CHICAGO -- If Ezequiel Tovar had somehow forgotten his Major League debut, the photos that popped up on his phone Saturday, and the message from his wife, were there to remind him.
Of course, how could the young Rockies shortstop forget that memorable occasion?
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Tovar said through Rockies bullpen catcher and interpreter Aaron Muñoz. “Thank God that I'm still here, and that I get to experience this.”
And on the one-year anniversary of his debut, Tovar delivered a performance that provided the latest reminder of why the Rockies are so excited about his future. The 22-year-old shortstop went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Chris Flexen worked around traffic to allow two runs in five innings. The Cubs scored three runs across the seventh and eighth innings to pull away.
Tovar got a cup of coffee with the Rockies late last September before making their Opening Day roster this spring. Combined, he’s played less than a full season (154 games), but his positive reputation in the organization goes back years.
Manager Bud Black recalled conversations with Rockies Minor League coaches about Tovar, and seeing him up close in Spring Training, in recent years.
“He was always the first guy they brought up,” Black said. “He's always been on our radar. But still, it's a little bit rare for a guy to come up at 21 and just do what he's done. There are players who've done it, and those are really special players, and they're sprinkled throughout the league.
“As time goes on, he'll be one of those players who’s a recognizable name in baseball.”
Tovar, who entered 2023 as MLB Pipeline’s No. 25-ranked prospect overall, is hitting .260/.295/.421 with 15 home runs and 73 RBIs in 146 games this season. Among all shortstops, his 15 Outs Above Average ranked second entering Saturday, only trailing the Cubs’ Dansby Swanson.
His overall consistency at the position, and ability to make any type of play, stand out to Black. And for a pitch-to-contact Rockies staff that calls Coors Field home, Tovar’s reliability is even more important.
“Every play that a shortstop has to make, he's able to make it,” Black said. “Once he got his feet on the ground, about May 1 where he really felt comfortable as an everyday player in the Major Leagues as a youngster, he's been really, really steady in his shortstop play.
“It’s a demanding position -- playing the hole, playing up the middle. He’s really proficient at charging the ball, the slow roller, the chopper over the mound. He's really, arguably, one of the best in the game at that. Just the steadiness needed at that position. Not only the routine play, but the really tough play, he's making it.”
Rockies first baseman Kris Bryant added: “He’s special. Defensively, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a shortstop as good as him. Offensively, he’s made huge adjustments. Just really doing special things. I mean, he just turned 22. That’s pretty crazy.”
In his first plate appearance Saturday, Tovar knocked a single up the middle off Cubs starter Marcus Stroman. He picked up a hustle double off Javier Assad in the sixth, and in the eighth cracked another into the left-field corner. That two-base-hit, off Julian Merryweather, had a Statcast-projected 106.4 mph exit velocity.
As Tovar looked back on his first year in the Majors, he said he’s most proud of getting the experience, in which he’s learned from teammates and has continued to grow as an overall player.
He’s not limiting himself to one area of improvement, either. Tovar was asked specifically which part of his game he wants to improve most.
“There's not one specific thing,” Tovar said. “I think as a whole, I want to get better at everything. There's not one particular area. Defense, offense, I think everything as a whole, I try to get better.”
It’s only been a year, but what Tovar has shown is encouraging.
“He’s been a consistent performer for us,” Black said after Saturday’s game. “Obviously, the defensive side is a must at that position. He's shown that. He's been durable. He's played, and he's played every day with a high level of energy and a great deal of competency. And the offensive side, right there at .250, .260. [The on-base percentage] will happen once he’s not chasing and [is] drawing his walks.
“But he's doing his job, and he was a big part of it today for us.”