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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, mid-season 2021: numbers 10 to 6

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We’ve cracked the Top 10!

We’re now in the top ten of the mid-season 2021 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list. Previously we had PuRPs 30-26, 25-21, 20-16, and 15-11. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 23 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.

For each player on the PuRPs list, I’ll include a link to individual stats and contract status (via Baseball-Reference), PuRPs voting stats, a note on the 2021 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer where possible. For what it’s worth, I’ll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the date the article is posted.

10. Ryan Vilade (446 points, 22 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 3 — High Ballot 2, Mode Ballot 5, 6, 12

How did he enter the organization?

2017 2nd Round, Stillwater HS (OK)

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Vilade represents a potential strong MLB offensive player (he was named the top offensive player at the alternate site last year), though his defensive utility increasingly appears to be limited. The 22-year-old righty, who was Colorado’s first pick in the 2017 draft (signing for a $1.425M bonus) and was listed a shortstop, was always pegged as a player likely to slide down the defensive spectrum.

In 2021, that finally became the case as the Rockies moved Vilade to full-time outfield duty — he’s spent time at all three OF positions (and a little 1B) this year, but the plurality of his action has come in left field and none has come at SS or 3B. He started that defensive transition before the 2020 season, especially at the alternate site.

Here was former Rockies AGM of Player Development on Vilade at the alternate site:

“[Vilade] started to get his man strength” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson said. “Now he’s 225 pounds, it’s strong, put together and still athletic. The way the ball came off his bat last fall, then this spring and into summer camp. He’s squaring up more balls than ever, the power is really showing up now. He understands his swing now.

...

“The power, the understanding of his swing path based on pitcher and pitch type, the intricacies of becoming a good hitter. It’s carried all through with hitting homers, driving balls in the gap. He’s really maturing as an all-around hitter.”

“You look at the work he’s done in the outfield now, he holds his own there now, to say the least,” Wilson said. “He’s starting to feel at home, in left field in particular. He’s put things together. I can’t wait to see him in games.”

Coming off a 2019 season where he crushed the ball (128 wRC+) as one of High-A’s youngest players, the Rockies skipped Vilade over Double-A entirely for the 2021 campaign, assigning him instead to Triple-A Albuquerque (note: this is the first time in the top 30 write-ups so far where I’ve even mentioned Triple-A). In 360 PAs for Albuquerque against players who are on average 4.8 years older, Vilade is hitting .278/.335/.407 with five HR, 28 XBH, and 11 steals in 14 chances.

Though those numbers seem decent on the surface, Triple-A (and Albuquerque in particular) is an environment heavily tilted towards hitters, so that line is only good for a 83 wRC+. Vilade has maintained a decent 18% K rate and 8% BB rate in Triple-A (similar to his High-A rates) and was selected to participate in the prestigious 2021 MLB Futures Game as part of the Rockies contingent (he went 0-2 as the DH).

2080 Baseball has some video of Vilade from June 2018:

What do the scouts say?

Vilade is ranked 3rd by Baseball Prospectus in their pre-2021 list. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Vilade:

Going into 2020, Vilade was prepared to play the outfield for the first time. It wasn’t going to work as a shortstop, although we felt the Rockies may have given him more leash as a third baseman given his relative inexperience there before the 2019 season. There is much less uncertainty about Vilade at the plate, as he uses the whole field, doesn’t strikeout often, and can put a charge into baseballs. Given the large dimensions of Coors Field, expect to see a lot of extra-base hits. But he keeps moving down the defensive spectrum, putting more pressure on the bat to perform.

Vilade hasn’t faced Double-A pitching yet. He will have to do that next year while playing a new position. Coors Field isn’t exactly small, and being a below-average runner might be an issue even in the corners.

MLB.com ranks Vilade 4th in the org:

Over the last year and a half, Vilade had evolved from a good hitter with solid bat-to-ball skills and an advanced approach to one who can really damage the baseball. He’s added strength and very good weight without sacrificing any athleticism and might now have 70 raw power from the right side of the plate. Because of his approach and plate discipline, he’s a safer bet to get to that power, with the Rockies thinking he might be a 25-30-homer guy in the future.

