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Where will the playing time for Vilade and Welker come from in 2022?

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, January 22, 2022

Heading into the tender deadline on December 1st, the Colorado Rockies weren’t expected to shake-up the roster considerably, however there were a few candidates to be released in order to free up some space on the roster. Somewhat surprisingly, the Rockies elected to tender everyone on the roster and are expected to head into 2022 looking much like they did in 2021.

The decision to keep all hands on deck - particularly in the outfield - creates a problem for two players hoping to breakthrough next season: Ryan Vilade and Colton Welker.

Both have been fixtures on the organization’s top prospects list for multiple years and made their major league debuts last season. It was a brief stint for each, however their opportunity to get a taste of the game’s highest level in 2021 was certainly merited.

Vilade - Welker MiLB Career

Stat Vilade Welker
Stat Vilade Welker
AB 1551 1391
SLG% .422 .470
OPS .783 .833
BB% 9.5% 7.8%
K% 17.6% 17.6%
wRC+ 111 127

Throughout their respective minor league careers, Vilade and Welker have performed well with the bat. Both players have contributed above a league-average mark while on the farm and have adjusted to competition with each promotion. Welker has provided more pop and is more accomplished in his work, but he is also 14 months older than Vilade. While the power hasn’t come around for Vilade, he has shown a more disciplined approach while being pushed through the system faster than Welker.

Neither is a finished product, but they are closer to being contributors to the major league roster than any other hitters in the system. One major drawback for each, however, is their defensive capabilities and how their positions fit to the current construction of the major league roster.

Welker is strictly a corner infielder, logging the majority of his games at third base while also splitting time at first and designated hitter. Vilade, meanwhile, has a little more versatility on his résumé. He logged over 300 games on the left-side of the infield in the lower levels, however once he reached Triple-A in 2021 he was converted to a full-time outfielder. The majority of his time in the outfield was spent on the corners, leading us to believe that is his most likely positioning moving forward.

Two corner bat prospects, bidding to earn playing time on a major league roster that…has too many corner bats.

For Ryan Vilade, the aforementioned tender deadline decision by the Rockies’ front office has cluttered his path. Yonathan Daza, Garrett Hampson and Connor Joe all sit ahead of Vilade as right-handed options on the depth chart. Add in Charlie Blackmon, Sam Hilliard and Raimel Tapia from the left-side, and that gives you six players sharing major league at-bats before you get to Vilade. The list can be trimmed a bit when you consider that only Blackmon, Joe and Tapia are the only outfielders reserved to the corner spots, but that’s not enough to pave a clear path for Vilade.

As for Welker, the situation is less congested…but arguably more complicated. C.J. Cron is firmly slotted in the starting spot at first base while Ryan McMahon will (presumably) hold down the hot corner. If McMahon is moved to the middle infield on a full-time basis - which is possible considering the Rockies don’t seem to have shortstop figured out yet - then Welker may get pushed into a starting spot. Otherwise, he figures to be the backup to each corner in 2022, relegated to a part-time role until a major injury occurs at one of those positions.

Considering Welker’s development was already hindered by an 80-game PED suspension in 2021, the decision to limit Welker’s playing time next season could compound the delay he has already experienced. Add Welker electing not to participate in the Mexican Pacific League this winter and the possibility that Elehuris Montero picks up where he left off last season, and it’s easy to see how Welker can become the odd-man-out if he gets off to a sluggish start next season.

Figuring out the path for both players is not necessarily an immediate problem. Vilade has all three options left and Welker has only used up one year of control thus far. But the two players have combined for just 47 plate appearances at the major league level so far and more experience is needed for the Rockies to start figuring out what they have.

If the designated hitter is adopted in the National League it could help clear up the picture a bit - especially for Welker. But the fact remains that the Rockies have two well-regarded prospects that they need to start testing at the major league level. As the roster stands today, it’s hard to see how they are going to do that.

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No one is blaming Helton for staying a Rockie forever, but his inflated numbers are held against him nonetheless. Still, I don’t believe Coors Field made him a Hall of Famer; I think Helton was a Hall of Famer who happened to play at Coors Field.

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