Red Sox 25 in 25: Roenis Elias

Sep 28, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias (29) throws against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias (29) throws against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at lefthanded starter Roenis Elias.

The first thing you should know about Roenis Elias is the pronunciation of his name, it is Ro-N-iss e-LEE-us, his first name rhyming with the power hitting former Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The second thing is that while he was featured at the recent Red Sox Winter Weekend as a member, presumably of  the big league club, that is not necessarily going to be his role for the entire season. This is one of the things to discuss in today’s 25 in 25 on Elias.

Red Sox fans haven’t heard much about the 27 year old Elias since he had been a member for the Seattle Mariners organization for his entire professional career through last season. Elias was born in Cuba and pitched there  for two years with not much success. During his age 19 and 20 seasons for Guantanamo, his home town, he posted a 7.37 ERA over 94 innings and 39 games (18 starts). In 2010, Elias defected from Cuba, signing with Seattle on May 3, 2011. Elias moved steadily up the minor league ladder despite ordinary numbers. His best season was at AA in 2013, posting a 3.18 ERA in 130 innings (22 starts).

In 2014, Elias made the Mariners’ major league club out of Spring Training and spent the year in the bigs, posting a 10-12 record with a 3.85 ERA (95 ERA+, where 100 is league average) with a 1.31 WHIP and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2015, Elias started the season in the minors, then made another trip there for another six weeks later in the season. His 2015 numbers were slightly worse than 2014, 5-8, 4.14 ERA in 115.1 innings in the majors in 22 games (20 starts) with similar WHIP and strikeout numbers to his first season.  Elias made his lone start vs. Boston, on May 14, 2015, allowing one run (on a solo homer)  on eight hits over 6.1 inning in a no-decision that was won by Boston, 2-1.

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On December 7, 2015, Elias was traded along with righthanded reliever Carson Smith to the Red Sox for lefty starter Wade Miley and righty reliever Jonathan Aro. While Smith and his 2.07 career ERA in relief was the focus of that deal, Elias potential contribution should not be discounted. Both pitchers are under team control until 2021, so this gives the Red Sox great flexibility in how to use them, because of  the  minor league options for both. While Elias has been primarily a starter in his professional career (65 of 72 career games in the minors, 49 of 51 in the majors), the team could opt to convert Elias to a reliever, where his fastball could become harder in short stints.

Elias is a four pitch pitcher, tossing a low 90s four seam fastball, curve,  mid-80s change and occasional sinker. The curveball is his best pitch, using it effectively to wipe out batters with its sweeping arc. He has traditional lefty splits, allowing just a .635 OPS to lefties in 259 plate appearances (PA) and just four career home runs (one every 64.75 PA) vs. a .744 OPS to righties in 924 PA and 27 homers (one every 36 PA).

Elias is in the mix for the fifth rotation spot with over a year and a half starting at the major league level. Considering the Mariners had Elias, who was two years away from arbitration, they must have thought very highly of Miley (career ERA+ of 101) to give up such a higher cost alternative ($15.1 million over two years) vs. Elias (career ERA+ of 95) who will make just over $1 million over the next two seasons.. While this article is about Elias, the trade that brought him over to Boston should be considered a great one for the Red Sox at this point, unless Aro (6.59 major league ERA in 10.1 innings) blossoms into a reliever similar to Smith (2.07 career ERA).  The Mariners apparently did not look at Elias as a reliable option behind Felix Hernandez, despite Elias’ league average numbers and durability (168.2 IP in 2014 and 176.2 IP in 2015) over his professional career.

Despite Elias ugly numbers at AAA, 6.78 ERA in 66.1 innings, he has shown the ability to do the job at the majors. If the Red Sox get in a roster crunch, Elias has one minor league option left, so he could be making the shuttle to AAA Pawtucket this season.  A team never has too much pitching, so Elias’ roster flexibility is a great advantage for the Red Sox.

Next: Red Sox invite Allen Craig to Spring Training

Stay tuned to as we finish our 25 in 25 series and ramp up to the start of Spring Training, right around the corner.