Vilade has moved around a bit defensively, starting his pro career at shortstop, moving to third and then focusing more on playing left field, where he could be an average defender. He’s likely done with the hot corner, but he could get some reps at first, where he played a bit during instructs. He does have the chance to be an everyday run producer in left field, reminding some of former Rockie Matt Holliday.

The evaluation is highlighted by 60 grades on Vilade’s power and arm, with only a 45 run grade coming under 50.

Baseball America ranked Vilade 9th entering 2021:

Vilade is traditionally a slow starter but tends to round into form as the season progresses. He has a flat, impactful swing that makes a lot of contact, and he’s added strength that has pushed up his weight from 200 to 226 pounds. That stands to help his power, though his swing path is more geared for line drives and makes him more of a doubles hitter than a home run threat. He’s always been able to go the other way effectively and has learned when to turn on the inside pitch while still staying up the middle on balls out over the plate. Vilade’s defense is a different story. Despite his average speed, his slow reactions and limited range make him a liability at both shortstop and third base. The Rockies moved him to the outfield to give him another defensive option.

Vilade was ranked 2nd in the system with a 45+ FV grade back in March by Fangraphs:

A series of swing changes have led to Vilade’s current “toe twist” stride, a very simple cut that leans into his great natural bat control and strength-derived pop. He can make contact with pitches all over the zone but typically does his damage slugging pitches on the inner half, especially wayward lefty fastballs in there. Watch how his groundball rate trends in 2021. The 2019 swing that may have helped bring his groundball rate closer to average (50% previously, down to 42% in ’19) has again been changed, so it’s hard to say how much damage he’s going to be capable of now.

A high school shortstop, Vilade began seeing time at third base in 2019, then took reps in the outfield during the Rockies’ fall workouts, and at the 2020 alternate site and in instructs. He’s a heavy-footed, 40-grade athlete who isn’t likely to be a good defender anywhere, but might be a replacement-level defender in a couple of spots (hopefully some third base, more likely first base and left field). While he certainly has the raw juice (this guy was putting balls way out of Wrigley Field in a high school home run derby), Vilade hasn’t produced the kind of game power to be a 50 FV, everyday type of regular in my opinion, though he did have some Top 100 support from folks who work for analytically-inclined clubs. Vilade’s feel for contact makes him a likely role-playing sort who I hope continues to see some third base time.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Though Vilade hasn’t been an elite performer offensively so far in Triple-A, it’s important to remember he’s only 22 in the upper minors. Vilade is a lock to receive a 40-man roster spot this off-season because of his offensive potential and production as well as his ability to transition into an outfield role defensively. That will throw him right into the outfield playing time mix as soon as next year, where he’ll compete for (likely, given that this is the Rockies we’re talking about) a reserve role to start the season, depending on how the tender deadline and free agency work out. His ability to fake it at third base and first base will also increase Vilade’s potential MLB utility.

That’s not to say I think Vilade will stay a reserve for long in MLB. I think he’ll be a big league regular in some capacity within two years. I ranked Vilade fifth on my ballot with a 45 FV grade as a regular contributor, likely in left field.

★ ★ ★

9. Jaden Hill (476 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: NR — High Ballot 4, Mode Ballot 7

How did he enter the organization?

2021 2nd Round, Louisiana State University

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Entering 2021, Hill was still thought of as a potential top five pick overall due to his top of rotation promise. However, the 21-year-old righty starter didn’t have the junior year he wanted though, as his season was cut short after 29 23 IP by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. The injury and some inconsistent command issues during the 2021 season led Hill to drop out of the first round altogether, where the Rockies selected him 44th overall in the second round and signed him to a slot bonus of $1.69M.

The TJ surgery wasn’t the first setback for Hill, who had only thrown 21 23 innings collegiately at LSU in his first two years combined due to elbow issues his freshman year as well as the shortened COVID season. In the seven starts he did get in before the surgery, the 6’4”, 234 pound pitcher struggled to a 6.67 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while only striking out 7.6 hitters per 9 IP — some evaluators speculate these struggles were due to Hill pitching while hurt.

