Rays top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell exited today’s workout with an arm injury that is of “potential major concern” to the team, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (all Twitter links). Per Topkin, Honeywell threw eight to 10 pitches before cursing loudly and walking off the mound with a trainer. Manager Kevin Cash tells Topkin that the early diagnosis is a forearm strain, and Honeywell is set to undergo further evaluations.
Honeywell, 22, is considered among the game’s elite minor leaguers, ranking among baseball’s top 20 or so overall prospects on virtually every major publication. The former No. 72 overall draft pick enjoyed a terrific season in Triple-A against older competition in 2017, tossing 123 2/3 innings with 11.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a 41.2 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 3.64 ERA, a 2.84 FIP and a 2.77 xFIP.
While most consider Honeywell to be ready for Major League action, or at least very close to MLB readiness, Tampa Bay wasn’t expected to break camp with Honeywell in the rotation. Rather, he figured to open the season in Triple-A — both to finish off his development and also to buy the Rays an additional year of club control by delaying his service clock, as many teams tend to do with their top young talent. The forearm issue could well delay his start to the season and, of course, could be a portent to a more severe injury.
Tampa Bay recently thinned out its rotation mix by trading Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, though they quickly replenished the lost depth by picking up Anthony Banda — another largely MLB-ready young starter — in the Steven Souza trade with the D-backs and Yankees. Any lengthy absence for Honeywell would deprive the organization of its highest-upside minor league arm, but the Rays do possess a considerably deep stock of big-league-ready starters, even if many of them are lacking in Major League experience.
[Related: Tampa Bay Rays depth chart]
The Rays are set to open the season with Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria and Nathan Eovaldi in a four-man rotation, Topkin recently reported, with Matt Andriese beginning the year as a multi-inning reliever and eventually sliding into the fifth spot in the rotation. Looming in the upper minors are Banda, Jose De Leon, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos, each of whom has had a full season of Triple-A work under his belt at this point. Both Yarbrough and Chirinos enjoyed particularly strong years in the rotation for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate last year, and each of that group is already on the 40-man roster. Righties Jose Mujica and Hunter Wood have less experience and success in the upper levels, but each is on the 40-man roster and could plausibly see MLB time in 2018.