In Rox final game, Tovar hits 1st MLB HR -- off a legendary ace

21-year-old aims to work this offseason to secure shortstop job

October 6th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- A season that the Rockies are glad to put in the rear view ended with shortstop offering a reason to look ahead.

Tovar, 21, knocked his first Major League home run, a second-inning solo shot off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw in the Rockies’ 6-1 loss on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

“It is an awesome feeling, knowing that this is a future Hall of Famer that I got my first homer off of,” Tovar said, with assistant hitting coach Andy González interpreting. “I’m just enjoying the ride.”

The Rockies careened to last place in the National League West at 68-94, their worst campaign since compiling the same record in 2015. Including a split of the six-game series with the 111-win, World Series-hopeful Dodgers, the team tested young players to see who is a fit for next year.

However, Tovar represents more than a test.

Outfielders Yonathan Daza and Sean Bouchard, first baseman Michael Toglia, infielder Alan Trejo and a whole host of relievers received regular September opportunities. But the Rockies plan on a healthy and functional roster in ’23, meaning Kris Bryant and Charlie Blackmon are back from injury, first baseman C.J. Cron is under contract, and the team has sought offseason acquisitions to shore up center field and the pitching departments.

Shortstop is different.

Veteran José Iglesias had a solid season, hitting .292, but he is a free agent this winter and heading into his age-33 season. While Iglesias said he is willing to discuss a return, he wants to remain an everyday player. The Rockies, though, want Tovar to be their shortstop for years to come.

Tovar, who on Sept. 23 became the youngest position player to debut in club history (21 years, 53 days), will be asked to do exactly what Troy Tulowitzki did in 2006 and 2007 -- parlay a brief stint the previous season into a special rookie season. Of course, we know what happened in ’07 and no one expects another trip to the World Series in ’23. (FWIW, no one expected ’07 in ’07.)

More recently, Trevor Story grabbed the shortstop role in 2015 with no previous experience and grew into a special player and a key figure on postseason teams in 2017 and 2018.

Will Tovar be a catalyst to end a postseason drought, currently at four years, the way Tulowitzki was in ending a 12-year absence and Story was when the Rockies ended an eight-year dry spell?

In manner, Tovar is less similar to the forceful Tulowitzki, and keeps to himself like a younger Story. In style, Tulowitzki was intense, Story imposing.


Other than wearing his socks pulled to just below his knees and sporting a curly fade beneath his cap, he’s not overly stylish. His off-the-field manner is so quiet that even when he’s playing you want to lean in to see what’s special. A few days ago, Tovar detailed that even though he openly communicates (throughout the Minor League season, he has conversed in English in the dugout and in scouting meetings), his personality comes through when he plays.

“I’ve always been quiet, always been to myself,” Tovar said. “If I have questions, I’m going to ask questions. But I’m not over-the-top and loud. That’s not my style.

“The biggest factor is I like to have fun. I do enjoy playing the game. My actions are a little bit louder. I think guys gravitate toward that.”

Wednesday’s home run swing off Kershaw was much like those he delivered in the Minors on his way to 13 homers and a .932 OPS in 66 games at Double-A Hartford and (after a lengthy absence with a midsection injury) one homer in a five-game stop at Triple-A Albuquerque. Tovar’s full explosiveness hasn’t returned since the injury, but he showed glimpses of it with some solid at-bats and on a defensive play when he ranged to his right on Monday night to take a hit away from Dodgers slugger Will Smith.

“He’s poised, and he’s confident,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “That’s the thing that stands out to me at 21 years old – his confidence and the pace at which he plays, even though you might not see it.”

After a trip to his native Venezuela for family time, Tovar will be off to the Rockies’ complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, to prepare for the opportunity that the club needs him to grasp.

“I know there’s a vacancy at shortstop,” Tovar said. “But my job is to get healthy, work hard, come ready for Spring Training and win the job. Nobody has a secure job here.”

It’s up to Tovar to secure the Rockies’ future at a key position.