Seattle Mariners southpaw Roenis Elias has been one of the top rookies in baseball so far in 2014. Unheralded by most sources pre-season, he has gone 3-2, 3.50 in eight starts with a 42/20 K/BB in 46 innings. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Let's find out with Tuesday's Prospect of the Day.
Roenis Elias is a Cuban defector, signed by the Mariners as a free agent in May of 2011. He pitched 48 innings that year between rookie ball and the Midwest League, posting a combined 4.28 ERA with a 41/21 K/BB ratio. At age 23, he was quite anonymous at the time.
That began to change in 2012: he made 26 starts for High Desert in the High-A California League, posting 3.76 ERA with a 128/41 K/BB in 141 innings. Keep in mind that this was at High Desert, which is a terrible place to pitch. He caught my eye and I wrote the following in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book:
SLEEPER ALERT!! Elias is a Cuban defector signed by the Mariners in 2011. He’s received almost no attention, but he had a really nice year in the California League, not an easy thing to do when pitching for High Desert. He’s a thin lanky lefty with an average fastball, but his curveball is very good, he throws strikes, knows how to pitch, and is said to perform very well under pressure. It remains to be seen if he’s a future fifth starter, relief option, or just a minor league inning soaker, but anyone who survives High Desert with his confidence (and his statistics) intact needs to be watched closely in Double-A, whether or not he shows up on top prospect lists. Grade C but very interesting.
Elias lived up to the sleeper alert and followed up with a fine '13 campaign, posting a 3.18 ERA with a 121/50 K/BB in 130 innings for Double-A Jackson in the Southern League. And here he is in the major leagues.
A 6-1, 190 pound lefty, Elias was born August 1, 1988 in Guantanamo, Cuba. His velocity has picked up over the last two years: he hits 94 now. The curveball is quite nasty and he'll mix in a changeup. In the past he's changed his arm angles to cross hitters up, but the Mariners altered that philosophy this spring and have him using a more consistent delivery (as noted by Lookout Landing). It is hard to argue with the results so far.
So, fluke or not? I say not: I think this guy is for real, and while some rough patches are inevitable at some point, he has more than enough stuff to succeed in the big leagues. If he stays healthy and continues to command the ball well, he should have success as a mid-rotation starter.