There is undoubtedly a youth-movement on the horizon for the Colorado Rockies. We got our first glimpse with the brief promotion of Elehuris Montero to the major league roster at the end of April, but the players in the A-ball levels are where the zenith of this generation of prospects is expected to come from. In between the two is Ezequiel Tovar, who sure looks like he wants to fast-track this process.
Tovar started with top prospects Zac Veen and Drew Romo at Low-A Fresno last year before jumping up to High-A Spokane. He concluded 2021 by appearing in the Arizona Fall League for the Salt River Rafters as the youngest player in the league. His showings in both High-A Spokane and the AFL were not spectacular, but being there in the first place was a testament to the belief in him as a player by the Rockies’ brass.
After shining with the big league squad during Spring Training, the plans for him to be the next great shortstop remained in place and he was assigned to Double-A Hartford to start the season despite playing just 32 games above Low-A in 2021. It was an aggressive promotion to challenge the young shortstop and a good opportunity to see just how far away Tovar is from big-league ready.
If his first 29 games with Hartford are an indication, the answer is a lot closer than anyone expected.
Ezequiel Tovar AA Offensive Stats
Friday evening was not kind to Tovar, but heading into the game his name has been prominently featured near the top of most offensive categories for the Eastern League. He has clearly hit the ground running for Hartford and belief is stronger than ever in Bill Schmidt’s “shortstop of the future” endorsement. But this offensive onslaught is not just a continuation of his work from last season, but an evolution as a hitter.
Ezequiel Tovar 2021 vs 2022
Tovar’s power has shown up in a dramatic way to start the 2022 season. Through 134 plate appearances, Tovar’s numbers are up across the board from 2021. He’s 40% of the way to matching his home run total from last season in less than one-third of the total number of games and his propensity for extra-base hits has spiked counting categories like SLG, wOBA and ISO, all accumulating to a ridiculous wRC+ of 178.
But perhaps the biggest change in Tovar is when he hasn’t swung the bat. One of the red flags on his prospect report heading into the season was his frequency for chasing pitches. This overly-aggressive approach was evident in his BB% of just 3.6% last year. But so far in 2022, Tovar is picking his spots better and accepting the free pass, raising his walk clip to a robust 10.9%. Obviously that jump is stark, but to put it in a simpler context: he has 14 walks in 129 plate appearances this season compared to just 17 in 469 plate appearances last year.
This is the difference-maker in Ezequiel Tovar’s ETA. Against tougher pitching with an already undisciplined approach, it was easy to expect he’d have some tough lessons to learn. But so far, he has completely flipped the script and displayed better patience than ever before while holding a healthy K% of 17.8%. If this keeps up, it will force a lot of hard thinking about promoting him…possibly to the majors.
Going from Double-A to the majors is a huge leap, but not unprecedented. Major stars like Mike Trout and Juan Soto have made the jump, but they were immediately MVP-caliber players. It’s unfair to hold any player to that standard – as evidence by the start to Julio Rodríguez’s career after making the jump to start this season – but there is an uber-prospect category that these players fill into before becoming staples in the majors and Tovar is making his case to be mentioned in the same way, so far.
Youngest Rockies Debuts
|Marcos Carvajal||20 y, 4 m||2005|
|Rafael Ortega||21 y, 4 m||2012|
|Jhoulys Chacín||21 y, 6m||2009|
|Jamey Wright||21 y, 7 m||1996|
|Franklin Morales||21 y, 7m||2007|
|Germán Márquez||21 y, 8 m||2016|
|Troy Tulowitzki||21 y, 10 m||2006|
There is still a way to go on the “Tovar getting the call” discussion. His performance will have to continue at a high level, obviously. But the status of the major league product will also have to necessitate a move. José Iglesias has done a fine job as the starting shortstop thus far and the plan has always been for him to hold the position this season. The team is also relatively in contention early on, making it hard to argue about messing with the mojo completely.
How Tovar continues to fare in Hartford and how the big league product plays remains to be seen. He won’t turn 21 until August 1, so staying patient is a must. But if the stars align and he does get called up this season, he will become the youngest position player to debut in franchise history. If he gets the call before August, he’ll become just the second Rockies player to debut at the age of 20.
It’s a long shot, but Tovar may force the issue.
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After receiving a cortisone shot in his lower-back on Monday, Kris Bryant is getting closer to a return from the injured list. Bryant joined the team in pregame warmups on Friday before the game against Kansas City, including hitting in the cage for the first time in two wees. It is expected that Bryant will make a brief rehab assignment in Triple-A Albuquerque before rejoining the major league team.
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On the Farm
A four-run fourth inning led the way to an Isotopes home victory on Friday. Seven different Albuquerque hitters drove in a run in the ballgame, including Elehuris Montero (7) who hit had a solo shot in the fifth inning. The run support was plenty for starter Brandon Gold, who picked up his first win of the season with five strikeouts and no walks over 5 2⁄3 shutout innings. Reagan Todd, Zach Lee, Justin Lawrence and Chad Smith finished the ballgame with just one hit and one walk allowed over the final 4 1⁄3 innings. Albuquerque allowed just four hits but did commit three errors in the victory.
Noah Gotsis had a gutsy start, allowing only three runs despite giving up seven hits over three innings. Despite minimizing damage, Gotsis and the Yard Goats trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the fifth inning. A two-run double by Isaac Collins brought Hartford within one before Hartford took the lead for good after back-to-back doubles by Daniel Cope and Hunter Stovall plated four runs in the sixth inning. They added three more in the seventh and one in the eighth to secure lock down the victory despite being out-hit nine to seven.
With a double-header scheduled for Saturday, Spokane dropped a close game on the road. Evan Shawver threw well in his second start for Spokane, giving up five hits and striking out five in six innings. But the defense let him down, with two errors accounting for two of the four runs surrendered to the Hops. But the lack of offense made the mishaps irrelevant as Spokane plated just one on three hits in the ballgame.
Fresno picked up their 19th victory of the season with a late rally at Visalia. The Grizzlies took an early lead with an RBI single by Adael Amador accounting for one of their two runs in the third inning. But Visalia would chip away with three runs off starter Brayan Castillo, who struck out five in the game, and followed up with another in the eighth to bring the score to 4-2 entering the ninth. Down to their last out, Juan Guerrero (2) hit a three-run homer to give Fresno the lead before Braiden Ward added an RBI double to bring the score to 6-4, the eventual final.
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