Strong AFL Season Leaves Estevez’s Future With Rockies Looking Bright


Feature Photo: Carlos Estevez, RHP, Rockies 

Carlos Estevez was signed by the Colorado Rockies out of the Dominican Republic as a non-drafted free agent at age 18 in 2011.  That’s a bit older than what we’re used to seeing with top international free agents, who typically sign at 16 years old.  The late start, and an unspectacular first few seasons in the Rockies organization, had Estevez somewhat under the radar with scouts, despite his great stuff.  Estevez was still pitching in rookie ball in his age 20 season, and he didn’t get his first taste of full season ball until he turned 21.  In that season, Estevez posted a 4.73 ERA but had some promising peripherals, including a 3.36 FIP and walk rate of just 4.9%.

That isn’t the background you expect from a high-level prospect, but Estevez had great physical projection, including an ideal 6’4″ frame.  That height gives him good natural downward plane – to go along with mid-90s velocity – and a curveball, plus a developing slider and changeup.  The curve was his primary secondary pitch early in his career, but this past season he has gone with a slider, which the Rockies feel has greater long-term potential.

In 2015, however, the then 22-year-old Estevez had something of a breakout season, increasing his K rate from 22% to just under 35% at High A Modesto and then continued pitching well after a promotion to Double-A New Britain in mid-May.  The walk rate stayed low at 5.7%, and while Estevez’ 4.50 ERA was rather pedestrian, his FIP of 2.44 was consistent with what he posted prior to his promotion (2.00).

Even coming off that promising season, Estevez wasn’t a pitcher I had at the top of my prospect list as the AFL season started, but I always try to keep an open mind.  I leave room to be surprised, and for me, Estevez was one of the more pleasant surprises of the AFL this year. In fact, he was the best reliever I saw in the league.

That Estevez threw hard was something I knew going in, but a wise baseball man once told me that you shouldn’t just focus on the radar gun, but also how hitters react to him at the plate.  They’ll give you a clue as to just how effective that velocity plays in games.

Make no mistake. Carlos Estevez can light up a radar gun.  He hit 95 to 97 with regularity and touched as high as 98.  Though there were pitchers with higher readings, Estevez had one of the best fastballs I observed in Arizona, and a couple of key attributes set it apart.

Carlos Estevez

Carlos Estevez, RHP, Rockies (Photo by John Arguello)

The first was a delivery that made him a bit more difficult for hitters to pick up.  He turns his lead shoulder in slightly, and brings his knee up high, helping him hide the ball early in his delivery (see photo).  He then dips the back shoulder a bit, creating good leverage that, along with his high arm slot and 6’4″ height, helps create excellent downward plane toward the plate.  I saw more late and/or feeble swings on Estevez’s fastball than from any other reliever.  His delivery leaves hitters suddenly finding the ball bearing down on them – in a hurry.  And even when hitters did put the bat on the ball, that hard plane created a lot of weak contact.

The second thing that added to the effectiveness of Estevez’s fastball is that he showed good command early in the count.  It isn’t a simple delivery, but the athletic Estevez repeated it well.  He jumped out in front of hitters often, enabling him at times to put them away with an occasional hard slider.  The slider can at least be a major league-average offering, but given how good his fastball is, and how well he can set the slider up, he only needs to command it consistently for the pitch to be a solid complement to that plus fastball. It’s possible the Rockies sent him to Arizona in part to work on that slider. As of right now, the pitch figures to offer more of a change of pace – perhaps a pitch that he can get hitters to chase when he gets ahead in the count. It is that fastball, however, that will be Estevez’s ticket to big leagues.

As Estevez’s control numbers would suggest (6 walks in 11 1/3 AFL innings) there is still some inconsistency with his command.  If that improves, then Estevez profiles as a late inning high-leverage reliever at the MLB level, possibly as a closer.  How soon that will be depends as much on the Rockies long-term plans as it does Estevez’s development.

Estevez could start the season back in Double-A, but his solid AFL season may give him a shot to start at Triple-A Albuquerque out of camp.  Either way he has a pretty clear path to the majors, and getting him some extra innings this fall may also have been for the purpose of speeding up his timetable.  The Rockies employed John Axford as their closer last year, but Axford has since signed with the Athletics.  Heading into the 2016 season, the Rockies have signed potential veteran stopgap closers Jason Motte and Chad Qualls, but neither is a long-term solution.  In the short term they will buy Estevez some time to fine tune his mechanics and command in the minors, and then allow him to ease into a high leverage role at the MLB level, if not at some point this season, then certainly by 2017.