So far I’ve probably got you down on Hill as a prospect — there’s definitely the injury history, not a lot of game reps, and therefore risk he’s a reliever. However, it’s important to counterbalance that with the fact that, when healthy, Hill possesses not only an upper 90s fastball but also a plus changeup, a potentially above average slider, and decent control. If he can regain that form after surgery and maintain his results with a starter’s workload, that’s a clear difference maker in the starting rotation or an impact late inning reliever.

Here’s some video of Hill early in the abbreviated 2020 season courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball:

What do the scouts say?

Hill was ranked 36th overall by MLB.com among 2021 draft prospects as a 50 FV player:

Hill operated in the upper 90s as a reliever last season and has flashed the ability to deal at 95-97 mph with a peak of 99 as a starter. He has possessed a plus changeup since his high school days and it presently arrives in the mid-80s with a lot of tumble. He has shown signs of transforming what had been a slurvy breaking ball into a nasty mid-80s slider that can be a plus offering at its best but was below average for much of 2021.

A former three-star quarterback recruit who had offers from mid-level college football programs, Hill is strong, physical and athletic at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds. He throws strikes but still needs to fine-tune his command and has yet to prove he can maintain premium stuff over a full season of starts. If he can’t, he offers closer upside as a reliever.

That evaluation includes a 65 grade on the fastball, a 60 on the change, and a 55 on the slider with a 50 control grade.

Fangraphs ranked Hill 39th prior to the draft as a 40+ FV prospect and slots him 14th in the system:

Hill was built like a quarterback in high school and had a fastball that sat 90-94 and an easy plus changeup, but he was unspeakably wild and ended up at LSU. He showed occasional feel to pitch as a Tiger freshman and looked to be turning the corner in the weekend rotation when he went down with a strained UCL. He didn’t pitch in the fall but was ready to go for his sophomore spring and was up to 97 in the preseason before being up to 99 during the early part of the shortened 2020 campaign. After generating mixed results early in 2021, Hill blew out and needed Tommy John. In addition to his changeup, Hill has two breaking balls (LSU calls them a slider and cutter, but they have more curve/modern slider sensibilities), the best of which is a slider/cutter in the 88-90 mph range. He looks like a late-inning power bullpen arm.

Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Hill 27th in the pre-draft process, one spot ahead of Rockies first rounder Benny Montgomery, and had this to say after the Rockies picked Hill:

[Hill] looked like a candidate to go 1-1 when the season started, and within a month, his season was over due to a torn elbow ligament. He has touched 99 with a plus changeup and improving slider, and he already is built like a big-league starter, listed at 6-4, 234. He’s also thrown 51 innings across three years (one pandemic-shortened) in college due to various elbow injuries. There’s risk here, but this is a no-brainer pick. He’ll be the Rockies’ best pitching prospect if he comes back healthy.

Kiley McDaniel of ESPN.com ranked Hill 47th pre-draft:

A potential top-10 pick entering the spring, has a separator 70-grade changeup and tons of upside, but injury (had Tommy John this spring) and execution issues.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

There’s certainly a big question mark around Hill right now. If he emerges out of surgery with his stuff intact and is able to remain in the starting rotation, he becomes Colorado’s best pitching prospect (certainly top three in the system). The word “if” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence though.

Hill is a risky pitcher not only for injury but also for role because it’s not a lock he stays as a starter either. If he’s a starter, it’s a 3-4 year ramp to the big leagues; as a reliever, it’s probably 2-3 years for Hill. I always have trouble ranking these types of prospects, but in the end I fell toward the bottom of the electorate on Hill, slotting him 14th on my personal ballot with a 40+ FV grade.

★ ★ ★

8. Chris McMahon (484 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 7 — High Ballot 4, Mode Ballot 8, 9, 10

How did he enter the organization?

