Rockies 'have a good one coming' in Tovar

Colorado shortstop, No. 11 prospect set to hone skills in Arizona Fall League

October 7th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies shortstop prospect doesn’t have time to be homesick, even though he misses his family -- especially his father and older brother, both shortstops on the fields of Maracay Venezuela, back in their day.

Tovar completed a strong season at both Class A levels -- one that has him ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 11 prospect but touted by the organization as a potential impact shortstop in the Majors.

Rather than go home for the first time since the pandemic hit in 2020, Tovar stayed in Arizona to continue working at the Rockies’ Salt River Fields complex. He’s not an official part of the Arizona instructional program, but he’s playing regularly to prepare for the Arizona Fall League.

“I talk with them every day,” Tovar said in Spanish, with mental skills coach Jerry Amador serving as his interpreter. “They really help me more than anything. During Christmas time, they really supported me. They really boost me up. They say this is going to be for my benefit. They help me handle this situation.”

Tovar, 20, was one of eight Rockies placed on the Salt River Rafters’ roster. And he wants to be as prepared as possible. On Monday, he tripled and homered in his first two at-bats in an instructional league game against the Cubs, as he prepares to face prospects who are close to playing in the Majors.

“We like Tovar -- I want to see this guy play,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, who spends time at the AFL and instructional programs. “I like him.”

The Rockies have seen steady growth during a whirlwind beginning to his career.

Tovar’s representatives in Venezuela ran an academy in the Dominican Republic, where Colorado scouted and signed him -- on his 16th birthday, Aug. 1, 2017, for $800,000. He was 150 pounds when he joined the Dominican Summer League program, but mature in other areas. An early change signaled that he had some savvy.

Tovar began as a switch-hitter, but vice president of international scouting Rolando Fernandez saw a shorter swing from the right side and convinced Tovar to stick with that.

“That’s not easy to do,” Fernandez said. “He had to come to the States just hitting from the right side only, and he did a good job. That shows you what kind of person and player he is.”

Tovar began the 2019 season playing in 55 games at Short-Season Class A Boise mostly against players coming out of college, rather than at Rookie-level Grand Junction against younger competition, because he was still 17 and the Rockies didn’t want to run afoul of Colorado labor laws. Tovar held his own with Boise (.249/.304/.313) and impressed defensively before turning 18 on Aug. 1, then continued solid work in 18 games against age peers at Grand Junction (.264/.357/.347).

His staying in the U.S. to work with other Rockies prospects during the pandemic helped him physically, and as a player.

This year, Tovar hit .309 and posted an .856 OPS in 72 games for Low-A Fresno, with 11 home runs, 21 doubles, three triples and 21 stolen bases. Promoted to High-A Spokane, he hit .239 in 32 games -- but Tovar found his footing late, batting .262 in the final 15 games.

Along the way, Tovar -- listed at 6-foot and carrying, he said, 189 pounds (with a goal of 195 but no heavier) – used his hands, knowledge and anticipation to make several highlight plays. More than that, he emerged as a young leader on his teams, which both made the postseason.

“Even during the summertime, the strength of his presence – you walk around him and you want him to be the guy,” Rockies player development director Chris Forbes said. “That’s how he plays. That’s how he acts.

“He’s starting to show more with the bat than we anticipated this early, especially having a year off.”

The Rockies are looking to fill a hole at short, with Trevor Story expected to leave via free agency. The club is looking for an experienced player to take the job, since Tovar still has to develop offensively, although some in the system believe he has the tools to handle the plays and the leadership defensively right now. New general manager Bill Schmidt didn’t go overboard, but he made it clear that he is watching.

“We’ve had a pretty good track record in the last 15 years -- two pretty good shortstops that were physical, impactful players,” Schmidt said, referring to Troy Tulowitzki and Story. “I think we have a good one coming in Mr. Tovar.”