The game plan for the Colorado Rockies going into the 2022 season was to keep the seat warm at shortstop for Ezequiel Tovar in hopes he could take over at the start of the following season. 

It was a best-case scenario that required a lot from the young Venezuelan who had already made sizable progress the year before. Tovar played incredibly well in his first taste of Double-A last season and made his big league debut in September to cement his place for 2023.

GM Bill Schmidt and manager Bud Black both made it clear: the kid would be given every opportunity to be the club’s starting shortstop. Though the club already had Alan Trejo on the roster, the team sought no further insurance in the case that the role would need to be handed to someone else. On March 30, Tovar became the youngest in franchise history to start on Opening Day at 21 years and 240 days.

He would also play without a safety net as the team planned to stick by the prospect no matter what. That plan was tested through three weeks of struggling.

“It’s part of the process,” Tovar said through an interpreter of his April. “Early on, the work was there and I continued to do the same thing. Obviously, it didn’t work out early on. But, I’m maintaining that confidence with the team, with myself and continue to trust that process hopefully working out the way it is.”

Apr 10, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (14) runs to second on an RBI double in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On April 22, he went 0-for-3 in Philadelphia to lower his batting average to .172 through his first 19 games of the season. There were four doubles and four walks to go along with four runs batted in from the bottom of the lineup, but production was lacking at the plate. And defensively, there were two errors and something seemed missing there, too. 

Tovar didn’t fall on his face. No. He wasn’t failing horrifically, but he wasn’t performing the level of success expected of a player who was in discussions for National League Rookie of the Year. All the while, his maturity kept him level headed. 

“It’s a natural thing to be in that mindset of not making a mistake,” Black said of his shortstop. “Through conversations and just as each day goes on, there’s more comfort for him and more confidence.”

After that 0-fer at Citizens Bank Park, his third in a row and sixth in eight games, Tovar’s talent started to shine. He kept a Rockies rally going against ace Zack Wheeler with an RBI-single to give his team the lead before recording another single for his second two-hit game of the season.

May 2, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (14) rounds the bases on a solo home run in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The next night in Cleveland, he added a single that scored two runs for the first two-RBI game of his career. There was a double before leaving Ohio, then he team’s first triple of the season back in Denver. A homer against the Milwaukee Brewers at Coors Field and one at Citi Field against the New York Mets. 

Altogether, Tovar is batting .320 (16-for-50) with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 11 RBI since April 23. His nine doubles are tied for most by any rookie and his 15 RBI this season are tied for second-most by an NL rookie behind the Dodgers’ James Outman (23).

“He’s getting some hits. That helps a lot,” Black explained of Tovar’s recent improvements. “It helps your defense a lot. For players, as much as we talk about you got to separate, sometimes it doesn’t work that way. So with him, he’s doing fine. I think he’s doing what he’s capable of doing, especially the last couple of weeks.”

The glove work has been impressive as of late. His range going up the middle is evident and his footwork allows him to make some above average type of plays look quite pedestrian.

May 6, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (14) throws out New York Mets right fielder Starling Marte (not pictured) on a ground ball during the fifth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Black and defensive coach Warren Schaeffer even made some adjustments in positioning to allow for the 21-year-old to be more aggressive defensively. And it’s worked. He leads the team in Outs Above Average (2) and is seventh-best in MLB among shortstops. 

As Black has often said, it’s easy to say hitting and defense are two separate entities, but it’s another thing to truly embody that belief in practice. For the third-youngest player to appear in MLB season, Tovar is walking the walk. 

“When I was little, it was kind of embedded in my head that both offense and defense are separate,” he shared. “Offensively, you could have a great game. Defensively, you probably couldn’t. So I know that even if I struggle at the plate, I think defensively I can make some really good plays and help the team win that way. And vice versa.”

Colorado started the year with another young infielder in the same Opening Day lineup in San Diego: Elehuris Montero. The 24-year-old third baseman was placed on the bench following a two error performance on April 17 and was shipped to Triple-A Albuquerque with a first baseman’s mitt in his suitcase. When asked if Tovar viewed his early season struggles as being similar to Montero — troubles on defense and a strikeout rate higher than preferred — Tovar had a response of a wisened veteran. 

Apr 7, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (14) and second baseman Ryan McMahon (24) react with third baseman Elehuris Montero (44) during a pitching change in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

“Montero is a good friend. You hate to see someone go down like that,” Tovar shared before adding, “But from my mindset, I don’t really think about that type of pressure. I don’t put that pressure on me. I don’t really think about that. I go out there and try to do what I can and trust what I’m doing and have confidence doing so.”

It might appear as if Tovar is getting better by the day. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

Consider that Tovar is only 133 days older than fellow phenom Zac Veen, who began the year with the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate in Hartford as the ninth-youngest player in the Eastern League. There’s development still happening at the big league level.

“That’s a special talent,” Mike Moustakas explained. “To be 21 in the Major Leagues, it’s incredible. It’s difficult. I’m 34 now and people forget there are guys my age competing against a 21-year-old kid. He’s learned how to do it and he’s doing an amazing job.”

In a season where the team may not produce enough wins and highlights to be intriguing, Ezequiel Tovar has been more than worthy of attention.