2020 2nd Round, University of Miami

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

McMahon represents a pitcher likely to remain a starter with mid-rotation upside. Drafted 46th overall in 2020 and given a slightly over-slot $1.637M bonus, the 22-year-old righty has a low fastball-heavy approach and brings athleticism on the mound. Former Rockies AGM of Player Development Zach Wilson had this to say about McMahon in MLB.com’s fall instructs review:

He has tremendous strike-throwing ability. He has advanced command of his fastball, with everything at the kneecaps, and he mixes in a quality changeup and slider.

Given the advanced command profile, it wasn’t surprising to see McMahon assigned directly to High-A Spokane to begin his professional career. Against players who are on average 1.3 years older, McMahon has held his own so far in 17 starts with Spokane. In 86 13 IP, McMahon has a 4.59 ERA with a 1.39 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 rate against a 2.7 BB/9 rate. That includes a notable home/road split — he’s got a 6.48 ERA in seven home starts but a 3.40 ERA in ten away starts.

Here’s some video of McMahon courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball from February 2020 with front and side views of his delivery:

What do the scouts say?

Baseball Prospectus ranked McMahon 5th in the system on their pre-2021 list. Here’s Keanan Lamb on McMahon:

[In 2020] McMahon was finally healthy and showing stuff area scouts believed was first-round caliber. After leading the team in strikeouts, he came out in fall workouts up to 98 mph and dominated in his few spring starts. Had the NCAA season continued, it’s possible he could have worked his way further up draft boards in what was an incredibly deep college pitching class. The delivery is consistent, staying a hair upright and tall on his front leg without pushing off much with his back hip. So his mid-90s fastball is rooted in arm strength with the potential to add a tick or two with more lower half engagement. The breaking ball is a slurvy, downer-type that flashes good movement as a chase pitch even though it can be inconsistent.

Staying healthy has been the issue during McMahon’s amateur career. He has solid tools as a starting pitcher, needing sustained reps to work on his secondaries, including a changeup that has improved over time. Between the stout body, mechanics, and lack of mileage on his arm, there is some hope that there is a lot of projection left to be tapped into.

MLB.com, who had McMahon 29th on their overall 2020 draft list, ranks McMahon 8th in the system:

During his time in instructional league play, McMahon really stood out with his pitchability, especially his fastball command. He can run it up to the mid-90s with late action when he keeps it down and he’s shown the ability to reach back for a bit more when needed. While he has good feel for spin, his breaking ball can be a bit of a slurvy hybrid, but should be tight slider with good late three-quarters tilt to it, a potential plus pitch. His changeup gets swings and misses as well as generates weak contact.

In addition to the breaking ball consistency, he’ll have to continue to work on shortening his deeper arm action to help keep his stuff from flattening out. Thanks to his athleticism and feel for pitching, he has a very good chance to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation type starter.

Highlighting the evaluation is a plus (60) grade on the fastball and a 55 on the changeup.

Fangraphs ranked McMahon 49th overall in their 2020 draft list and then ranked him 5th in the system as a 45 FV player in March:

McMahon consistently touches 96 or 97 during his outings and sits in the 91-95 range, his fastball has tail and sink, and its movement mimics a still-improving changeup, while McMahon’s slider remains his go-to finishing pitch. For how violent his delivery is, McMahon fills the zone with his fastball and is pretty good at locating his slider consistently to his glove side, although not always in a precise, enticing location. He often appears to be “underneath” his changeup, and creates lateral action on it but inconsistent dive; sometimes he actually gets impact dive on the change when he releases it late and it ends up glove-side. Yes, he’s had some injury issues (knee tendinitis in 2018, shoulder soreness in ’19) but McMahon has No. 4/5 starter stuff with a chance for more if the change keeps coming.

