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Carlos Estévez's long journey to majors could lead to the closer role for Angels

Carlos Estévez's long journey to majors could lead to the closer role for Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. — 

Carlos Estévez once tried out for a single major league organization 17 times over a two-month span.

In the two years before he signed with the Colorado Rockies organization at age 18 out of the Dominican Republic, he had tried out at least 150 times for various teams.

“It is what it is. We’re here now. We’re good,” he said with a smile.

Estévez, 30, is entering his seventh season in the big leagues. He has come a long way since those tryout days. Last season with the Rockies, he pitched 57 innings over 62 games, striking out 54, walking 23 and giving up 22 earned runs.

The Angels signed Estévez as a free agent in December, wanting to add to the strength of their bullpen. Estévez can throw 100 mph. Some of his best tools are a power changeup and a hard slider.

The Rockies used him to close games a few times, and manager Bud Black said last year that Estévez was someone who could have been their primary closer in years past if they didn’t already have their set closers.

The Angels don’t have a designated closer, after they sent Raisel Iglesias to the Atlanta Braves at last year’s trade deadline. Estévez is someone manager Phil Nevin is evaluating for the bullpen, at closer or otherwise.

Estévez’s influence on the younger players in the clubhouse has been his biggest source of praise early in spring training.

“Everything about him just screams leader,” Angels pitching coach Matt Wise said of Estévez. “The bullpen unit, there always will be someone that everyone kind of gravitates towards. … And ‘Los has been there, he’s done it, we love his stuff, but his personality and his leadership skills are off the charts.”

Carlos Estévez could serve as the Angels' closer in 2023.

Carlos Estévez could serve as the Angels’ closer in 2023.

(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Take, for example, Estévez’s main throwing partner at camp, José Marte, a young pitcher still trying to become a solid big leaguer. Marte, who is also Dominican, said he did not know Estévez previously but that he has been a positive influence for him this spring.

“I get more confident when I play catch with him,” Marte said in Spanish. “He tells me I have good stuff … don’t be afraid, just throw straight.

“It surprises me because a person with so many years in the business like him, trying to help a new player make it in the big leagues, says a lot about how good of a person he is.”

When he was a younger player, Estévez crisscrossed the country for three years developing himself as a pitcher after getting promoted from the Dominican Summer League. He had played in at least one small baseball town or city in almost every state in the U.S.

Grand Junction, Colo. The Tri-Cities of Washington. Modesto. Asheville, N.C.. New Britain, Conn. The cities around the Arizona Fall League. And those were just the home bases of the Rockies’ affiliates for whom he played.

He remembers the bus rides that lasted 18 hours.

And the towns that had different turns of phrase than the English he learned — Estévez attended high school for one year in West Virginia and already spoke English when he was promoted to rookie ball in 2013 in Grand Junction. He remembers Grand Junction fondly, a place where he lived with a host family because he couldn’t afford to rent an apartment.

And the years he didn’t see his parents because they both worked back in the Dominican Republic and it was difficult for them to make it.

“We’re all humans,” Estévez said. “It’s just humbling going from the Dominican Republic, staying in a complex with another 65 kids … going to Grand Junction and having a host family.

“That helped me a lot and showed me that there’s a lot of caring people out there helping kids. If I can do it too and help someone else, I’m gonna do it. It’s humbling, amazing what you have to go through to get to the big leagues.”

As for what he wants for this new chapter of his career with the Angels, he said he’s content with where he is in his career.

“If I don’t get the closer job, that’s fine. I’m still gonna contribute,” he said. “I’m not gonna put my head down. If they want me, I’ll do it. If not, I can help them somewhere else.”

Angels fall to Giants

The Angels lost 8-6 to the San Francisco Giants on Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Luis Rengifo hit a two-run home run in the second inning, scoring Jared Walsh, who reached on a double.

Patrick Sandoval pitched two innings, surrendering just one hit. Estévez, using the pitch clock in a game for the first time, faced four batters, giving up a hit and walking two. All three runs against him were earned.