In light of Joe Kelly’s exit from tonight’s game versus the Rays in only the first inning (Kelly faced 4 batters and got 2 outs), I figured it may be a good idea to take a look at what the Red Sox have for rotation depth in the minors on their 40-man roster. Even if Kelly returns for his next start, it is far from a guarantee that the team will go a full 162-games without needing another rotation fill in at some point. As of right now, the team currently has three lefties at the AAA level who are all expected to contribute in the majors at some point this season: Roenis Elias, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson.
Roenis Elias, acquired from the Mariners along with RHP Carson Smith in the deal that sent LHP Wade Miley and RHP Jonathan Aro to Seattle, is likely to be the first name called upon if innings are needed in the majors. In fact, it would be of no surprise to me if the Red Sox call-up Elias after tonight’s game, sending Heath Hembree back to the Pawtucket. Elias has pitched in 51 major league games in his career (49 starts), amounting to 279.0 IP, a 3.97 ERA, 240 SO and 108 BB. This season, he has a 3.86 ERA in 2 starts for the Paw Sox to go along with 9 SO and 7 BB in 9.1 IP. While Elias doesn’t bring anything exciting to the table, he does provide an option with a good amount of experience as an MLB starter.
Brian Johnson made one start for the Red Sox last season (allowing 4 runs in 4.1 IP) before being shut down in September. When healthy, however, Johnson has a 2.33 ERA in 339.2 IP in the minors. He also has a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 IP (2 starts) at AAA this season. While Johnson does not have the upside of a prospect like Henry Owens, he does have a higher floor, and projects to be a reliable source of innings at the back end of a rotation. If the Red Sox are not yet comfortable inserting Owens into the rotation, then Johnson would be a great option.
Last, we have the aforementioned Henry Owens, who entered both 2014 and 2015 as the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox’s system according to multiple sources (such as MLB.com’s prospect rankings). Owens has pitched to a 3.22 ERA in 536 minor league innings, including 595 Ks (9.99 K/9). Pitching at a height of 6’6″, Owens has the size and and downward plain to be an above average MLB starting pitcher. However, with his number 2-3 starter potential, comes a lower floor, as Owens’ size makes it a bit harder for him to repeat his delivery, thus leading to some control problems. It should be noted that in 11 starts for Boston in 2015, Owens went 4-4 with a 4.57 ERA and 50 Ks in 63 IP. While Owens is the pitcher that I would most like to see in the Red Sox rotation moving forward, it is most likely that the team would call on Elias if just a spot start or innings out of the bullpen are needed. Should Kelly, or any other starter for that matter, miss an extended period of time however, then Henry Owens or Brian Johnson could very well get the call.
*Statistics from RedSox.com, Official Site of the Boston Red Sox