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Colton Welker: Triple-A dominance, MLB struggles, and a PED suspension

The PED suspension put a damper on what could have been a big year for the 23-year-old

Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 40, Colton Welker: -0.4 rWAR

Well, there’s no shortage of material to get through when it comes to the year that Colton Welker had while splitting time between the Colorado Rockies, the Albuquerque Isotopes, and the Spokane Indians. The biggest problem when evaluating the young third baseman’s season is that the sample size is so small. He played in a combined 50 games for those three teams, but served an 80-game suspension for PED use in between that. Seeing as that was the most significant chunk of games, we’ll start there.

Evan Lang had the full breakdown at the time, but it seems as if this was a case of questionable policy on the part of MLB and not so much a player trying to find a way to get ahead. Welker was given the suspension after testing positive for DHCMT (Justin Lawrence was suspended for the same compound in 2020), but Colton maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal. Here’s an excerpt from Evan’s original piece:

Welker has denied willingly or intentionally using the substance, known also as Oral Turbinol, to enhance his athletic performance. He joins a group of over 20 players who have tested positive for the substance since 2015, many of whom maintain their innocence and point to a flawed testing process.

Without a doubt, the suspension was disappointing. Still, as someone leaning towards believing that this punishment was a mistake and the result of a poorly developed rule, I’m inclined to feel that the worst part of this was that Welker missed out on valuable development time.

In our preseason prospect rankings, Welker grabbed the number five spot, a two-spot drop from his pre-2020 rank. He made quite the impression in spring training with a .362/.392/.553 slash line that had people thinking he might sneak onto the big league roster come Opening Day. Not only did he not quite make the cut, but he was hit with the suspension just a month later. Even without playing, he still was the sixth-best prospect the Rockies had according to our mid-season rankings.

When he was actually on the field, he had mixed results. When playing with the Isotopes, Welker had a slash line of .286/.378/.476–nothing incredible but more than adequate. In his twenty-three games with Albuquerque, he mashed three homers, knocked in eighteen RBIs, and averaged just over a hit per game with twenty-four total. A hot stretch at Triple-A resulted in a September call-up in which he had a pretty hard time adjusting to big-league pitching. In 37 major league at-bats, he managed just seven hits, one of which went for extra bases. His .189/.250/.216 slash line left a lot to be desired.

The good news is this was just the very beginning of what still has plenty of time to develop into a solid major league career. Welker should be in the thick of the competition next spring for spots on the big league roster. He may have a hard time cracking into the infield now that the Rockies re-signed C.J. Cron, but if Trevor Story leaves, another opening will be there for Welker to try and make his case. If and when he does make his way back to the majors, I’m thoroughly looking forward to his first big league home run.