11. Colton Welker (401 points, 19 ballots)
Colton Welker is a corner infielder with an above-average-to-plus hit tool and already has some major league experience. The 6’1”, 235-pound 24-year-old infielder has been in the system since getting drafted out of high school in 2016. Welker seemed to be on the verge of a big league breakout in 2021 after a big league spring training performance where he hit .362/.392/.553 in 47 at bats. Instead he got popped for an 80 game suspension in May when the PED DHCMT was found in his system — the same PED Justin Lawrence tested positive for in 2020.
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.
It’s tough to know what happened here, but there’s certainly enough anecdotal evidence 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 the more sensible policy here by MLB, as this compound stays in the body a long time in microscopic amounts.
After Welker’s suspension ended in late July, he played a few games in Arizona Complex League and then eight more in High-A as he got himself back into playing shape. He was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque in early August, where he played 23 games against competition that was on average 3.7 years older. In 98 plate appearances in an offense-friendly environment, Welker hit .286/.378/.476 with nine extra-base hits, good for a 114 wRC+. Defensively, he played 14 games at third and six at first base, with no errors at either position.
The Rockies called up Welker on September 8th, and one day later he got his first MLB start and hit amid a 2-for-4 day. Down the stretch, Welker played in 19 games but started only seven (five at third, two at first), assuming a pinch-hitting role as a reserve. Welker wound up with 40 plate appearances, hitting just .189/.250/.216 with one double serving as his solitary extra-base hit, equating to an 18 wRC+ and -0.3 fWAR. Not an auspicious beginning, but Welker has that big league cup of coffee as he looks to gain a lengthier stay in the majors in 2022.
Here’s a look at Welker at the Eastern League All-Star Game in July 2019 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Welker currently ranks 23rd in the system according to MLB Pipeline as a 40 FV player:
At his best, Welker still shows off the skills of a very gifted hitter. Even when he’s struggled, he’s shown a willingness to work counts and draw walks, keeping his strikeout rate relatively low. He has a knack for contact and can drive the ball to all fields, showing an aptitude for making adjustments during an at-bat. There is raw power to tap into, but he’s struggled when he’s tried to sell out for power and would be better suited just letting it come naturally from his right-handed swing.
While Welker has solid hands and a strong arm that work at third, his lack of speed might mean first base is a better home long-term. Either corner puts pressure on his bat and he’ll have to be more consistently productive to profile well as a regular at either corner.
FanGraphs ranked Welker 20th in their January org rankings with a 40 FV grade, highlighted by a 55/60 PV/FV grade on his hit tool:
Welker has beautiful feel for all-fields contact and covers the whole strike zone. He has a well-balanced, long, slow leg kick and is 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. Welker also lacks anything even approaching the typical raw power for a corner infield prospect, and he’s highly unlikely to be an average everyday player because of this. He can, however, play an integral corner role because of the amount of contact he makes. From a hands and actions standpoint, Welker is actually fine at third base, it’s his lateral quickness and range that’s at issue. There are teams that care more about that than others, but Welker’s size at his age puts him in an area at risk of earlier athletic decline, so he might only be a viable third baseman early on in his big league career. Elehuris Montero is a version of this fringe 3B/1B part time profile with more power.
Baseball Prospectus listed Welker as a Factor on the Farm in their November system write-up:
Welker swings incredibly hard, and tries to lift and pull a bit too much. He can hit absolute lasers when he gets something in the zone, but is vulnerable to swinging over soft stuff down, and struggles to adjust to off-speed generally. Welker has spent time at both corners, but the arm and range aren’t ideal for third. If he can rein in some of the violence in his swing, he could serve as a useful corner bench bat against lefties, but that’s a very precarious roster spot in modern baseball.
Even after last year’s Nolan Arenado trade, Welker finds himself competing against a plethora of good players at the corner infield positions to make a major league impact in 2022. That list includes MLB veterans like the newly-extended Ryan McMahon, the newly re-signed CJ Cron, big-ticket free agent Kris Bryant, and 2021 break-out Connor Joe. There’s also fellow PuRPs looming like Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia, Grant Lavigne, and Aaron Schunk (with others in the lower minors emerging like Warming Bernabel). 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 should an injury or trade free up some playing time, but he has already been optioned to Albuquerque to start 2022 after a Spring Training in which he was limited due to an eye issue. Where he will play at the MLB level is still up for debate, though McMahon’s extension and Bryant’s signing makes first base more likely. I ranked Welker 13th on my ballot with a 40+ FV because I believe the bat is major league caliber and I think he’s ready to contribute now, but I don’t see him doing so unless a big league opportunity opens up.