Honeywell primed for long-awaited return

February 20th, 2021

To keep everyone safe and socially distanced this spring, the Rays are encouraging players not to linger around the clubhouse too long after their work is done. That’s easier said than done with some of their more social personalities, like Chris Archer. And when it comes to , manager Kevin Cash said, “We cannot get him out of the clubhouse when the day is over.”

But can you really blame him? After undergoing four elbow surgeries since his last game appearance in 2017, there might not be anyone in any camp more excited to soak in every second of a typical Spring Training workday -- to stretch, play catch, throw in the bullpen and participate in the often-monotonous pitchers’ fielding practice -- than Honeywell.

“Just being back around everybody is the main part, man. I'm extremely excited,” the 25-year-old pitching prospect said on a Zoom call Saturday morning from Port Charlotte, Fla. “I'm excited for this ballclub. I'm excited for myself. And I'm excited for everybody who's missed time or who missed some time last year. This is a big time for everybody.”

It’s particularly big for Honeywell, the right-hander who ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects each year from 2016-19.

The last time Honeywell pitched in a game was Sept. 3, 2017, for Triple-A Durham. He was on the verge of reaching the Majors when he tore his right ulnar collateral ligament during Spring Training, requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery in February 2018. Then came the operation to repair a broken bone in '19, a nerve decompression in May 2020 and, finally, a minor arthroscopic cleanup procedure in December.

Honeywell said he could almost immediately sense a difference in the way his arm functioned after two weeks' recovery from his most recent surgery, even in everyday actions like opening doors. As Honeywell put it, he spent a long time “not really knowing what feeling good feels like” and wondering if he’d even be able to play catch or coach kids in 10 or 15 years. Now, he’s feeling as good as he has in years.

“It’s been a while, but I can’t complain,” Honeywell said. “It’s kind of made me who I am today. I’m excited. I’m healthy. ... Everything is good. After this last one, it was a big-time help for me, and it was a big-time relief of my elbow. Everything is so-called ‘on track,’ and we’re moving in the right direction.”

That included another step forward on Friday, when Honeywell threw a “short-box” session in the bullpen, pitching from the mound to a catcher positioned on top of home plate. He said the life on his fastball is “getting there,” and overall he’s happy with the progress he’s made.

Honeywell earned a fourth Minor League option -- most players only have three -- due to all the time he missed, which means he could start the season in Triple-A without having to clear waivers. The Rays clearly still value the righty and his deep arsenal of pitches, having put him in their 60-man player pool and postseason taxi squad last year, and he should have a chance to prove what he’s capable of whenever he gets into game action this spring.

For now, Honeywell is focusing on making the most of a refreshingly normal six weeks in Spring Training before hopefully helping Tampa Bay win games during the regular season.

“I don't really have a timeline for you. I wish I did. It'd make me feel a little better,” he said. “We're kind of just moving at the beat of our own drum here, which I think is probably the best thing for me right now.”

Honeywell is past the point of tracking milestones or plotting out timetables. He’s drawing more than enough motivation at this point from his passion for the game, his desire to pitch in the Majors and the time he gets to spend with his teammates -- yes, even if it means a little bit of lingering in the clubhouse.

“I’ve got to move one day at a time,” Honeywell said. “It’s been sitting in front of me for three years, honestly. I think about it every day.

“I know what kind of pitcher I am in the long run. I know how much I love this game and how much I love my teammates and stuff like that. So that carries me throughout the day more than looking forward to pitching in the Major Leagues -- just being in the clubhouse with the guys.”