The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked McMahon 7th in the system in a preseason look:

McMahon was the Rockies’ third pick in 2020, a polished college right-hander with good command and feel but without a plus pitch. He’ll pitch at solid-average, touching 95, with an above-average changeup he didn’t use enough in college and a fringe-average curveball. He’s a strike-thrower who could end up with above-average command and plus control, but I’m not sure there’s a real out pitch here. He would be a potential league-average starter if he developed one — an improved changeup, a switch to a slider — but he doesn’t look like he’ll miss enough bats yet to be more than a back-end guy.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

McMahon’s mid-rotation potential already elevates him above most Rockies pitching prospects, and his advanced approach means we could see McMahon on a big league mound within two years. The mid-rotation upside, draft pedigree, and frankly a lack of more interesting options led me to rank McMahon 11th on my personal ballot as a 45 FV prospect.

★ ★ ★

7. Drew Romo (540 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 8 — High Ballot 2, Mode Ballot 8

How did he enter the organization?

2020 Competitive Balance Round A, The Woodlands HS (TX)

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Romo represents an investment in the catching position the Rockies haven’t made since the 1998 draft — a player drafted in the top 100 of the draft — and he represents the highest catcher ever drafted by Colorado at 35th overall (he signed for a slot $2.1M bonus). The 6’1”, 205-pound 19-year-old is a member of quite possibly the riskiest prospect demographic out there — a high school catcher who is also a switch-hitter to boot — but he also provides a strong floor as an elite defensive player behind the plate.

In fact, Romo was clearly the top defensive backstop in his draft class and provides Gold Glove potential at the position. That’s not all though — in MLB.com’s Rockies instructs article, former Rockies AGM of Player Development Zach Wilson was quite complimentary of Romo’s offensive game too:

Offensively, I don’t think he got the credit he deserved, this guy can hit and he’s going to hit. He’s showing it already and there’s a lot of projection there, especially in terms of power.

Romo has backed up both the offensive and defensive accolades so far this year as one of the youngest players in Low-A (he’s two years younger than league average). In 256 PAs over 60 games with Fresno, Romo is hitting a scintillating .322/.355/.453 with 5 HR, 19 XBH, and even 14 steals in 20 attempts (109 wRC+). He was recently on a 21-game hitting streak that only was snapped yesterday and he’s already hit .383 in June and .370 so far in August.

Romo has struck out 15% of the time and walked 6%. He’s clearly been better as a lefty hitter, slashing .351/.387./488 against right-handers compared with a .250/.271/.368 line against lefties. Beyond his offense, Romo has thrown out 41% of potential base stealers behind the plate, though he does have six errors and eight passed balls. In all, you’d prefer a few more walks, a bit more power, and cleaner stats behind the plate but there’s no denying Romo is making an impressive professional debut.

Here’s some video of Romo at the 2019 Perfect Game showcase courtesy of 2080 Baseball, where you can see his swing from both sides of the plate and his defensive actions:

What do the scouts say?

Baseball Prospectus checked in on Romo’s progress earlier this month and were quite complimentary. Here’s Brandon Williams on Romo:

Romo’s short, efficient stroke from both sides of the plate produces frequent contact while limiting his strikeout rate to 16 percent. The risk-averse offensive approach may curb his power numbers, but Romo’s natural strength and pitch recognition ensure he properly capitalize on advantageous hitters counts, evidenced by his 17 extra-base hits. His savvy baseball instincts enhance his otherwise pedestrian footspeed, enabling him to successfully swipe 11-of-14 bases this season. Behind the plate, the durable and athletic Romo displays exceptional receiving abilities and stymies opposing bag banditry, apprehending 41-percent of would-be thieves. Romo is a premium defensive catcher, capable of leading a pitching staff and providing valuable offensive contributions. He could be an All-Star level backstop and vital piece of the Rockies core as soon as 2023.

Baseball Prospectus slotted Romo in at the nine spot in their pre-2021 system rank:

One Texas area scout said of Romo that he was the best defensive backstop to come out of high school in the last 20 years. High praise, considering the position has been notoriously difficult to draft and develop without players first going to college. As expected, he receives excellent grades with the glove and the arm while the offensive marks are decidedly behind. There is some thump in the bat, more from the right side as a switch-hitter, as both strokes tend to get slightly disconnected and need greater consistency.

