For the 2023 Fantasy Baseball season, the Colorado Rockies are trying to start a new extended streak of consistent production at their shortstop position. Prized rookie Ezequiel Tovar could be just the man to do it.
Between 2006 and 2021, the Rockies had an unprecedented period of consistency and strong play at the most important position on the diamond. Between Troy Tulowitzki and Trevor Story, the two of them made seven All-Star teams and won four Silver Slugger awards in their 16 seasons, while providing fantasy baseball managers with elite production in both power and speed.
In 2022, Jose Iglesias was asked to fill the role after Story departed for Boston. He had a fine batting average (as almost all Rockies’ players do), but hit just three home runs and stole two bases in 118 games. Looking to start another long streak of next-level offense and defense out of their shortstop, the Rockies are likely to turn over the reins to the 21-year-old Tovar on Opening Day.
Tovar Has a Strong Minor League Track Record
Even though Tovar won’t turn 22 years old until halfway through the 2023 season, he already has amassed 283 career Minor League games. Across those four seasons, he has produced a combined .283/.343/.438 slash line, but those numbers all improved once he reached the high minors in 2022.
Playing 71 games in Double-A and Triple-A last season, Tovar crushed for a .319/.387/.540 slash line including 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases in what amounts to less than half of a full Major League season.
He always possessed a keen eye at the plate and he has a walk rate north of 8.5% in four of his Minor League stops over the past three years. Add to that a strikeout rate that never exceeded 21% in any level of the minors and this looks like a player who is already ready to be tested by Major League pitching.
Tovar’s 2022 Debut Turned Heads
Tovar was able to debut in a brief, nine-game cup of coffee last season as it became clear Colorado wanted to move on from the Jose Iglesias experiment. Across 35 plate appearances, he only totaled .212/.257/.333 at the dish, but he had a hard-hit rate of 33% and a max exit velocity of 106 miles per hour. He showed some power by hitting a home run and was able to barrel a number of balls despite not hitting for a high average.
That cameo appearance and his performance this spring have apparently been enough for the Rockies to anoint Tovar as the next man up at the position. His 2023 spring line checks in at .250/.333/.417 thru Monday, and he has looked light-years better at the plate than he did at times last year. But most importantly, Tovar has 24 plate appearances this spring. He is one of many rookie shortstops getting long looks this spring to make sure they are ready for the bright lights of the Major Leagues.
Tovar barely trails players position leaders like Anthony Volpe (28 plate appearances), Elly De La Cruz (25), and Brice Turang (24) who are the other hotshot shortstop rookies hoping to make their Opening Day rosters. These players, like Tovar, are getting long looks and plenty of eyes on pitches they are likely to see again in the regular season.
Defense for Tovar Should Help him Secure the Job
Coming in at 6’0” and 175 pounds, Tovar reminds us a little bit of Troy Tulowitzki who was a bigger guy but also had a lot of range at the position. The consensus on Tovar is that he is a 60-grade shortstop defensively (60 is considered above average for a skill). But that ensures that even if it takes him a while to get accustomed to Major League pitching, his defense should keep him in the lineup every day while he works those issues out. His career fielding percentage at shortstop in the minors was over 96% with only 42 errors committed in 2,211 innings.
Considering the makeup of the Rockies’ roster presently, there isn’t even a clear candidate to take Tovar’s job with Brendan Rodgers injured and Jose Iglesias now in the Marlins’ organization. Ryan McMahon and Mike Moustakas can’t play the position and only non-roster invitee Harold Castro is left. This ensures Tovar will stick with the job for as long as Colorado needs him to develop into the star they believe he will become.
Tovar’s Stock is Rising, But It’s Still Affordable
In the month from January 15th to February 15th, Tovar was the 24th shortstop off the board in NFBC drafts, usually taken around pick 235. In the four weeks since then, he has jumped all the way up to the 20th shortstop taken and is now 10 picks higher at number 225 overall.
Fantasy managers are starting to catch on to what his potential is this season and that he is almost assured to have a starting gig. At SS20, Tovar is squarely in the Middle Infield discussion for most fantasy rosters and could push into the top 15 with a strong last couple of weeks in camp.
His decent but not spectacular spring line is likely keeping the cost from crossing the pick 200 mark, but projections systems are almost in lockstep for this upcoming season. Almost all of them project Tovar for a .275 average with about 15 home runs and 14 steals. Add in 65-70 runs and RBI each and you are looking at a shortstop who can clearly make a difference on fantasy rosters in 2023.