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Perrotto: It’s All in the Family for Brent Honeywell Jr.



Brent Honeywell Jr., Pittsburgh Pirates

It seems meant to be that Brent Honeywell Jr. has made his way to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

The 28-year-old right-hander is in major-league spring training as a non-roster invitee after signing a minor-league contract two days before camp opened in Bradenton, Fla. Working out at Pirate City and LECOM Park has been a trip down memory lane – even if the memories have been handed down.

Honeywell’s father was a left-handed pitcher who spent three seasons in the Pirates’ farm system from 1988-90. Brent Sr. continues to stay in touch with minor-league teammates like Butch Schlopy and Bobby Underwood.

Though his father never got past the High-A level, the impact of those three seasons is still being felt by Brent Jr.

“I see the stuff we wear, and I know my dad wore it, and he gave me a lot of knowledge over the years that came from here when he played and I’m so thankful for that,” Honeywell said recently in Bradenton. “It means a lot for me to be here.

“My grandparents will be down to watch me pitch this spring with him. It’s really going to be fun to see the three generations of Honeywells here in Bradenton at spring training with the Pirates.”

It would be an even better spring for Honeywell if he could make the major-league club.

“Following in my dad’s footsteps is kind of the theme for me this spring but I’d like to change that theme by pitching well,” he said.

Honeywell was considered one of the top prospects in baseball while coming up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ farm system. He was the winning pitcher and named MVP of the 2017 All-Star Future Game in San Diego. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the sport’s 11th-best prospect the following year going into spring training.

However, injuries derailed Honeywell’s career, starting when he heard his elbow pop while throwing batting practice in the Rays’ spring training camp in 2018. He sustained a torn ulnar collateral ligament, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the season.

A year later, while rehabbing in extended spring training, Honeywell fractured the inside of his right elbow while throwing a pitch. He underwent a decompression procedure on his right ulnar nerve which consisted of moving the nerve to a location where scar tissue and inflammation no longer irritated the area, creating a more fluent movement around the elbow.

Honeywell had to sit out a second consecutive season.

Things finally seemed to be on the upswing for Honeywell in 2021. He made his major-league debut by pitching three times for the Rays.

The Rays traded Honeywell to the Oakland Athletics at the end of that season and he was injured again, sustaining a stress reaction in his elbow. While the series of elbow injuries would have been enough to make many pitchers quit, Honeywell said retirement was never an option.

“Baseball,” Honeywell said when asked what kept him going during the dark times. “I had my dad, my brother, my mom, my family. There were a lot of people who were in my corner that were there, and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. If anything, all the rehab and everything I went through, only made my love of the game stronger.”

Honeywell stayed off the injured list last year for the first time since 2017. He made 40 relief appearances combined in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox, going 2-4 with a 4.82 ERA.

“Health isn’t a question anymore,” Honyewell said. “This might be as ready as I’ve ever been for a season. I feel like I’m in great shape.”

The bullpen figures to be one of the Pirates’ strengths this season, led by closer David Bednar and including left-handers Aroldis Chapman and Ryan Borucki and right-handers Colin Holderman and Carmen Mlodzinski.

However, what sets Honeywell apart from the other pitchers competing for relief jobs is that he throws a screwball, a pitch rarely seen anymore in baseball. Honeywell learned the pitch from his uncle, the late Mike Marshall, who pitched in the majors for 14 years from 1967-81 and holds the MLB single-season record for games pitched with 106 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974.

“He’s right in the heart of this competition for our bullpen,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Honeywell. “And the screwball is a different look. That’s something that we talked about, in terms of building a really successful bullpen, is we’ve got to have guys with different looks.”

Honeywell is going to give it his best shot this spring.

“Baseball is different in my family compared to pretty much anyone else’s,” Honeywell said. “We move to the beat of baseball. I feel so fortunate to be in baseball. I respect the game and am happy to be part of this organization and am happy for the opportunity that they are giving me.”

Anyone with a sentimental bone in their body – and I have many — would certainly be happy to see Honeywell capitalize on the opportunity.

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