Ezequiel Tovar mashed in Spring Training ‘22. That might be putting it mildly: the 20-year-old shortstop hit .550 and slugged 1.100, with two doubles and three homers in 20 at-bats. He also stole two bases; all in all, an extraordinary performance by a prospect who was never known for exceptional power. After hitting a combined .287/.316/.475 with a diminutive 12.2% strikeout rate and 15 homers in 104 games across the two levels of A-ball last season, Tovar is expected to start at Double-A Hartford in 2022 and looks to be in line for Major League reps maybe as soon as spring of 2023 if things go smoothly. When the Rockies signed José Iglesias to a one-year deal, you have to think that their ideal plan was for Tovar to build on his fantastic 2021 season and establish himself as the everyday shortstop in 2023, and so far, he looks like he could be on his way.
Congratulations to Ezequiel Tovar, winner of the 2022 Abby Greer Award!— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) April 2, 2022
This year, the award was presented by Bud Black & former Rockie, Ryan Spilborghs pic.twitter.com/lfxvjheK2T
If Tovar continues his rise through the Minors (keep in mind, he’ll be about four years younger than the averge pitcher he faces this season) and establishes himself in the Majors, he’ll become a part of the Rockies’ line of shortstops. How does that line look like?
1993: Vinny Castilla & Friends
How many of you know the name of the Rockies’ Opening Day shortstop during their first season? Don’t look it up, you’ll know before the end of the piece. Anyway, Vinny Castilla wasn’t that guy, but he did start 92 games at short for the newly born Colorado Rockies before moving on to third base the very next year.
1994-1997: Walt Weiss? No dice
After Castilla was a bit overmatched at the 6 in 1993, the Rockies had a new Opening Day starter at short. Walt Weiss and his terrific walk rate (14.2% as a Rockie) started as the shortstop in 494 of the Rockies’ 585 games during this stretch, though a lack of power and up-and-down defense left him at just a tick above replacement level.
1998-2001: Neifi Pérez racks up the triples
Entering 1998, Neifi Pérez, fresh off a solid rookie season at second base, was given the starting shortstop job, and he hit a whole bunch of triples (40 in four seasons) while starting 559 games in that time span (he would set a Rockies record for games started at shortstop with 603, a record that would take over a decade to be broken). Again, he was just above replacement level, not the difference maker one seeks, and in mid-2001 he was traded to the Kansas City Royals.
2002-2004: A parade of shortstops
In these three years, the Rockies had three different Opening Day shortstops: Juan Uribe in 2002, José Hernández in 2003 and Royce Clayton in 2004, all of whom had unremarkable seasons: the most interesting thing about their tenure is that Clayton led the Majors with 24 sacrifice bunts in 2004. Up to this point, Rockies shortstops had been worth -0.6 WAR as a whole since 1993, second lowest mark in MLB (the Padres were even worse). Was the franchise shortstop around the corner? Sort of... but not yet.
2005-2006: The sunny days are near
Clint Barmes was the Rockies’ Opening Day shortstop in 2005, the fourth different player to take that role in four years. Barmes hit a walk-off homer on Opening Day at Coors Field to get his season started with a bang:
It was a particularly strong showing, the best by a Rockies shortstop up to that point in history, as Barmes hit .289/.330/.434 and finished eight in Rookie of the Year voting despite playing just half a season. Why half a season, you ask? Because in early June of that year, Barmes fell and broke his arm thanks to a package of deer meat and an ATV, which is just hilarious (not for Barmes, obviously). His 2006 wasn’t quite as good, as he slumped with the bat, but down the stretch that season a certain top prospect would get his first 23 career starts at short. You know his name.
2007-2015: The Age of Tulo
From 1993-2006, Rockies shortstops were among the least productive in baseball, with poor hitting and unspectacular defense, but that was about to change. Troy Tulowitzki would storm the Majors in 2007, with a should-have-been Rookie of the Year season that played a big part in getting the franchise to its first World Series, and aside from a 2008 slump with the bat, the only thing that could stop him was his own body. Tulowitzki hit for average, hit for power and fielded his position with the grace of shortstops many inches smaller and many pounds lighter than him. From 2007-2015, he made five All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, received MVP votes six times and led all shortstops in WAR. He became the Rockies’ all-time leader in starts at shortstop with 1020, over twice as many as any other 6 in Colorado’s history up to that point, and he also turned an unassisted triple play, which is basically a baseball unicorn:
His 2015 trade and the strained relationship with the team that lead to it can be picked apart at will, but the one objective thing is the following: from 2007-2015, the Rockies had the best shortstop in the world playing for them. Tulo made nine straight Opening Day starts during those years, the second longest streak for any position in Rockies history outside of Helton’s 16 straight at first base. I think we’ve all collectively agreed to forget about the José Reyes and Daniel Descalso experiments, so let’s pretend like that never happened.
2016-2021: And Then Came Story
Entering 2016, the Rockies’ shortstop situation was not set in stone for the first time in a decade. José Reyes took himself out of the picture, and a certain 23-year-old prospect won the starting gig in Spring Training. On Opening Day 2016, Trevor Story started his first Major League game, with future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke on the mound. He went yard in his first plate appearance, then did it again in his second, becoming the first player in MLB history to homer twice in his MLB debut on Opening Day. Like Tulowitzki, he had a sophomore slump, but also like Tulo, he took off in his third season, and remained one of the game’s premium shortstops ever since. He made six straight Opening Day starts and started 722 games at the position, second-most behind Tulowitzki. He also won two Silver Sluggers and made two All-Star teams, excelling with his all-around game.
