'Playing with confidence,' Tovar impresses in first camp
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On Saturday, Ezequiel Tovar was spotted in the Rockies' Spring Training clubhouse chatting with veterans and fellow Venezuelans Elías Díaz and Jhoulys Chacín, some two hours before Colorado's Cactus League game against the Rangers at Salt River Fields.
Tovar, 20, did his best to consolidate his status as the Rockies' shortstop of the future in his first big league camp. In the process, he made sure to seek advice from more established players. And on the field, he didn't disappoint, showing off his defense and opening eyes with the pop in his bat, even if it was just Spring Training games.
"At first, I was a little nervous getting here," Tovar said. "Later, I adapted little by little to the atmosphere with my teammates. I've felt comfortable and, thank God, the results have been there."
Starting this season as Colorado's No. 6 prospect on MLB Pipeline's list, Tovar had a sizzling start in Cactus League play, logging nine hits -- including three home runs and a double -- in his first 15 at-bats. On Sunday, he ranged to short center field to make a nice over-the-head catch on a popup and, for good measure, laced an RBI double down the third-base line in a split-squad game against the Reds in Goodyear.
In total, Tovar registered 11 hits in 20 at-bats (.550) with the big league club this spring, with the aforementioned three home runs, seven RBIs and a pair of stolen bases. Even with the grain of salt normally associated with Spring Training stats, that kind of production in a small sample size should do wonders for his confidence going into the 2022 Minor League season.
"He's doing a great job -- playing loose, playing with confidence," Rockies manager Bud Black said last week. "It's nice to see. It's Spring Training. It's a bigger stage, although it's Spring Training, and he's rising to the occasion."
For Tovar, those results have helped him feel like he belongs at the big league level, or that he is at least on his way to that end.
"A lot," said Tovar. "At first, I was a little nervous, my first Spring Training, so many stars around me. But I said, 'Wow, I can do the job, too'. You get more confidence, you start to hit your rhythm and now I feel practically ready."
For this season, the Rockies signed slick-fielding veteran José Iglesias to man shortstop. Tovar took advantage of his time in big league camp to get advice from Iglesias on glove work, which is Tovar's calling card as evidenced by his defensive rating of 70 on the scouting scale of 20-80.
"He's a good person, giving me advice and helping me," Tovar said of Iglesias. "The little details are what I really got out of watching him. And that's what he told us when he met with us, that the little details make the difference.
"That really helps me, spending time with veterans and working out with them."
Adding muscle little by little since being signed as an international free agent in August 2017, Tovar hit .287/.322/.475 with 30 doubles, 15 home runs and 24 stolen bases between Class A Fresno and High-A Spokane last season. The adjustment to High-A in 32 games contained some bumps in the road offensively (.239/.266/.396 in 32 games), as was the case in the Arizona Fall League (.161/.219/.287 in 25 contests).
One area with room for improvement for Tovar will be plate discipline, which contributed in part to his struggles at Spokane and the AFL. But his showing this spring would seem to put him in a better place mentally going into 2022, most likely at Double-A Hartford.
As far as an ETA for the Major Leagues, a September promotion could conceivably be in the mix, but it is not as much of a given since expanded rosters were restricted to two additional players in 2021. A solid Minor League season -- especially if it included a promotion to Triple-A -- and another strong spring showing next year could lead to a call-up and perhaps even a roster spot in '23. But there's still much work to do.
"I'll try to control what I can control," Tovar said. "I just have to do my job and let it be what God wants."