6. Ezequiel Tovar (466 points, 20 ballots)
Ezequiel Tovar was arguably had the biggest breakout prospect in the system in 2021, going from a fringe PuRP in the preseason to the number six Purple Row Prospect in a year. The 6-foot, 162-pound Venezuelan shortstop, who signed for $800k back in 2017, will be 20 for most of the 2022 season and is playing in Double-A as a 40-man roster player.
It’s not completely surprising, as Tovar has a very high prospect floor with shortstop defense that has repeatedly gotten him lauded as the best defensive player in the system. That defense was a big reason why Tovar was a regular at shortstop in Short Season-A ball in 2019 at the age of 17, producing an 80 wRC+ against players 3-4 years older than him. Tovar was stuck in the U.S. during the pandemic, so he remained at the Rockies complex and added much needed strength with the aim of helping his offensive profile.
Assigned to Low-A Fresno to begin 2021, where he was only 2.1 years younger than average, Tovar put that new strength to use. In 326 plate appearances with Fresno, Tovar hit .309/.346/.510 with 11 home runs and 35 extra base hits while swiping 21 bags in 25 attempts, good for a 119 wRC+. Tovar didn’t walk much (4% of the time) but he didn’t strike out much either (12%).
The Rockies promoted Tovar in early July to High-A, where he was almost four years younger than league average again. Tovar’s offense was a below average .239/.266/.396 in Spokane over 143 plate appearances (74 wRC+), though he did add 13 extra-base hits including four homers. Again, Tovar didn’t walk much (2%) but neither were the strikeouts a big problem (13%).
Across the two levels, Tovar served as the shortstop with excellent range, though he did commit 15 errors across 96 games at the position. Tovar finished the year in the Arizona Fall League, where against top prospects who were 3.7 years older on average he struggled to a .161/.219/.287 line in 96 plate appearances in 25 games (mostly at short).
Despite the anemic AFL batting line, the Rockies had seen enough and rewarded Tovar with a 40-man roster spot in the fall. After a big league spring training where he went 11-for-20 with three homers, two doubles, and two steals, Tovar was assigned to Double-A Hartford. In his first three games there, Tovar is 5-for-12 at the level with three doubles, a homer, and three walks (matching his entire High-A amount already) — a very strong start to 2022 indeed.
Here’s some video of Tovar hitting from multiple angles during Fall 2021:
In the report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranked Tovar 4th in the system in January as a 45 FV player:
Tovar is a no-doubt shortstop with balletic defensive footwork and a well-calibrated internal clock, which helps his arm to play at short ... Tovar is on the 40-man roster, and even though he’s only 20 and still lacks typical big league physicality, he may be in line for 2022 reps unless Colorado adds a middle infielder or two ahead of him.
Plus bat control headlines Tovar’s one-dimensional offensive skill set. He moves the bat head all over the place and can square up pitches outside the strike zone, which he tends to offer at too frequently. It’s a skill set in the low-end regular/high-end utility man area, akin to a righty-hitting Nicky Lopez. How much will Coors inflate Tovar’s output? If Raimel Tapia (another contact-only sort) is any indication, not a ton. Premium contact hitters like this have a chance to out-produce their raw power in games via quality and consistency of contact, but we’re expecting Tovar’s pop to mature to the point of mere viability rather than allowing for that type of outcome.
The evaluation includes plus (60) future grades on Tovar’s Hit and Field tools.
Tovar is ranked 6th in the system by MLB Pipeline as a 50 FV player:
There is absolutely no question that Tovar could play defensively in the big leagues right now. He’s the best defender in the system, showing an ease of operation in his actions at the premium position. He makes the routine and the flashy plays consistently, with outstanding actions, footwork and a plus arm he saves for only when he needs it. He’s shown he can seamlessly move over to second base, if needed, but he has Gold Glove potential at short.
Just 20 for most of the 2022 season, Tovar continues to add strength to his frame and that showed up in an improved ability to drive the ball at all stops. He still needs to refine his aggressive approach, and he did chase pitches out of the zone more in High-A and the AFL, but he also was very young for those levels. He’s now on the 40-man roster and has the chance to be the Rockies’ everyday shortstop for a long time once he’s ready.
As you would expect by reading that description, Tovar’s profile is headlined by plus grades on his arm (60) and fielding ability (70). The offensive profile (50 hit, 45 power, 50 run) is less enticing but still indicates future MLB regular potential.
Baseball Prospectus listed Tovar 3rd as a 55 OFP player in their November system evaluation:
Plus bat control drives the offensive profile, but increased physicality combined with easy bat speed gives him a chance to hit 15-20 home runs if he can slightly rein in the free-swinging nature of his approach. He’s a plus runner and the athleticism plays in the infield; with fluid actions, soft hands and a plus arm that enable him to fit comfortably at shortstop.
Tovar’s raw feel for contact and defense at a premium position give him a relatively high floor, and there’s all star potential if he can continue to tap into his newfound raw power.
In fact, Tovar just missed BP’s Top 101 — here’s Brandon Williams on Tovar in January:
Listed at 6-foot and 162-pounds, Tovar generates surprising power via twitchy athleticism from his relatively slight frame, producing 48 extra-base hits, including 15 home runs last season. He utilizes the whole field with a compact swing and exceptional hand-eye coordination, limiting his strikeout rate to 12%. Tovar’s exceptional instincts and feel for the game are apparent in his performance at shortstop, where he displays above-average mobility and a terrific glove. His high baseball IQ also allows him to excel on the basepaths, where he stole 24 bases in 30 attempts. Improving his four percent walk rate would be beneficial, but Tovar should continue to develop into a dynamic two-way shortstop who hits in the top of the order. His astute knowledge of the game should expedite his path to the big leagues, possibly making his debut as soon as late 2022 or 2023.
Beyond that BP praise, Tovar was just named as one of the ten players BP is excited to see in 2022.
Tovar is a plus defender at short with at least plus bat control and he got to high-A last year as a teenager due to these two skills. Beyond that, there isn’t a ton else in the way or raw tools and his pitch selection is below average, evidenced only by his low walk rates, because this kind of bat-to-ball ability means he’ll have no trouble making contact at the lower levels. He also hit 15 homers, but I think that total will go down as he advances due to the pitch selection issue. Tovar is an almost-lock big leaguer, even if he ends up being a bench type who bounces around, but the questions to dictate if he can be an every-day player are if he can improve his pitch selection or keep his in-game power at league-average levels.
Keith Law of the Athletic placed Tovar 6th on his system list in February:
[Tovar’s] approach is basically “swing now,” and so far it has worked because he has quick wrists and good plate coverage, but there’s impatience here that pitchers will exploit and he didn’t show well against better stuff in the AFL. He has some pop already with more to come, and he can play shortstop, so there’s a potential everyday player here if he gets the time and the reps he needs.
Until recently, I was the only voter ranking Tovar at all on my PuRPs ballots, and I was mostly going off the obvious defensive floor and youth compared to level. Now it’s a lot easier to spot what makes Tovar special, as his plus bat control and developing power have raised the offensive ceiling considerably to go along with the MLB shortstop defensive floor.
That’s a potential regular profile who is closing in on the Show, which is why I ranked Tovar fifth on my ballot with a 45+ FV grade. It’s conceivable that Tovar will be Colorado’s regular shortstop as soon as next year, with perhaps even a big league cameo on tap for this season.