When the lockout finally ended on the precipice of 100 days last offseason, Trevor Story’s signing with the Boston Red Sox in March opened a sizable hole on the left side of the Colorado Rockies infield.
Not since 2004 when Colorado offered a one-year deal to veteran Royce Clayton had a state of the shortstop position ever been in question.
Clint Barmes was putting the finishing touches on his minor league career before taking the reins in 2004-05 before Troy Tulowitzki ushered in a near-decade of dominance. A brief stint by José Reyes passed the baton to Story to bring to a close an 18-year stretch of homegrown shortstops.
Few options remained available in free agency, but José Iglesias signed on the dotted line for one-year at $5 million to keep the kettle on while 20-year-old Ezequiel Tovar plied his craft in Hartford and Albuquerque.
Two months since the 2022 season wrapped. Tovar played in only nine games, but the first was enough to make him the youngest position player in team history and the rest made it obvious that a new era was about to begin.
There will be no veteran signing at shortstop like Andrelton Simmons or Elvis Andrus this offseason. Nor will there be a deal at this to acquire one in a trade like Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It’s Tovar time.
But before the Rockies crown their new king of the diamond, he’s going to have to hold up his end of the bargain.
“He’s gonna have to earn the job,” GM Bill Schmidt said of his 21-year-old shortstop. “We’ll give him every opportunity to earn it in Spring Training and see where it goes from there.”
Even though the general manager may think one thing, the field manager may have something else planned. As is usually the case, the two decision makers are on the same page.
“I’d hate to say that (he’ll be starting at shortstop on Opening Day), but he’s tracking that way. We hope that happens,” Bud Black admitted.
Expectations for Tovar are high. Several prospect pundits have cited the Venezuelan as a contender for the 2023 National League Rookie of the Year. It’s not unrealistic to think he could put up similar numbers to Tulo or Story in their first campaign.
There will be struggles. Slumps. Lulls. His predecessors experienced it at various times. Even his teammate on the other side of the bag went through it in 2022.
Brendan Rodgers batted .078 in AprilI and Black stood by his young infielder. It’s reasonable to think Tovar will have his own set of growing pains before establishing himself. Black doesn’t see why he can’t extend the same tolerance next season.
“If you believe in a player, I think you can be more patient,” the seven-year skipper of the Rockies shared. “We’ll see how he handles everything, but I suspect from what we’ve heard about the makeup and the kid, he’s going to be able to handle this even if there are some valleys.”
One thing that doesn’t quite slump like a baseball bat is a baseball mitt. The defense, even over the final 12 days of the season, looked like a big league shortstop.
“I would tell you he was probably not 100% healthy when you saw him,” Schmidt noted.
Even if the results don’t show up as quickly as recording two hits in two pitches during his Major League debut in September or homering off Clayton Kershaw for his first pop, the belief and support of Tovar is clear.
“He showed enough to us in what he did during the course of the year and all our evaluators and player development people think that he is a guy that we can count on moving forward,” Black said. “Again, not to put any extra pressure on him. Players put enough pressure on themselves. But we’re excited… He’s a good one.”