After watching Trevor Story leave for Boston in free agency following the 2021 season, it was clear the Colorado Rockies had some long-term goals for the shortstop position but needed a stopgap to reach them. José Iglesias was signed to a one-year deal to plug the hole and performed competently in that role over 116 games last season.
But Iglesias has moved on as intended, and it’s time for the long-term plans to start taking effect. There’s only one man for the job in the front office’s opinion, so let’s take a look at what the Rockies’ plans are for the shortstop position in 2023 and beyond.
Even though he is just 21-years-old, Ezequiel Tovar’s (No. 1 PuRP) rise through the minor-league ranks over the past two years culminated in a major-league debut at the end of the 2022 season.
An international signing in 2017, Tovar posted a strong debut season between the A-ball levels in 2021, putting him on the radar as a prospect to watch moving forward. He followed up that first season with an even more impressive year in 2022. After a captivating stint in spring training, Tovar was assigned to Double-A Hartford where he thrived with a 153 wRC+ in 66 games.
A groin injury in late-June slowed Tovar’s ascent, but he returned healthy in the middle of September with a brief stint in Triple-A before receiving his big-league call-up on September 22nd, making his debut one day later.
MLB's No. 27 overall prospect Ezequiel Tovar gets a hit in his first MLB at-bat with the @Rockies! pic.twitter.com/rvqJ5ASbhI— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 24, 2022
In total, Tovar would appear in nine games with the Rockies to finish the season, becoming the youngest position player in franchise history. He went through the struggles anyone would expect a young late-season call-up to go through, hitting .212/.257/.333 with a 25.7% strikeout-rate in 35 plate appearances.
The Colorado front office does not seem perturbed by the results of his debut, and neither do the projection systems. ZiPS pegs Tovar to put together .275/.320/.437 slash line with a strikeout-rate sub-20%, putting him right around league-average with a 97 wRC+ in 2023.
While Rockies’ general manager Bill Schmidt mentioned the front office “created some competition” on the roster in the offseason, the starting shortstop role does not fit that description. Longtime utility piece Garrett Hampson was released in the winter and Iglesias still remains unsigned, stripping the major league roster of any veteran alternatives for the position.
Alan Trejo, who performed well in 35 games with the big league squad last season after posting a 111 wRC+ in Triple-A Albuquerque, seems most likely to back up Tovar as a utility-infielder off the bench. But he is not alone in the conversation as Colorado brought in two veteran infielders — Harold Castro and Cole Tucker — to provide depth for the major league roster.
Castro has made his living with his bat, posting a respectable .686 OPS in his five major league seasons. But he comes with his warts defensively, evident by his -17.1 UZR/150 at the position in 121 innings last season with the Detroit Tigers.
Tucker, meanwhile, has moved around the field more in recent seasons but has still shown the capacity to field the position at an average level. His offensive production has left plenty to be desired, though, indicated by his 55 career-OPS+.
On the Farm
Tovar is the answer for the present and the future at the shortstop position. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting options on the horizon. Here’s the outlook for position at each minor league level:
Triple-A: Hunter Stovall, Coco Montes
Double-A: Julio Carreras (No. 24 PuRP)
High-A: Adael Amador (No. 3 PuRP)
Low-A: Ryan Ritter, Dyan Jorge (No. 16 PuRP)
There’s a chance Alan Trejo will get more time with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2023, adding to the more depth pieces in the upper crust of the minors. Below the Triple-A level, the potential starts to bud as Julio Carreras, Adael Amador and Dyan Jorge represent some of the biggest risers in the Rockies’ prospect ranks.
The Colorado front office has made their bed for at least the next six years at the shortstop position, dedicating themselves to top prospect Ezequiel Tovar. That long-term plan is set to take full effect this season.
Still just 21-years-old, there’s a chance Tovar could need more time in the minors or be setback by injury. In that case, the Rockies will likely lean on Trejo or one of the veteran offseason acquisitions to fill the void. Otherwise, it’s all about Tovar with some of the well-regarded shortstop prospects below him likely to fill in the infield around him when they become major-league ready.