected to go deep in this one – likely two frames or so – which means we should be expecting a bit of aggression with regards to revealing everything he has. (For the record, I’m in favor of throwing everything early all the time – Zac Gallen explains it by “thinking like a closer” in the first inning – but it’s not typical.)
At 2-2, he went back to the changeup and DJ gave a ride, but it came down in right-field for Honeywell’s first out in the bigs. Welcome Honeywell, it’s been a long journey.
Aaron Judge followed and saw a solid 95 mph heater on the outside edge:
That’s a solid heater, well spotted, and earned an out. It’s good to see it 95 mph and his simple straight-forward mechanics does speak to decent overall command. Hopefully this is a skill we can rely on from Honeywell.
Aaron Hicks saw a 95 mph at the top of the zone for strike one, a changeup away that Hicks failed to bunt fare, and then we saw this:
Huh. This one was at 82 mph while the other changeups were 85/86 and if there’s one pitch that has the profile of a “screwball” it’s this one, with more vertical break in coming in slower. Savant has it labeled as one too, but the release doesn’t quite look like that reverse curveball. It is interesting to see that distinct velocity change – if it is the same pitch. The movement…it’s fine. Looked like a changeup, really.
And there you go, Honeywell’s first inning in the majors. I’m curious to see more of that slider – is that a strikeout pitch? – and I’m a little indifferent to the “screwball” as it feels like a decent changeup instead of a magical difference-maker. We’ll see how it looks in the second.
Leading off was Giancarlo Stanton and this was a fascinating at-bat. Each pitch made me feel different things and I can’t help but break down each one.
Honeywell started the at-bat with a 95mph heater that tailed inside:
Look at that life! He got a bit on the side of this one, causing the horizontal ride, but I didn’t think he had this in him. It’s likely not something to rely on and honestly, I’m not sure I’d want him to have it, but it certainly shocked me seeing that aggressive action inside.
To get back into the count, Honeywell did a wonderful thing:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Every successful pitch needs a secondary pitch they can confidently throw for a strike. This was the second slider I’ve seen from Honeywell and it made me smile watching him confidently feature it at 0-1 to land in the zone and climb back into the count. Also, the fun overlay GIF that could be made from the last two pitches would get plenty of retweets, I’m sure.
Now back to 1-1, Honeywell returned to the fastball:
It’s just at 92 mph and that’s…okay I guess. I love the location and it did return a “whiff” (foul tips are whiffs), but seeing 92 mph makes me wonder if he can hold 94/95 through a proper start.
Regardless, it’s 1-2 now and I’m wondering if he’s going to go righty-righty changeup again, like he did with DJ:
Sure enough, there it is and it nearly got Stanton. It likely gets most at that is flat-out filthy. I take back what I said in the first about it being a typical changeup, there’s clearly more to this pitch. Keep in mind, it remains to be seen if it’s volatile or if Honeywell can do this the majority of the time. It’s lovely, though.
At 2-2 he went back to it again:
I think this wasn’t supposed to be a strike – hoping for another whiff – and it just managed to stay up long enough to get the punchout, something Stanton likely wasn’t expecting. I like the confidence to try again with the pitch and this is wonderful execution, keeping it down. Exciting stuff!
After disposing of Stanton, Honeywell tugged a slider against Gleyber Torres. Awww, that’s 1/3 so far and I’m hoping its command is better than the ultra-small sample.
Two fastballs followed, one well above the zone and the other:
That’s a fastball right where Torres was looking 2-0 and he earned a whiff on it. That’s a pair of whiffs on high fastballs and I wonder if his fastball has the spin to continue earning whiffs up in the zone. These swings from Stanton and Torres are certainly suggesting this as an approach we’ll see often with success (he’s also a Ray, after all).
At 2-1, I’m wondering if he’ll try another slider to sneak in another strike. Nope, it was the changeup once again:
I dig this. It’s becoming clear that it’s Changeup > Slider for Honeywell and when he needs a strike, it’s the slow ball. So far he’s kept it down and kept the Yankees at bay and this could be a Lucas Giolito type approach moving forward.
At 2-2 he missed the outside edge with a fastball at 94 mph and with the old rule in mind – “If you throw it 2-2, you’re going to throw it 3-2” – Honeywell went back to the…well and threw a 93 mph fastball:
It’s not a great pitch. Sure, the location is right on the corner, but it’s not what he intended and it doesn’t seem overpowering. My eyes could be blind to the results, though, as it did earn the sword from Torres and returned Honeywell’s second strikeout in a row.
Two away in the second and Rougned Odor makes his first appearance as a Yankee by popping out from a fantastic Honeywell changeup:
Look at that, attacking with a fantastic changeup down-and-away and it returned a quick out. A perfect way to end Honeywell’s MLB debut.
I liked what I saw as Honeywell went 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 Hits, 0 BBs, 2 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 38% CSW, 21 pitches. His “screwball” changeup showcased itself as his premier offering by the second and he had great feel for it down, without a single mistake on it. He only featured his slider three times, going 1/3 on execution, though it stuck glove-side and showed the potential of a strong strike-earning offering across a larger sample. I’m curious to see more of his fastball, though, as he seemed to have decent command of it and it may turn into a pitch that can constantly have success up in the zone. It didn’t seduce me as other heaters we’ve seen, but this can certainly work with that changeup.
It may take some time before Honeywell is allowed to be treated as more than just an opener for the Rays, and I hope they continue to stretch him out with each game until he gets to the point of tossing five frames with consistency. He has the tools to be a solid arm right when he gets the chance, it’s just a matter of when that will be.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)