In scouting, it’s a rare occurrence that we get to see something we haven’t seen before. Then again, it’s also a rare occurrence to see a pitcher throwing a legitimate screwball, and throwing it well.
Such was the case last week in my first look at Rays right-hander Brent Honeywell, whose reputation for the aforementioned screwball preceded him. A scout prepped me before the game: “it’s really [redacted] good” he warned. With my interest already piqued, I began to wonder, how do we know? How many screwballs do we actually see?
I know what fastball command looks like because I can compare any pitcher’s ability to hit the mitt to the ability of countless other pitchers I’ve seen, even with the accompanying variables of age, level, etc. I know what the break looks like on a plus curveball versus an above-average or average one. But I have little context of what a good screwball looks like, let alone a “[redacted] good” one.
So before the game, I made a mental checklist of what I’d be looking for in said pitch based on the characteristics of any good off-speed pitch. No matter the designation, any breaking ball or changeup (and a screwball is essentially a hybrid of the two) must have certain qualities.
For any pitch, command is the most important. For any breaking pitch, movement is a close second, with the size of the break falling just below its sharpness on the priority scale. A big breaking ball that has both big break and sharp movements is the ideal scenario, but such pitches are rare. For everyone else, a pitch with a short, sharp break will generally be more effective than a large, slow break. Expecting that it would be difficult to throw a screwball (which breaks the opposite direction of a curveball – to the pitcher’s arm side) with a huge break would be difficult, I entered Honeywell’s outing prepared to grade out the pitch based on his command of it and it’s crispness.
Check and check.
The pitch met all the qualifications I was looking for in a plus off-speed pitch. Its movement was sharp and late and he hit his spots with it consistently. It had a definitive shape that differed from his changeup (which had more of a downward/split-change type movement), instead running away from left-handed hitters while also featuring some diving action. Lastly, he threw it with the exact same arm action and release point as his fastball, and at 77-80 mph, it had plenty of differential from his fastball to create additional deception.
Honeywell’s overall arsenal isn’t particularly dynamic, but it’s enough to make him a highly effective starter, especially in the low minors, and project future success within a big league rotation. His fastball sat in the 90-93 mph range with good command but inconsistent movement. The pitch plays up at present because of his ability to command it to both sides of the plate, but he doesn’t have premium velocity. With his ability to throw not just a ton of strikes, but quality ones, it should be an above-average pitch.
His curveball gives him a chance for a third above-average offering. Coming in at 73-74 mph, it features 12-6 movement and good bite. It’s not a huge breaker, but it has some sharpness to it and he commands it well for his present age and level. It will be a usable pitch at the major league level with the potential for more.
Lastly, the aforementioned changeup. It’s a good pitch when he keeps it down in the strike zone, though it can be quite hittable when left up. It’s mostly used as a weapon to right-handed hitters (unlike most changeups, which are actually better against opposite handed hitters), but it could be a fourth above-average offering when it’s all said and done.
With good clean mechanics and arm action, there’s no reason to believe that his pitches can’t come close to their individual ceilings, if not reach them completely. The overall arsenal isn’t the most potent among pitching prospects, but a collection of four potential above-average pitches, with one being a unique plus offering, should make for a quality mid-rotation starter.