Romo’s deficiencies are correctable, that is the good news. The two hardest skill-sets to master in baseball are switch-hitting and everything that encompasses the catcher position. In trying to do both, he has a very tall task ahead of him.

MLB.com ranked Romo 35th in his class pre-draft and they currently have him 10th in the system:

Romo’s calling card is definitely his work behind the plate. He has Gold Glove potential, with excellent hands, plus receiving and blocking skills and an outstanding arm that’s aided even more by his quick release. Pitchers love throwing to him and he has the natural leadership teams covet from a backstop.

There were some questions about Romo’s bat after a poor start to his senior season before the shutdown, but he has performed well in the past against good competition on the summer showcase circuit and he showed off a short, quick stroke with a solid overall approach and a feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate during instructional league play last fall. It’s hit over power, but if he can hold his own with the bat, his defense should give him the chance to be a big league starter behind the plate.

The evaluation is headlined by plus (60) grades on Romo’s arm and field tools, while his hit (50), power (45), and run (40) tools lag behind.

Fangraphs was lower on Romo in the draft process, ranking him 66th overall but ended up slotting him 3rd in the system as a 45 FV player in March, including a 70 arm grade:

Romo was the best defensive catcher among the 2020 draft’s high schoolers: he had the best arm, and also has rare physicality and athleticism for a catcher, a walking, broad-shouldered embodiment of his home state. Romo also switch-hits and has huge raw power and bat speed, but there were serious pre-draft concerns about his ability to make contact, which is what drove some teams to think he’d head to school rather than sign, but the Rockies took him early enough to keep him from LSU. High school catching is scary and players from that demographic bust a lot. Go back and read any Adley Rutschman or MJ Melendez report from when they graduated high school and they read, in broad strokes, exactly the same as Romo’s does right now (plus glove/arm, frame, athleticism, power), and that’s how variable his developmental trajectory may be. His ceiling is every bit as high as Veen’s, Romo just comes from a much riskier demographic of player.

Baseball America ranked Romo 13th in the system in their preseason look:

Romo is everything a team could want behind the plate. He’s mature and shows advanced defensive ability with soft hands, excellent receiving and blocking skills, and a plus, accurate arm. He loves to catch and doesn’t want to take a day off. The switch-hitter has long faced offensive questions and took a step backward during his brief senior season with a slow, uphill swing that concerned many evaluators. But Romo impressed in a small sample at instructional league, showing a compact stroke with average raw power from both sides of the plate and a good grasp of the strike zone. The average major league catcher hit .229/.310/.385 in 2020 and Romo has a chance to attain that, especially with help from the hitter-friendly Coors Field.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

The Rockies have been aggressive with Romo in 2021 and he has repaid their faith with a strong Low-A debut. Romo still represents a very risky profile, but it’s clear that evaluators believe he has a MLB floor as a back-up catcher, perhaps as soon as 2024, and a ceiling as an All-Star if the switch-hitting stroke can continue hitting at this clip as he moves up the ladder. I’m excited about Romo’s potential, ranking him fourth on my ballot as a 45 FV grade.

★ ★ ★

6. Colton Welker (546 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 5 — High Ballot 1 (1), Mode Ballot 4, 6

How did he enter the organization?

2016 4th Round, Stoneman-Douglas HS (FL)

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Welker represents a MLB-ready corner infield bat on the 40-man roster with advanced feel to hit. The 6’1”, 235-pound 23-year-old righty seemed to be on the verge of a big league breakout after a big league Spring Training performance where he hit .362/.392/.553 in 47 ABs, but instead he got popped for an 80 game suspension in May when the PED DHCMT was found in his system.

As Evan Lang’s article about the suspension states:

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. A player can test positive for DHCMT through M3 metabolites, a long-term compound that remains in the body long after the parent substance has broken down. Positive tests can be flagged from less than ten picograms (a picogram is one trillionth of a gram) in their urine. Because of this margin for error, other sports such as UFC have established a minimum positive threshold of 100 picograms. Major League Baseball has no such threshold, though the MLBPA supports the establishment of one. Welker himself states that “given the information provided to me by the Players Association and laboratory, the amount detected was so minimal that it would have no effect on enhancing my performance.”