Oh, and he also hit 1380 feet worth of homers in one game. That was fun.
2022-: Iglesias For Now... Tovar Up Next?
This is where we are now. After Story’s departure in free agency, José Iglesias figures to be penciled in at short for this season, and the development of Ezequiel Tovar will determine much of what happens next. If he crushes the upper Minors, I’d bet money on him being the Opening Day starter in 2023. If he stalls out or struggles, the plans might have to change, but I count myself as an unashamed part of the Ezequiel Tovar hype train right now. Tovar is a plus defensive shortstop who’s not even 21 yet and has great feel for contact. He had an average exit velo of 93.0 MPH this Spring Training (MLB average is around 88-89 MPH) and hit a ball 110.2 MPH, which is just as hard as anything Nolan Arenado has managed since 2017. Again, this a 6-foot, 170 pound, 20-year-old kid who has a plus glove at short, and that’s just the balls Savant tracked, which are not all of the ones he hit (in fact, two of his three homers are missing). I think we’re right to be excited.
I mean, this a gorgeous swing:
Ezequiel Tovar is on FIRE— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) March 25, 2022
His 3⃣rd home run in the last 4⃣ days pic.twitter.com/0BsLN46yxF
In other words, count me in as part of the group of people who believe in this young man. His plate discipline is a bit worrying (Tovar walked under 4% of the time in 2021 and is very swing-happy) and worth monitoring, but Elehuris Montero had similar issues before 2021 and the Rockies managed to help him become more disciplined. If Tovar can do something similar, I think we’ll have a very serious prospect on our hands, and a player who could leave his mark as the next great shortstop to wear purple, continuing a line of terrific play at the 6 that dates back to 2007.
And now, for some fun facts about Rockies shortstops!
- Troy Tulowitzki (33.9) and Trevor Story (21.6) combined for 55.5 WAR as Rockies. Every other shortstop in franchise history combined for -3.9 WAR. That is not a typo.
- Rockies shortstops combined to hit 567 homers since 1993, the most in baseball by a slim margin (next closest: BAL at 556).
- The Rockies’ 1993 Opening Day starter at shortstop? Freddie Benavides! How many of you knew that name? I’ll put my hand up and admit I did not know that.
- Rockies shortstops have the third highest fielding percentage (.976) in the Majors since 1993. They also rank second in least amount of pure fielding errors (165, 169 throwing errors) and rank first in putouts, weirdly enough (7148).
- Neifi Pérez was the victim of what, for my money, is the greatest outfield throw of all time: this insanity of a throw from José Guillén:
From the warning track in right all the way to third base, on the fly. The third baseman barely had to move his glove. Sidenote: that game was a 7-8 Rockies win in 13 innings where both teams combined for 34 hits, three outfield assists, three stolen base attempts and thirteen extra-base-hits.
- Rockies shortstops have the lowest Pull rate (38.2%) and highest Opposite Field rate (27.1%) in the Majors since 1993.
- If you want the fielding leaderboards for Rockies shortstops, here they are.
★ ★ ★
On The Farm
The Isotopes fell to the OKC Dodgers in their Opening Day matchup. Funnily enough, it was a matchup of Ryans: the Isotopes started nº 15 PuRP Ryan Feltner and the Dodgers started Ryan Pepiot, and both Feltner (5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and Pepiot (4.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K) were dominant before handing it over to the bullpen. After the 'Topes took a two run lead against the Dodger pen in the fifth thanks to a hit and an error that scored two, Jordan Sheffield had a rough outing (he allowed a hit, two walks, two earned runs and retired only one batter) and gave the lead right back in the sixth. They then went back and forth (Albuquerque's Justin Lawrence was especially impressive, striking out the side in the seventh inning) until the bottom of the ninth, when nº 37 PuRP Julián Fernández (now 0-1) allowed a leadoff, walk-off home run to OKC left fielder Jason Martin to hand the Isotopes the loss. Dodgers reliever Darien Núñez (1-0) got the win in relief after tossing two scoreless frames.
The Isotopes were mostly shut down by Dodgers pitching, managing just three hits and three walks across nine innings, with no batter reaching base legitimately more than once. The two teams will be back on the field today at 6:05 PM MDT for Game 2 of the season-opening six-game set. The Isotopes will send right-hander Frank Duncan to the mound, while lefty Robbie Erlin will take the ball for Oklahoma City.
★ ★ ★
Austin Gomber started the Rockies' final ballgame of 2022 Spring Training and allowed three runs, all on solo homers, one of which was an inside-the-parker that came to be after Charlie Blackmon couldn’t make a tough leaping catch at the wall. His final line (4.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 HR) wasn’t pretty, but his non-fastballs looked sharp. Charlie Blackmon (3-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI), Brendan Rodgers (2-for-3 with a double, a run scored and three RBIs) and Dom Núñez (3-for-4 with three runs scored) were the key hitters in this one, as the Rockies got across 10 runs on 15 hits. Both lefty relievers did well: Lucas Gilbreath struck out the side in a scoreless sixth inning and Ty Blach K’d a pair in a 1-2-3 seventh.
I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that Daniel Bard has looked like a beast this spring. His stuff looks sharper and his intent looks clearer. Álex Colomé will probably start as the closer, but I suspect Bard will pitch himself into that role eventually. As of now, by the way, the Rox look like they’ll carry both Alan Trejo and Yonathan Daza. We can speculate about who will fall off the roster when the size goes back to 26 players, but one of those two will definitely not stay.
★ ★ ★
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