19. Colton Welker (373 points, 34 ballots)
Colton Welker may have been Colorado’s fourth round pick in the 2016 draft, but his $855k signing bonus eclipsed that of fellow PuRP and third round pick Garrett Hampson. The Rockies converted the Florida high school product from a shortstop to a third baseman and sent to Grand Junction for his professional debut.
With the GJ Rockies, the 19 year-old (18 at the time) righty faced pitchers who were on average 2.5 years older in the Pioneer League. That didn’t stop Welker from assembling an impressive .329/.366/.490 line with 20 extra base hits in 227 plate appearances—good for a 114 wRC+. Furthermore, Welker dominated after the All-Star Break, hitting .373/.403/.569 in his final 108 PAs. That’s a strong debut season—albeit one boosted by a .356 BABIP.*
*Allow me a quick aside I found interesting: among Welker (114 wRC+ in 2016), Tyler Nevin (100 wRC+ in 2015), Kevin Padlo (155 wRC+ in 2014), and Ryan McMahon (147 wRC+ in 2013), the Rockies are making it an annual tradition of having a high school third baseman tear up the Pioneer League over the last four years. In 2012 there wasn’t much of a prospect presence at third base, but in 2011 at the same level (in Casper) Rosell Herrera (106 wRC+) and Trevor Story (104 wRC+) shared time at the position (and SS). 2010 also was a miss, but 2009 had Nolan Arenado and his 100 wRC+—whatever happened to that guy anyway? Keith Law wrote him off so I stopped paying attention.
I’m hopeful that Welker too will blossom into a strong hot corner prospect for the Rockies. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs ranked him 20th in the system:
Welker has a big, power hitter’s body with an uppercut swing and could have plus raw power at maturity. His overall actions both offensively and defensively are stiff and he projects to first base for many. He’ll have the power to profile there if he has to move. This stiffness in the swing concerns scouts, but Welker showed inelegant bat control in his pro debut and scouts think he has a chance to hit for average. There’s extreme pressure on the bat, especially if Welker has to move to first. He’s far from Denver, but there’s an average regular here if you squint hard enough.
For Longenhagen, Welker’s carrying tool is his future 55 game power (60 raw power) tool. Combining that with a 50 hit tool and you have a dangerous player, even with a 20 future run tool.
An advanced hitter for a teenager, Welker has the potential to hit for power and average. He recognizes pitches well, has nice feel for the barrel and uses the entire field. He has good bat speed and leverage in his right-handed swing that should translate into home run pop as he gets stronger.
Though Welker has below-average speed, he has good instincts on the bases and in the field. He took to the hot corner immediately and has the arm strength and accuracy to make all the plays there.
Taken together, the scouting reports paint a picture of a dangerous hitter, though one who will be limited to a corner infield position defensively. That means he’ll have to prove he can hit all the way up the minor league ladder. I’ll be watching Welker closely in full season ball next year, though he might have competition for reps at third base in Asheville from a now-healthy Nevin and Jose Gomez. A breakout performance like McMahon had at the Low A level would shoot Welker up my list—I placed him 26th this time around.