It’s tough to know what happened here, but there’s certainly smoke around the idea that an accidental contamination could have occurred in this (and many other cases) — a minimum positive threshold above zero seems to be a smart move for MLB to make in the next CBA.

With all that said, Welker’s suspension ended recently and, after a couple of “rehab” games at the complex level and eight more in High-A, he was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque. In eight games with Albuquerque, Welker is off to a good start with a .290/.389/.516 line in 36 PAs (123 wRC+) while splitting time between first and third base defensively. Considering how far from normal the last two years have been for Welker, I’ll take an above average start in Triple-A.

Here’s a look at Welker at the Eastern League All-Star Game in July 2019 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

What do the scouts say?

FanGraphs ranked Welker 7th in their March org rankings with a 45 FV grade:

From a hands and actions standpoint, Welker is actually fine at third base. It’s his lateral quickness that’s an issue, and why he’s generally considered a first base prospect. But same as we’ve seen Travis Shaw and Max Muncy play elsewhere, it stands to reason someone out there thinks Welker can stay at third, or handle duties around the second base bag in certain situations. Those are the teams most likely to think he can play something resembling an everyday role, because while he has excellent feel to hit, he lacks the raw power typical of first base. Though he’s not especially athletic, Welker’s swing is. He’s a loose rotator with a well-balanced, long, slow leg kick and he’s really great at diving and hitting pitches away from him the other way. He stays inside the baseball and works center and right/center field most of the time, only really turning on hanging breaking balls with pull power. I like his bat enough to consider him a role-playing corner bat but the power/defensive spectrum shortcomings leave him short of a more regular role.

Baseball Prospectus has Welker 8th in the system in their pre-2021 list. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Welker:

Welker hit his first professional speed bump in 2019. He got off to a hot start in Hartford, but his aggressive, pull-and-lift approach got exposed as the season went on, and he struggled to adjust to Double-A arms who could move their fastball around the zone and break off quality secondaries in hitter’s counts. Welker doesn’t get cheated up there, and anything he squares is a threat to go for extra base hits, but he will need to tone down the aggressiveness and find a balance to his approach for the plus raw to get into games enough to carry a corner infield profile. He’s a better fit at first than third, as the range and arm are a little light for the hot corner at times. He moves well laterally despite a sturdy frame, so maybe they will try him at second too.

Welker currently ranks 11th in the system according to MLB Pipeline:

When [Welker is] in sync, he combines his knowledge of the strike zone with his ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s willing to draw walks and doesn’t strike out a ton, even when he struggled in 2019. He gets into trouble when he gets out of his game plan and tries to hit for power, rather than let it come naturally.

While Welker doesn’t run well, he has the tools to play a solid third base, with good hands and enough arm for the hot corner.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Even after the Nolan Arenado trade, Welker finds himself competing against a plethora of good players at the corner infield positions to make a major league impact. That list includes players with MLB time in 2021 like Ryan McMahon, CJ Cron, Connor Joe, and Joshua Fuentes as well as prospects like Michael Toglia, Elehuris Montero, Grant Lavigne, and Aaron Schunk. In today’s shift-happy baseball, it’s become more possible to hide a low-range, good hands defender like Welker at positions like second base, but it’s more likely that other players take on that role (like McMahon or maybe Schunk).

Welker remains a MLB option for the Rockies as soon as September, but it seems likely he’ll be more in the mix for a big league roster spot next spring after the upcoming 40-man roster crunch and free agency sweeps away some of his playing time competition. Where he will play at the MLB level is still up for debate, though my bet would be on first base if Cron isn’t re-signed. I ranked Welker eighth on my ballot with a 45 FV because I believe the bat is major league caliber and I think he’s ready to contribute now.

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Tomorrow, it’s time to reveal the top five of the mid-season 2021 PuRPs list!