Ezequiel Tovar came into the season ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Colorado Rockies system. Despite being just 20 years old, he might finish it in the big leagues. In 229 plate appearances with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, Tovar is slashing .317/.393/.579 with a 165 wRC+. Moreover, he has a dozen home runs and has swiped 16 bases in 17 attempts.
His calling card is his glove. Described by our own Eric Longenhagen as “a no-doubt shortstop with balletic defensive footwork and a well-calibrated internal clock.” Tovar had received similar rave reviews from MLB scouts in the Arizona Fall League. And that was before he blossomed with the bat.
I asked Yard Goats manager Chris Denorfia about the offensive strides that have elevated Tovar’s profile.
“Coming into this year, I was told that there was some chase on down-and-away sliders,” said Denorfia, who played 10 big-league seasons. “But I haven’t seen what everybody was talking about. Somewhere between the Fall League and this spring, he’s made this developmental jump. Something clicked to where he’s recognizing situations where pitchers are going to try to get him to chase. Whether you call it slowing the game down, or just having enough reps, he’s made that adjustment. It was probably the one thing that was holding him back, which is kind of weird to say, because he was only 19 last year.”
The discipline is reflected in the numbers. Despite being one the youngest players in his league, Tovar possesses a 9.6 walk-rate and a 22.3% K-rate. When you add his improved pop to the equation, it’s easy to see why speculation of a call-up — premature that it may be — has begun to grow legs.
Emma Tiedemann replied in the affirmative when asked if Tovar is the best player she’s seen this year. Hartford had played nine games against their Eastern League rival when I posed that question, so the Portland Sea Dogs broadcaster was well-acquainted with what he brings to the table.
“Tovar makes every play look easy,” Tiedemann told me on Friday. “If it’s a play behind the second-base bag, the way he seems to be able to slow things down and still make the hard-and-accurate throw to first base is incredible. At the plate, he can hit for power, hit to the gaps, and he can also get on base with a bunt single. Then he’s a threat to steal. So, I’d say he’s been the player who sticks out the most. The way he’s polished, especially for his age, and just his overall composure, he’s really, really impressive.”
Denorfia’s synopsis is similar to the broadcaster’s.
“He affects games,” said Denorfia. “That’s whether he’s on the bases, playing defense, or in the box. For a 20-year-old kid, in this league, against this competition, to show the maturity level that he does… I don’t think I ever played with a shortstop coming up through the minor leagues that was as talented on both sides of the ball as he is. He’s a very special player.”
A scouting director for an MLB team that could be looking to move veterans for prospects at the trade deadline is on hand for the about-to-conclude Sea Dogs-Yard Goats series. And for good reason. As he put it, “There are a lot of talented players on these teams.” Tovar, with whom the Rockies would be remiss to part ways with, could very well be the best of them.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Ceddanne Rafaela is the fastest-rising prospect in the Boston Red Sox system. Under the radar to start the year, the 21-year-old shortstop/centerfielder was promoted to Double-A Portland earlier this week after tearing up the High-A South Atlantic League to the tune of a .330/.368/.594 slash line, with nine home runs in 209 plate appearances. His wRC+ was a stand-up-and-take-notice 156.
Rafaela’s first Double-A action came against Hartford, and despite him going just 1 for 13, he made a good first impression on Denorfia.
“He looks like he’s really tooled up,” the former big-league outfielder said of the 5-foot-8, 160-pound wunderkind. “You can tell by the way his body moves that he’s dangerous when he’s in the box. I haven’t seen enough of him in the field to have a good idea of what he’s capable of out there, but he looks like he can do damage on a lot of pitches.”
Rafaela proceeded to do just that in the hours following Denorfia’s scouting assessment. Playing in his fourth Double-A game on Friday, Rafaela went 4 for 5 with a double and a home run. On Saturday, he went 2 for 3 with a walk and a home run.
A native of Curaçao who speaks four languages — English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento — Rafaela is equal parts humble and confident. Asked prior to Friday’s game if he’s surprised by how well he’s swung the bat this season, he said that he isn’t. Always ready for the fastball, he’s basically just sticking to his plan and trusting the process.
He’s also enjoying himself.
“This is so much fun,” Rafaela said with a smile. “It’s fun to come to the field and have good teammates. Just to play baseball is fun.”
Who holds the New York/San Francisco Giants franchise record for career RBIs?
