PORT CHARLOTTE — It might have seemed that things couldn't get worse for the Rays after an opening week of spring training that included the dumping of two veterans to harshly negative reviews, including from their own players; to the trade of the team MVP that sent fans into an uproar; to a snippy exchange between two of their prominent pitchers that got national play.
But that only got them to Thursday, which might have yielded the worst news yet.
Top prospect Brent Honeywell injured his prized right arm throwing live batting practice, diagnosed initially with a right forearm strain amid concern the injury could be significant, the worst-case scenario a ligament tear that requires Tommy John surgery.
"A lot of fingers crossed," general manager Erik Neander said.
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Honeywell, 22, was facing his second batter of the session when he clearly felt something wrong after delivering a fastball on his seventh pitch, throwing his glove down and cursing loudly twice. He was quickly checked by assistant athletic trainer Mike Sandoval, then walked off the mound and to the clubhouse.
The Rays said he would be further evaluated by their trainers and doctors, with an MRI exam — which would show if there was a tear — likely. Honeywell left the complex and was not made available for comment.
"Knowing how much of a competitor Brent is, for him to react the way the way he reacted it is a little concerning," said top starter Chris Archer, who was watching from behind the mound. "We don't know what's going on right now, but there's no way he's walking off the mound the first time he can throw to big-league hitters in his life.
"Hopefully it's nothing serious, maybe take a little time to get right. We don't know anything. But definitely concerning knowing how much he cares and how much he was looking for that opportunity to demonstrate what he's displayed in the minors at the major-league level. And he was looking sharp."
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Honeywell is ranked among the top starting pitching prospects in the game, going 12-8, 3.64 at Triple-A Durham last year while winning MVP honors at the All-Star Futures Game. While not projected to make the Rays' opening-day roster for business (read: service time) and baseball reasons, he was expected to be promoted during the season and launch what many — including the supremely confident Honeywell himself — expected to be a solid career.
"Obviously it's unfortunate," manager Kevin Cash said. "I think his talent kind of speaks for itself, what he's done here in the last two years. … It's frustrating, whether he's going to miss a week or a month or whatever it is. … Any time you lose a guy, especially a pitcher to an arm injury, it stinks."
Honeywell had thrown five pitches to catcher Jesus Sucre in what was his first live batting practice, and first chance to face big-league hitters, and then was hurt on his second to Wilson Ramos, a fastball.
Anthony Banda — who pitched eight games for the Diamondbacks last season and was Arizona's No. 2 prospect — was the centerpiece of the Steven Souza Jr. deal, where the Rays are concerned. #Rays @TB_Times @TBTimes_Rays #Diamondbacks @anthony_banda3 https://t.co/H8wIQ2bYbN— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 22, 2018
Lefty Jonny Venters, a veteran of 3½ Tommy John surgeries, was watching from behind home plate and acknowledged that from how Honeywell reacted it looked bad.
"It is what it is; the MRI and tests will show what's going on in there," he said. "Hopefully, maybe, it's something else. I've seen it go both ways, seen guys have that reaction and it not be that big of a deal … just miss a little bit of time and get back out there."
The Rays said they didn't have a timetable for when Honeywell would be further evaluated. If it is worst-case scenario requiring Tommy John surgery, Honeywell would miss all of this season and much of 2019.
"There are times where something like this can happen and once you get your opinions from your medical people and everything, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief," Neander said. "And there are other times when that's not the case."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays