As the 2022 season winds down, let’s turn back the clock and reconsider the Colorado Rockies’ decision to DFA Colton Welker back in early July.
The Rockies announced today that have selected the contract of RHP José Ureña and have optioned RHP Justin Lawrence to Triple-A. Additionally, INF Colton Welker has been designated for assignment.— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) July 6, 2022
Ureña will wear #51.
The move came as a surprise to fans who’d been following Welker’s career. He had been, after all, a .309 hitter in the minors.
As a quick refresher, the Rockies drafted Welker, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. The third baseman was known for his hitting power and low strike-out rate. For a time, he was one of the Rockies’ top prospects. While with the Yard Goats in 2019, he was named a mid-season All-Star. Given his lack of speed, he was thought to be a better fit at first base, and the Rockies had done some work to transition him to that position.
However, he missed significant playing time over the last two years. Welker received an 80-game suspension in May 2021 after he tested positive for performance-enhancing Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT). He denied knowingly using the substance; however, he played in only 23 games with the Isotopes before being called up by the Rockies on September 8, 2021. There, he struggled at the plate. In 19 games, he was 7-for-37 (.189).
Welker, now 24, did not participate in Winter Ball during 2021, and his bad luck continued in 2022. He was invited to spring training but missed most of it with a bacterial infection in his right eye. He began the season in Albuquerque but went on the Injured List after just 23 games and 45 plate appearances. On June 1, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum — a procedure that ended his season.
Apparently, the Rockies had seen enough.
Of the move, Bud Black said, “These are hard decisions for an organization, but we felt that where Colton is right now, at this part of his career, this move probably made the most sense, as opposed to somebody else.”
Welker was promptly claimed by the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants claimed infielder Colton Welker from the Rockies. Welker, who recently underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, was recalled and placed on the 60-day IL.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) July 9, 2022
That may be good news for Colton Welker and the Giants who may need a third baseman next season. It may also be bad news for the Rockies in the coming seasons if Welker becomes the next Tyler Anderson. Given Welker’s shoulder injury, they are taking a gamble on a player they have not yet seen in action — at least in their system.
While Rockies fans questioned the move given Welker’s long-time promise, upon reflection, the organization’s reasoning seems fairly straightforward.
He couldn’t stay healthy
David Dahl provides a precedent for this decision. In 2020, the Rockies chose to non-tender Dahl, a former All-Star, when it became clear that he was routinely on the IL and became unproductive at the plate. A player may be very good and have promise, but if they consistently cannot play, they have little value to a ball club.
Welker’s recent injury history has echoes of Dahl’s situation — without the former All-Star status.
The Rockies believe they are stacked at the hot corner
It’s also not like the Rockies are looking for third basemen. Below are a few of their options:
- Ryan McMahon — Last spring, the Rockies and McMahon agreed to a six-year, $70 million contract. Although he‘s having an uncharacteristically marginal year defensively, McMahon was a Gold Glove Finalist in 2021. The extension suggests that McMahon is the Rockies’ first choice in the future.
- Elehuris Montero — Part of the Nolan Arenado deal, Montero has been setting Albuquerque on fire, slashing .327/.395/.563 in 53 games. In addition, Montero’s learning to be a first baseman makes Welker’s appearance on the roster superfluous. (As a side note, fans have complained about Montero’s limited playing time. However, as Thomas Harding writes, the Rockies use this time for player development and to give Montero a sense of their expectations.)
- Aaron Schunk — While with the Yard Goats, Schunk had a very good season with lots with an OPS of .731 and 31 doubles — and Coors Field is a great fit for a player who can hit doubles.
- Warming Bernabel — Bernabel, who spent 2021 in Spokane and was recently named to the Arizona Fall League, finished the season with an .894 OPS. As MLB Pipeline puts it: “Bernabel simply loves to hit.” He is learning more plate discipline in addition to third base — the Rockies moved him there from shortstop.
- Julio Carreras — Carreras is versatile, playing third, shortstop, and second. Currently, he’s also spent 2021 in Spokane and earned an OPS of .825. He’s notable for his potential to hit with power.
And that’s without mentioning Alan Trejo and Tim Lopes, who are probably less exciting prospects but still adequate infielders. In short, the Rockies believe they have sufficient positional depth without Welker on the roster.
The Rockies think they are already pretty deep at first base, too
Remember that the Rockies were also trying Welker out at first. However, currently, that’s CJ Cron’s job, and he’s on a two-year contract. Reinforcing the traffic jam is Michael Toglia, who was promoted in September and has been splitting time between first and right field. That’s without mentioning Grant Lavigne. There was just no guarantee of a place at first for Welker.
The Rockies probably believed they did not have room for someone with Welker’s skill set given his history of injuries. Only time will tell if the move was short-sighted.