The answer can be found below.
Midland Rockhounds broadcaster Bob Hards called his first MLB games earlier this week in Atlanta. The veteran of 31 minor-league seasons was filling in for Oakland A’s radio voice Ken Korach, who was taking the road trip off.
Mark Schaeffer, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 41 games for the San Diego Padres in 1972, died earlier this week at age 73. Schaeffer won both of his career decisions, and his lone save came when he retired the only batter he faced, Pete Rose, in a 17-inning, 4-3 Padres win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Art “Pinky” Deras died last Sunday at age 75. As reported by The Detroit Free Press, Deras hit 13 home runs in 13 tournament games while leading Hamtramck, Michigan to the 1959 Little League World Series championship. Over the course of that season, he pitched 16 shutouts, including 10 no-hitters. Deras went on to play five seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals system, topping out in Double-A.
SABR’s BioProject hit a milestone this past week with its 6,000th biography. The bios — an invaluable contribution to baseball history — can be found here.
Nick Krall was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and one of the several subjects addressed by the Cincinnati Reds GM was the December 2014 trade that brought Eugenio Suárez to the Queen City in exchange for Alfredo Simon. Krall was Cincinnati’s Director of Baseball Operations at the time, while Suárez was coming off an 86 wRC+ in his rookie season with the Detroit Tigers.
“I was actually talking to Walt Jocketty the other day about this,” Krall said on the pod. “Our suite at the Winter Meetings that year was directly across the hall from the Tigers, and there were a couple of players that we talked about. We ended up getting Jonathon Crawford in that deal, a first-round pick who’d had some injury issues. But our scouts, Mike Squires in particular, really liked Eugenio Suárez. We thought that he had the ability to to continue to play the infield. He was getting stronger. He was developing a good approach. We thought there was more power in the bat. We had some heated debates about him versus some other guys, and he’s the one that won out.”
Suárez — subsequently dealt to the Seattle Mariners this spring — banged out 189 home runs while logging a 111 wRC+ in seven seasons with the Reds. Crawford never made it to the majors. Simon went 13-12 with a 5.05 in his one year with the Tigers, then returned to Cincinnati as a free agent.
Roberto Osuna, who served a 75-game suspension in 2018 for violating MLB’s Domestic Violence Policy. has signed with NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines. The 27-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros reliever last pitched in the big leagues in 2020.
Shota Imanaga threw a no-hitter for NPB’s Yokohama BayStars on Tuesday. The 28-year-old left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA, and has 29 strikeouts in 27 innings, on the season.
Scott McGough has 20 saves and a 0.69 ERA with NPB’s Yakult Swallows. The 32-year-old former Miami Marlins right-hander has 35 strikeouts, and has allowed 13 hits, over 26 innings.
Koyo Aoyagi is 7-1 with a 0.89 ERA, and has allowed just 50 hits in 71 innings, with the Hanshin Tigers. The 28-year-old right-hander went 13-6, 2.76 with the NPB Pacific League club a year ago.
Casey Kelly is 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA, and has allowed 56 hits in 66-and-two-thirds innings, with the KBO’s LG Twins. The 32-year-old right-hander — a first-round pick by the Red Sox in 2008 — last pitched in MLB with the San Francisco Giants in 2018.
A few days ago, I ran a Twitter poll asking which of two Toronto Blue Jays pitchers is having the better season. Kevin Gausman (who pitched yesterday) was 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.61 FIP, while Alek Manoah is 7-1 with a 1.81 ERA and a 3.05 FIP.
The results favored FIP. Gausman received 58.3% of the votes cast, while Manoah — my preseason pick to win the AL Cy Young award — garnered 41.7%.
Has Gausman truly had the better season? As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
Esteury Ruiz was promoted to Triple-A this week after slashing .344/.474/.611 with a 176 wRC+ for the Double-A San Antonio Missions. Counting his four games with the El Paso Chihuahuas, the 23-year-old outfielder — No. 25 on our San Diego Padres Top Prospects list — has stolen 39 bases in 44 attempts, and has 12 home runs in 251 plate appearances.
Jackson Chourio is slashing .369/.416/.639 with a 185 wRC+ for the Low-A Carolina Mudcats. No. 8 on our Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list, the 18-year-old outfielder has 13 doubles and six home runs in 142 plate appearances.
