Ezequiel Tovar Is Way Closer to Elly De La Cruz in Value Than You’d Think

Ezequiel Tovar and Elly De La Cruz are two young shortstops that offer different skillsets but similar values. The gap between the two of them may be smaller than you think.

DENVER, CO - JUNE 4: Ezequiel Tovar (14) of the Colorado Rockies turns two on ball hit by Blake Dunn (76) of the Cincinnati Reds as TJ Friedl (29) ducks out of the way during the second inning at Coors Field in Denver on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

DENVER, Colo. – Perception is not always reality in sports, especially when there are statistics that can contradict what the eye sees.

The prevailing thought around the game is that Elly De La Cruz is by far the best young shortstop in the National League. 

The Cincinnati Reds top prospect in 2023 has been a one-man production studio that has pumped out new highlight reels on seemingly a nightly basis.

However, a look into the numbers behind these performances suggest the 22-year-old shortstop in the opposing dugout during the Reds-Rockies three-game series is just as good.

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Ezequiel Tovar is another franchise cornerstone hoping to lead a largely inexperienced roster of players to their first playoff appearance in several seasons. Whether or not he gets their first will little in the conversation for which man has been the better individual player.

Though it’s both incredibly early in the career of De La Cruz and Tovar, their impact on their respective team and remarkable skill set has been wholly different. It may continue down that path for years to come.

Tale of the Plate

The stolen base came back in vogue in 2023 with new rules encouraging more aggressive baserunning and De La Cruz is the poster child in 2024. With an average sprint speed of 30.0 ft/sec and a 90 ft sprint time of 3.75 second, De La Cruz has used his gift to successfully steal 32 bases. That not only leads all of Major League Baseball, but it’s more than eight entire teams. 

Entering the series with the Rockies, the Reds’ no. 2 hitter was on pace for 87 stolen bases. The last time someone swiped as many was Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson (93) in 1988. When you’re in the 99th percentile in sprint speed, it’s much easier to do something no one has accomplished in over 30 years. 

De La Cruz has been potent with the bat as well, slugging nine home runs and driving in 24 RBI. During one stretch this season, he became just the fifth player in the modern era (1901) with at least nine homers and 25 steals over 40 games a single-season span and the first since Henderson and former Reds’ outfielder Eric Davis in 1986.

A 6-foot-5 frame allows him to damage on contact, but he can often struggle to do this. His 32.9 strikeout percentage is not exactly the worst among qualified hitters this season, but it’s close. At 84 strikeouts through 61 games this, he’s tops. And since debuting on May 22 last year, his 33.4% strikeout percentage and 227 strikeouts ranks second in all of MLB.

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The one area in which Tovar most matches De La Cruz is in this department. Due to a 62.4 swing percentage that’s the highest mark in the Majors, the Colorado Rockies shortstop is third in strikeouts with 79. Despite this similarity, the results for Tovar have been a touch better for those balls put in play. Especially after May.

Tovar led the NL last month in extra-base hits (17), tied for first in doubles (11) and finished fifth in average (.312) thanks to 39 hits, second-most in the Senior Circuit.

Closer to the league average height at 6’0”, Tovar’s power is still in the developing stage. Though his eight home runs aren’t far from his counterpart’s 10 this season, it’s the two-base hit where Tovar excels. His 19 doubles currently rank second in MLB and since the start of 2023, no player has more than Tovar’s 56.

Tovar’s sprint speed is fine at the 65th percentile and has stolen bases on 15 occasions since debuting late in 2022, but that pales in comparison to De La Cruz. During one 19 games stretch this season from April 26 – May 16, De La Cruz amassed as many as Tovar in his 221 career games.


Highlights plays aside, the one area in which Tovar is undoubtedly better than De La Cruz is defense.

A finalist during his rookie campaign for the NL Gold Glove Award at shortstop, Tovar returned determined to hear his name announced by Rawlings as the winner in 2024.

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In 268 chances this season, Tovar has made one error, good for a .996 fielding percentage that ranks best at the position. In fact, his .990 career fielding percentage is the highest in Major League history among shortstops with at least 200 games played.

Tovar does have one honor for his impressive glove work already. Sports Info Solutions named him the Defensive Player of the Month in the NL after seven defensive runs saved during May. Altogether this season, he’s tied for first with six defensive runs saved.

Other metrics also support Tovar’s abilities as one of the best defenders of his generation. Ultimate Zone Rating (5.1) ranks him as second among all qualified position players while Baseball Reference’s dWAR (0.9) has him tied for fifth in the sport.

As for De La Cruz, the metrics like him a bit more than the raw stats. On Monday night, he earned his 11th error of the season on a relatively routine ground ball hit to him at 87.5 mph. This put him atop the leaderboard for most in across both leagues.

His range (97th percentile) and arm (91st) are elite and more favorable than Tovar, but his ability to make some everyday plays has been a challenge at times for the Dominican born star. Long levers make it difficult at times to reign in throws to first base, but De La Cruz has made adjustments to shorten his arm slot to improve throwing accuracy.

The Intangibles

It’s not very often that a club in last place gets to play in the spotlight. However both shortstops have featured at historic Dodger Stadium already this season.

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Tovar posted consecutive three-hit games in Los Angeles over the weekend, becoming only the fifth player in Colorado’s 32-season history to do so. These performances helped make him only the second player for the franchise after Troy Tulowitzki in 2007 to record 10 or more doubles and five or more home runs in a calendar month before turning 23. For Rockies fans, that’s mighty special company.

With the baseball world curious about what he could do across from the Dodgers trifecta of former MVPs, De La Cruz stole four bases in the same game, falling one shy the Reds’ single-game high. He would also record four hits against Los Angeles during that outstanding performance, tying him for a career-high set the last time he set foot in Dodger Stadium in 2023. For the first time in the modern era of the storied history of that franchise, De La Cruz had four hits and steals in the same contest.

Is it telling that the Rockies have committed to Tovar long term while the Reds have not done the same? Not exactly. Tovar debut in Sept. 2022 and have a full season under his belt when Colorado signed him to a seven-year, $72 million extension in the offseason.

As for Elly, he’s still a few games away from reaching 162. In the offseason, maybe Cincinnati will take some of the money from their expiring contracts — well over $50 million of guaranteed money could come off the books before 2025 — and secure the future of their franchise to stay in the Queen City through the next decade.

What’s certain is that it will be fun to watch these young shortstops mature together and battle with their varied skills sets for many, many years to come.