We made it! Finally, some minor league action to get into. So much to take in this first week. My attention gravitated toward the teenagers hidden away during their biggest developmental years, 2020 draftees yet to debut, and the international players making stateside debuts. The San Jose (SF)/Fresno (Col) series fit the bill well.
Zac Veen, Luis Matos, Grant Lavigne, Drew Romo and someone named Marco Luciano was the marquee, but these two rosters carry an exciting undercard, some names poised to bloom and 2020 “sleeper” draftees by influencers in the industry this FYPD season. Luis Toribio, Nick Swiney, Mateo Gil, Bladimir Restituyo, Kyle Harrison, Mitchell Kilkenny, Alexander Canario, Breiling Eusebio, Armani Smith, Casey Schmitt (well, at least little ol’ me is a fan), and Ezequiel Tovar, one of my favorite prospects in all of baseball, were knocking off the rust. Let’s go!
In addition to the lineups, San Jose is a nice Single-A broadcast to watch. The range of broadcast production at this level can range from non-existent to single press box cam to a fairly classy production. If you watch a game out of San Jose, plan on a decent look at a right-handed pitcher, not as great for lefties, sometimes with no view of balls in play at all. You do get some replay, particularly a camera slowing down views of right-handers’ swings.
Full disclosure: regardless of how he played, Tovar was gonna get in this piece, rain or shine, and we got shine. I was pumped when he walked up to the batter’s box, before he even took a swing. The first thing I want to get a sense of from players who were 17-20 years old during the lost season is their physical development, never mind box scores and all that. 2021 should provide a poignant before and after picture for these young guys in the physical development prime of their lives, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of looks I wanna get.
Best Shape of His Life May Actually Mean Something Here
Tovar spent COVID in Arizona working out. The Rockies spoke of the added strength and although these images aren’t Jasson Dominguez-esque, if you consider what this kid looked like when I first saw him in Boise and Grand Junction… wow, it’s significant. He wasn’t labeled a “frame to grow into” guy either. He’s still listed at his 2019 size, but you tell me how accurate that is:
Above is Tovar summer ’19 playing for Boise, which at the time, I was impressed how much stronger he’d gotten since 2018 images of him in the DSL. His body type is thicker waist down than up top, but he’s added more strength in the legs and the upper half has cut the gap some:
To further understand, you have to consider what kind of prospect Tovar is. If we lived in an alternate fantasy reality where defense, games played, baseball IQ, leadership, on-field presence, playing well above your age, and most all the things we don’t directly measure in our categories existed, this dude is Luciano, and Luciano is Tovar. (Not a knock on Luciano in these regards, just my analogy, so let me have my fun here.) The only thing I don’t love about this 19-year-old prospect is the offensive questions, but even in that, there is more than I think led on. So seeing him walk up stronger than I ever really thought would happen… it’s changed my fantasy outlook on him significantly.
Tovar has the glove, the intangibles, speed and athleticism to be a big leaguer, I dare say today, so it all depends on an offensive skill set at least getting to passable MLB levels. It’s far from there, but it’s also far from the complete offensive dud he seems to get pegged as. Heading into this season I didn’t feel great the way it seemed his approach was headed. I wanted more of a contact-oriented approach to put the ball in play and use his speed; maybe that will get him to the bigs.
Instead, his swing was and is still more of a contemporary launch angle-seeking device, which he’s far from gotten down. He is very much still developing in these regards. Tovar does this odd thing with his load too. He alternates between a high leg lift load and a front foot on the ground, upper body strength-required load, of which I still can’t discern when he decides to use one over the other. It’s not a two-strike thing, nor an off-speed vs fastball thing. Is it just an in-the-moment feel thing?
This isn’t the greatest, but pickings can be slim and hard to find. It does exemplify how I felt about his offense in 2019 though:
Tovar likes to lay down a bunt and try and steal a hit that way as well, and his speed inflates some of his numbers. That’s all well in fine, but his body did not match his swing. Most of his 2019 hard contact was well-struck line drives to gaps, doubles that would have been singles for most. So when I saw him do a few things this week, exuding new strength, piecing some development together, it starts to make more sense.
This semi-one-handed reach the bat out to get at a low and away breaker went off the left-field wall. Tovar?! What!?! That’s a new display of pop for Tovar and I’ve seen a lot of his ABs, video, and in-person.
I’m not typically a fan of smaller middle infielder-types going with home run-driven swings, but as Tovar did above, he doesn’t completely sell out for the attempted long ball. He’s shown the ability to adjust mid-swing utilizing his great hands and covering the strike zone well. The added muscle has helped him tone down that leg lift too. All the looks we got this week of him using the lift, it’s substantially toned down from 2019:
These three shots are max load (left), typical lift in 2019, (middle) and 2021 when he keeps the front foot down (right). This next look is foot down sending one to the track this week, again displaying pop I haven’t seen before:
Long story short, there’s an added element here, one that could very well make him more of a threat offensively, actually able to do some hard-hit damage. For a guy with a skillset giving him a ticket to ride as long as he is tall enough, assuming his offense is good enough, this is significant to me. The kid amongst kids is turning alpha dog in Fresno. He’s the guy for that squad. He was the only one from both sides playing in all six games, had the second-most hits of anyone, and a dude advanced in certain facets of the game no one on that field can touch yet — just not at the plate where we focus the majority of our attention… yet anyways.
Just for my own fun here, and getting into box score things, he sure was the best shortstop on the field this week, outperforming his counterpart Luciano who went 3-for-22 with seven Ks while Tovar went 7-for-25 with five Ks, three 2B, and two SB. He was better than the four-months-younger Veen. Veen, understandably so, had a rough week striking out 11 times in 17 ABs with three hits. I wonder where Tovar would have gone this last MLB draft? Alright, back to the real stuff. I was doing so well bypassing the silly box score stuff and then I had to give in to my impulses there.
As I prefaced in an early February piece, Tovar isn’t an asset you have to run out and get. I had one share in one of my 30-teamers and felt good about that. He was unowned in all my other large leagues. That is not the case now (hehehe), but we will keep an eye on how his offense goes in 2021. If things start to develop further, I am not willing to put a ceiling on where this very advanced 19-year-old can go fantasy-wise. If 2021 was his professional start, I tend to think the narrative would be drastically different on him, but lucky for us mudders, he’s gotten a less favorable fantasy reputation already.
I have a wise prospecting friend, who has been at this for a long time, who suggests not finding prospects, but rather crossing them off the list. I like to think that’s what mudding is all about. We just spent 1600ish words and some crappy gifs to essentially say that Tovar remains. That’s the hustle. Is Tovar a fantasy star in the making? Probably not, but he’s closer to it than a lot of guys he shared the field with this week. Being only a few checked boxes away from becoming a big-time prospect heading into 2021, Tovar needs to continue to advance at the plate, particularly making consistently good contact. I’m pumped we finally get to watch it come along.
Casey Schmitt GIF “Bonus”
One of two HRs hit all week in San Jose, the other was Armani Smith who had a real nice week other than that botched play on Tovar’s double we saw leading to an extra bag.
Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)