Reese Olson — featured in Sunday Notes last August — has a 2.09 FIP to go along with a 3.65 ERA for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. Currently No. 6 on our Detroit Tigers Top Prospects list, the 22-year-old right-hander has 72 strikeouts in 49-and-a-third innings.
Joey Cantillo has a 2.34 ERA and a 2.53 FIP, as well as 62 strikeouts in 42-and-a-third innings, with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks. The 22-year-old left-hander was acquired by the Cleveland Guardians from the San Diego Padres as part of the August 2020 Mike Clevinger trade.
Ricky Tiedemann has a 1.27 ERA and a 1.72 FIP in 49-and-two-thirds innings split between the Low-A Dunedin Blue Jays and the High-A Vancouver Canadians. The 19-year-old left-hander — No. 6 on our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospect list — has 77 strikeouts and has allowed just 20 hits.
Keegan Akin is having a breakout season pitching out of the Baltimore bullpen. In his first year as a full-time reliever, the 27-year-old lefty has a 2.02 ERA and a 3.03 FIP over 15 appearances. He’s punched out 30 batters, and allowed 20 hits and 10 walks in 35-and-two-thirds innings.
Akin attributes his recent success to simply throwing more strikes. Nothing else has really changed. Outside of mostly shelving his curveball — a pitch he’s never relied on heavily — the 5-foot-11, 235-pound former Western Michigan University Bronco is still throwing the same fastball, changeup, and slider. Calling that mix his bread-and-butter, Akin explained that attacking the zone, and not trying to being too precise with his pitches has been the key.
Being fully healthy hasn’t hurt. Akin battled a nagging injury last year, and ended up having surgery for a sports hernia during the offseason. Once he’d recovered from the procedure — and with better in command in mind — he threw more live BPs than he had in previous winters. Akin being a Michigan native, those happened indoors.
“This was about nine minutes from my house,” explained Akin. “I was throwing in a batting cage, to the Grand Rapids Christian High School team. They’re actually really good. They have a pitcher named [Kyle] Remington — we all called him ‘Remy’ — who is going to [the University] of Minnesota on a pretty nice scholarship. I’d have loved to have had those kids on my own high school team.”
That’s not to suggest that many of them were squaring up the southpaw’s offerings in the live BPs. Big league pitchers are a good bit better than even the best high school hitters.
“Yeah, sometimes we are,” said Akin. “I hope we are.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Chicago Magazine, Edward McClelland told the story of the Chicago Whales, who played in the renegade Federal League from 1913-1915.
USA Today’s Gabe Lacques wrote about how Pat Hoberg is MLB’s highest-rated home-plate umpire according to Umpire Scorecards.
Bucs Dugout’s Austin Bechtold told of how the promotion of prospects is sparking signs of life in the Pirates’ rebuild.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Washington Nationals have averaged 7.7 runs per game in their 23 wins. They’ve averaged 2.1 runs per game in their 38 losses.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who have a record of 34-25. have used 12 starting pitchers so far this year. The Toronto Blue Jays, who have a record of 34-24, have used six starting pitchers.
Carlos Tosca, whose Toronto Blue Jays teams went a combined 191-191, is the only manager in MLB history with the same number of wins and losses. Seattle Mariners skipper Scott Servais went into last night with a managerial record of 464-464.
All 15 managers to have managed 3,500 or more big-league games are former big-league players. Jim Leyland, who managed 3,499 games, played seven seasons in the minors but didn’t reach the majors.
On today’s date in 2001, Mike Cameron’s ninth-inning home run lifted the Seattle Mariners to a 10-9 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The two teams combined to go yard nine times, with Bret Boone banging two of Seattle’s six round-trippers. Kazuhiro Sasaki recorded his 25th save.
On today’s date in 1978, the New York Yankees beat the Oakland A’s 2-0 behind solo home runs by Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph. Ron Guidry, who would go on to the finish the season 25-3, tossed a three-hit shutout to run his record to 10-0.
Players born on today’s date include Sam Parrilla, an outfielder whose big-league career comprised 11 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970. Murdered in Brooklyn following a traffic dispute in 1994, the native of Santurce, Puerto Rico was the father of actress Lana Parrilla.
Also born on today’s date was Bitsy Mott, whose MLB career comprised 90 games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945. An infielder, Mott went on to become a longtime security guard for Elvis Presley, and appeared in four of his movies.