Today we continue our top five Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) for the mid-season 2018. In case you missed it, here are prospects 30-26, prospects 25-21, prospects 20-16, prospects 15-11, and prospects 10-6. Garrett Hampson led off the top five and yesterday Ryan Rolison was revealed as number four. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 31 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.
3. Colton Welker (826 points, 31 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 5 — High Ballot 3, Mode Ballot 3
How did he enter the organization?
2016 4th Round, Stoneman-Douglas (FL) HS
Why did he make the PuRPs list?
Welker may have been Colorado’s fourth round pick in the 2016 draft, but his $855k signing bonus eclipsed that of fellow top-five PuRP and third round pick Garrett Hampson. The 20-year-old third baseman, who was converted from shortstop in pro ball, has thus far rewarded the Rockies with excellent play at all three minor league stops so far. In fact, if not for an abdominal strain that kept him out of play for two months last season, Welker would have been a strong contender for the South Atlantic League MVP as he led the league in average, OBP, and OPS as a 19-year-old.
Given the opportunity to play for Lancaster this year, the 6’2” Welker has continued to provide plenty of evidence to any doubters that remain that he is a legitimate prospect. Against pitchers who are on average 2.3 years older in the California League, Welker is hitting .316/.369/.471 in 417 plate appearances, which is a 126 wRC+. That includes 11 homers and 25 doubles for the Jethawks, while striking out in 20% of PA and walking in 8%.
As is the case for anyone playing in a hitter’s haven like Lancaster, layering in context is important. Welker’s numbers are buoyed by a .375 BABIP and he’s hitting much better at home (.349/.394/.548) than on the road (.282/.344/.392). He has crushed lefties (.358/.396/.543) and has held his own against righthanders (.304/.362/.451). Factoring all that in, Welker has been darn impressive this year especially considering his age vs. the level of pitching.
What do the scouts say?
Welker has now started to gain overall top 100 prospect consideration from national outlets. He was ranked 10th among all third base prospects in the minors and 3rd in the system by MLB.com with a 55 FV, indicating he was close to that top 100 mark:
With his advanced pitch-recognition skills and feel for the barrel, Welker rarely gets fooled and consistently makes hard contact. Once he adds some needed strength, the bat speed and leverage in his right-handed stroke could generate 20-homer power. He’s a below-average runner with decent instincts on the bases.
Multiple Rockies officials have noted that Welker reminds them of a young Nolan Arenado because they have similar builds and put up similar numbers in their first two years of pro ball. While Arenado has made himself into an elite defender at third base, Welker still is learning the position after playing shortstop in high school. He has the hands and arm strength to be an asset defensively.
Welker’s 55 Hit, 55 Field, and 55 Arm tools are the highlight of the profile.
Welker was given a 45 FV tag and rated 5th in the system by Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs in May:
Welker has a consistently strong track record of hitting as a pro, albeit at places notorious for accentuating offensive performance. He has good bat control and enough raw power to profile at a corner, so it’s somewhat insignificant that his frame is already maxed out. A move to first base, which some of the industry foresees, would dilute his value but not totally crush it. He’ll be 20 all season and is off to a great start in the Cal League.
Bobby DeMuro of Baseball Census has gotten multiple looks at Welker as the season has progressed, which are well worth reading in their entirety. Here was his note on Welker’s projection:
Welker has the power profile to be an everyday guy in the big leagues, and his overall tools give him a higher ceiling than that. Potential impact big leaguer in a couple years; defense must improve but the bat’s got a shot.
DeMuro also notes that Welker has improved defensively throughout the year at third base, which was the primary concern entering the year.
Taken together, the scouting reports paint a picture of a dangerous hitter and an improving fielder, but one who will remain a corner infielder. He’s also getting consistent Nolan Arenado comparisons, but that’s a very nice dream at this point.
Here’s some tape of Welker from that Baseball Census report from this year:
When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?
Welker’s future Major League utility will probably rely heavily on his bat due to the corner infield defensive profile, so it’s been encouraging to see him get off to this kind of start offensively in his professional career. He’s still probably two years away, but Welker makes what was already a loaded corner infield position even more potent for the organization. I ranked Welker 5th on my personal ballot with a 50+ FV as a potential above average big league regular, which I hope looks too low this time next year.
★ ★ ★
Stay tuned for our number two prospect for our mid-season PuRPs list!