The Colorado Rockies are pretty set at the infield corners between Nolan Arenado and Daniel Murphy. However, Colton Welker is coming on strong and could be an option in 2020 in the event of an injury. He could be the latest in a long line of homegrown infielders to make an impact at the major league level.
Colton Welker Prospect Report
High School Standout
Colton Welker hails from the powerhouse that is Stoneman-Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. It’s the school that has produced major league players such as Anthony Rizzo and Jesus Luzardo. Welker was outstanding as a senior while hitting .500/583/883 with six home runs and only seven strikeouts. He led the prep squad to its first state championship before Colorado selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft.
Minor League Dominance
Welker breezed through the first three levels of the Colorado system. He never posted an OPS below .850 before running into injury trouble that limited him to just 98 games in Double-A. Welker was still able to slash .252/313/408 for the Hartford Yard Goats but most of the season was below-average as he dealt with a shoulder issue. That could mean a repeat at the same level for the 22-year-old.
Welker was remarkably solid despite some obvious problems in 2019. He didn’t display sharp platoon splits and hit fine against older pitchers. The average age for an Eastern League pitcher was 24-years-old in 2019, so one can give a hitter that was three years younger some slack when considering the big picture. The shoulder injury lingered into the Arizona Fall League where Welker hit an awful .229/340/593. The Fall Leauge features some of the premier talents in the minors. That level of skill coupled with recovery produced the worst hitting line in Welker’s career to this point.
What Makes Welker a Top Prospect
The injury issues aside, Welker has shown a consistent ability to make contact and drive the ball. He doesn’t seem to have true standout power but there is more than enough feel to be an above-average hitter. Welker has walked in seven percent of his plate appearances in the minors with a strike-out rate of around 17 percent. He is more of a doubles hitter but that can produce big results at Coors Field if he can continue developing. There aren’t any major issues with his swing; he just needs to prove he can continue to hit against more advanced pitching. A full season against Double-A pitching will be ideal for a player who hit above .300 every year prior to 2019.
Welker also has a decent glove for third base. He is a little slow for the hot corner but teams can employ multiple defensive schemes to limit his exposure at the position. He played about 40 percent of his innings at first base in Double-A. That could be his future home but he doesn’t have the power of a prototypical first baseman. Welker is almost caught in between but has been serviceable at both corners. Colorado will likely continue to play him at both third and first until there’s proof he can only handle one.
What to Expect from Welker in 2020
A rough 2019 probably puts Welker back in Hartford for the start of this year assuming a minor league season happens. A strong opening in Double-A could push him to Triple-A Albuquerque. The jump from the Eastern League to the Pacific Coast League is one of the starkest in terms of offense. It is the final challenge before players are called up to the literal mountain top in Denver. We might not get a 2020 minor league season, which would throw everything off. Welker needs to get back on the field and prove that he has recovered from his issues last year.
Welker is in an interesting position as a Rockies prospect. He could be a solid replacement for Arenado with his bat but he isn’t the same defender. He also has more experienced competition for both corners between Josh Fuentes and Ryan McMahon. Fellow infield prospects like Michael Toglia or Ryan Vilade also complicate his potential future. Colorado’s draft focus on first and third has produced a handful of players all vying for the same spots. A lot will hinge on how each hits, fields, and if Arenado opts-out of his deal. If the superstar stays in Colorado long-term, Welker might be a useful trade chip for depth at other positions.
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