SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ezequiel Tovar stood alone in the Rockies' clubhouse at Salt River Fields, focused on the piles of baseball cards on the high-top table in front of him.
A part of him was not-so-secretly hoping he'd find himself, but his main mission was to find his favorite Venezuelan players, like Miguel Cabrera. He found someone from his hometown, a huge grin on his face as he ran over to the nearby couches to show his friends. He was still holding it 30 minutes later, like a little kid cherishing a prized possession.
At 21, Tovar is barely a grownup. Most boys his age are navigating adulthood, learning how to do basic tasks on their own for the first time.
He's mature beyond his years, long ago realizing his potential as a baseball player and the chance the game had to change not only his life but his family's as well. By the time he was 11 he was traveling the world by himself to tournaments and showcases. At 13 he moved from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic, signing his contract with the Rockies the day he was eligible. He came to the United States before his 18th birthday, too young, by state law, to play for the Rockies' rookie league team in Grand Junction. So he went straight to short-A, where he had no problem adjusting to a higher caliber of baseball.
"Being away from family is hard," Tovar said through assistant hitting coach Andy Gonzalez, who translated the interview. "They understand that this is what I do, this is what I love doing. At the end of the day, this is what's going to make me and my family good in the long (haul)."
At a cool 21-and-one-month old, Tovar made his MLB debut, the youngest position player to do so in Rockies' history. He's always been known for his defensive skills, but he got two hits in his first two at-bats, the shortstop proving right away he can do more than just make stunning plays. He felt like a badass, he said that night.
Now he's ready to take over a prime position for a team trying to right the course. The most successful teams in Rockies' history all had a star shortstop at the heart of it, from Troy Tulowitzki during the 2007 and 2009 playoff runs, to Trevor Story in 2017 and 2018.
It's Tovar's turn. And he feels more than ready.
"I'm just another grain in the sand trying to help this team win like everyone else here," he said. "That's my goal and I don't add any pressure to that."
Tovar's arrival isn't just an achievement for himself. He's spearheading the next generation of Rockies' prospects, a group the Rockies believe will be the key to returning them to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The Rockies have been quiet on the free agent and trade market for the past year, believing this group of young players, along with the pieces they already have in Kris Bryant and Brendan Rodgers, will get them where they want to be.
It won't happen overnight. Tovar will be the first for some time, with No. 2 prospect Zac Veen not expected to debut until mid-summer. Then comes outfielder Benny Montgomery a year later. Their pitching prospects — Jaden Hill, Joe Rock, Gabriel Hughes — are still 1-2 seasons away, and it'll be even longer until they are steady parts of their rotation.
There will be growing pains for all of them. Tovar is learning the ropes, and in camp has relied on the steady presence of Brendan Rodgers on his left and Ryan McMahon on his right. But now Rodgers is out for the season, with McMahon moving to second and another young player likely replacing him on that corner.
"He (Tovar) doesn't know the league," manager Bud Black said. "He doesn't know the hitters or our pitchers. He just gathering so much information now."
But Tovar is learning, absorbing as much as he can. He's already performing and behaving like a major leaguer. And he's just the start, with another wave coming behind him.
"He's confident," Black said. "He's comfortable. He's got poise. He's a clear thinker. Those are great attributes for a young player."