Roenis Elias: Seattle’s Latest Youth Movement Gamble

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…I’m going to have a hard time concentrating today. As you can see in the byline below this article, I am a shameless pro wrestling fan — with WrestleMania XXX coming up this Sunday, I’ll do my best to prevent my subconscious from letting this turn into an endless stream of irrelevant wrasslin’ references. Let’s take a swig of beer for the workin’ man and get this show on the road, shall we?

Roenis Elias is making his first major-league start tonight, and he’s a pretty interesting guy to talk about. The 25-year-old Cuban has lively raw stuff and a decent track record in the minors over the last couple seasons, but no one went into Spring Training expecting him to crack the major-league rotation. However, with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker on the shelf to open the season, and veteran reclamation project Scott Baker pitching so poorly in March that the Mariners released him, the left-handed Elias finds himself making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues.

Before I even really get going, I’ll make the obvious observation that Seattle, as an organization, continues to push their prospects to the big leagues before they seem ready. Brandon Maurer is the first example that comes to the top of my head, because this is exactly what the Mariners did with Maurer last year. After all, like Elias, Maurer was also a largely unproven pitcher, with a fastball in the low-mid 90s and one major-league quality breaking pitch, making the jump straight to the majors from Double-A. Maurer proceeded to serve up home runs to pretty much any opposing player who happened to be wearing a jersey, and ended up back in the minors by June.

As for Elias, his calling card is a wipeout curveball that can buckle its fair share of knees. Take a look at the highlights from his last spring start:

Take particular note of the curveballs thrown to punch out Carlos Gonzalez, and later Brandon Barnes. Cargo nearly spins himself into the ground, while Barnes flails wildly as the pitch hits rock bottom. As God as my witness, that pitch broke him in half! There’s plenty to like about that curve paired with a fastball that sits 91-94 mph and can reach a bit higher.

But now look at those two particular pitches again. Specifically, check out the low arm slot he uses to deliver the pitch against Cargo, with the nasty elbow whip. The curve he uses to retire Barnes has a considerably higher arm slot. His usage of multiple arm angles (up to five, according to manager Lloyd McClendon) gives his primarily two-pitch arsenal more deception — the sweeping action of the curve thrown to Cargo compared to the tumbling action seen against Barnes, for example.

The obvious downside to this is that his delivery isn’t repeatable at present, which leads to major concerns over his command/control profile. Elias may be 25 years old, but that doesn’t mean he’s polished or mature as a pitcher — he played in Mexico for awhile after defecting from Cuba, and didn’t play affiliated ball until 2011, when he split his age-22 season between Rookie and A-ball. Add to this the fact that he doesn’t really have a third major league-ready pitch, and it sure sounds like a case of a guy who could be in way over his head.

This spring, despite a sparkling 2.38 earned run average on the surface, Elias posted an ugly 13:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22.2 innings. While it’s obviously a very small sample, it’s not altogether surprising either — his career minor-league strikeout rate sits at 8.0 K/9, with a walk rate of 3.1 BB/9. That’s not bad, but it’s unimpressive considering he hasn’t thrown a pitch above the Double-A level. He’s one of those pitchers with strikeout stuff who can’t quite harness it enough to strike lots of guys out. This spring was a microcosm of how Elias could fare in the majors; it’s much easier to be “effectively wild” in the low-minors than it is in the bigs.

Any expectations of high-level production can probably rest in peace, but while he may not break the walls down, there’s one reason I’m going to be watching him closely tonight. I hear voices in my head, and they’re telling me that Elias could be one of those guys whose raw stuff is good enough for him to get by with smoke and mirrors for a month or two, until major-league hitters figure out how to attack him. At present, there really isn’t much of a scouting report out there for Elias, and with his multiple arm angles, I could see him deceiving hitters for a while.

For fantasy players, this all boils down to one simple question: Whatcha gonna do when Roenis Elias‘ raw stuff and the Seattle Mariners’ aggressive organizational promotion strategy run wild on you, brother? If you’re a mixed-league owner, there’s no chance — no chance in hell — that you’re rostering him. But for owners in deep AL-only leagues, anyone with a rotation spot (especially in a pitcher-friendly park) is worth keeping an eye on, especially when he’s got good velocity and a wipeout curve. Elias could end up being one of those guys you ride for a couple months until the league figures him out, and while that’s not exactly stealing the show, it absolutely has value in AL-only formats. And of course, if you’re not down with that, I’ve got two words for ya…

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He is a film critic and entertainment writer for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott is also the bassist for North Meets South, and a noted pro wrestling enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.

20 Responses to “Roenis Elias: Seattle’s Latest Youth Movement Gamble”

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  1. DJ Ramgo says:

    Let’s discuss James Paxton’s ROS outlook. I sat him yesterday, fearful of getting lit by Trout and my own Albert Pujols, but his distinct over the top motion combined with his devastating location yesterday had him just racking up K’s. Is this someone who can continue to be useful? Someone who can continue that strike out pace despite an underwhelming fastball? Does he keep a spot in the rotation with Walker and Iwakuma eventually returning?

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    • Ender says:

      Underwhelming fastball? A LHP who hits 97 (he was still hitting 96 at around 100 pitches last night) is an underwhelming fastball?

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      • DJ Ramgo says:

        This is fantastic news. I did not watch the game, I read rotoworld’s stupid blurb about his stuff being underwhelming. I saw the highlight of his 6K’s in a row, and wasn’t paying attention to velocity, but I’m on board for anyone who throws 95+ and can generate whiffs. I should have just started him dammit. Oh well.

        With that said, another kid who throws hard, but who I watched and simply cannot muster up any swinging strikes with a sub par hook and a flat fastball is Cosart. Despite a 5IP shutout, I think he’s droppable in a mixed league with an innings limit.

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      • I love Paxton, I even own him in a 12-team mixer. His stuff is underwhelming in much the same way as jet airplanes are slow.

        You brought up Cosart, which is an interesting name to throw around when considering Elias. I’ve seen Cosart pitch in person more times than I can count; I’ve always seen him as either a fringe starter or elite reliever. I still think his long-term future is in the pen, as may be the case with Elias. Two-pitch fastball/curve arsenal, questionable command/control profile, etc. It’s not a bad comp.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        I thought the knock on Paxton was control problems, not stuff. He had a 10%+ walk rate throughout the minors but seems to be much better about it so far in his limited MLB action.

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    • Garry says:

      “Underwhelming fastball”? 96-98 mph fastball. He hit 98 last night. That’s the fastest FB of any LHP out there…Price, Kershaw, Leste. He was hitting on all cylinders last night. He was outright nasty! I wouldn’t sit him at all!

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  2. Funsucker says:

    @DJ Ramgo IMO, Paxton loooked very, very good. His fastball was anything but underwhelming (98 multiple times and consistently 95)…and most importantly it was down in the zone. Plenty of swings and misses, too. So good Ks, good GBs–the big question is walks. Between the call-up last year, spring training, and this start the walks have been under control.

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  3. jdking says:

    Paxton is the first player since 1967 to have 3 of his 5 first starts with 6+ innings of shut out ball. He is 4-0 dating back to last season with an ERA of 1.3ish in his MLB career to date.

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  4. Andre says:

    Re:Paxton, an example of the internet copy and paste. The ‘underwhelming’ basically refers to his lack of control/use of his offspeed pitches (change and curve). Looked like he was locating and using them last night. Any lefty starter with 95+ heat deserves a look.

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  5. cappy73 says:

    Of course, he’s not in the ESPN player pool even though he’s pitching in 10 hours. Go Bristol!

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    • Sean says:

      Elias is still not in the player pool TODAY. Yahoo’s site may look like it was designed by Helen Keller but at least they have all the players!

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      • cappy73 says:

        *weeps on ESPN baseball page*

        I would also like to take this opportunity to report that I submitted a customer service request to ESPN customer care, and they sent me an email (!) indicating he’s in the pool now, which I just confirmed. Yay me! You’re welcome!

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  6. Shawnuel says:

    Elias will, likely, be back down in Tacoma when Walker and Iwakuma get back in mid and late April. He is emergency filler, right now.

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    • Garry says:

      If Elias ends up pulling what Paxton did last night it’s gonna be interesting what Seattle does when Walker/Iwakuma return.

      More than likely for him is that he comes out surprises everyone and gets a good taste of MLB, and then he goes to AAA waiting on a chance in the wings with a pitcher going on the DL. “If” he blows everyone away in April, I would seriously consider moving Beimel and put Elias in the Pen for additional exposure and long relief.

      The ONLY major and obvious weakness on this pitching staff is Noesi, who is out of options. I can’t see Noesi on this roster by the time both Walker and Iwakuma come back. My bet is that Elias with head to AAA, and Young will replace Noesi in the BP. Another option is Young replacing Noesi, and Elias replacing Beimel with both in the Pen with a rotation of Felix/Iwakuma/Paxton/Walker/E-Ramirez. E-Ramirez “could” also go to the pen and keep Young in the rotation…depending on who’s pitching better.

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      • Jeff says:

        I would rather see Elias down and working on a third pitch. I like the rotation of Felix, Kuma, Paxton, Walker, ERam!

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  7. Satoshi Nakamoto says:

    Watched every Paxton pitch.
    He had excellent control with his fastball.
    And his curveball was giving the Angels fits.
    Fastball around 96 and a curve at 86.
    The batters had no chance.
    A few times his curve or sinker went in the dirt, but half a dozen times he located his curve in a fastball count. He has the confidence to throw it anytime.

    Question is, will he repeat his performance the 2nd time through the Angels after they watch the video?

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  8. Shawnuel says:

    I think at this point, Young is nothing but a placeholder….a 5th starter. I think Ramirez has 3rd starter upside in a good rotation. Erasmo in the rotation is a no-brainer for me.

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  9. BillTheGuy says:

    HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE analogies. Brandon Maurer was 22 last year. 22!!!! Roenis is 25. E. Ramirez is 23. Paxton is 25. Felix Hernandez is 27!!! Amount of time in the U.S. minors is meaningless. Roenis has just a much, if not more, experience in high level baseball than most, if you include his experience n Cuba. All that is being proven here is that Seattle scored a major “find” with Roenis.

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  10. mikecourtney13 says:

    I like the Jim Ross/Mick Foley/Undertaker reference that was thrown in there.

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