Infield prospect Colton Welker has impressed the Rockies enough that they are considering carrying him on the Opening Day roster, especially with the start of the Triple-A season pushed to May 6.
These final days of camp, many teams are keeping prospects around for at-bats against Major League competition before sending them to the alternate training site to await the Minor League campaign. But manager Bud Black provided some insight when answering a question about the Opening Day possibilities for Welker, the Rockies’ No. 11 prospect.
“We have conversations daily, and sometimes multiple conversations throughout the course today about all our players,” Black said. “He’s on our radar, whether it makes sense to bring him on our Opening Day roster.”
Often a question about a young player with potential is met with “he’s not ready,” but not this time. Welker helped his cause with a 2-for-4 performance in a start at third base Monday against the Rangers. The last hit was a ninth-inning single off Jharel Cotton during a come-from-behind, 5-4 Rockies victory.
Welker has put himself in consideration for a bench spot. Left-handed-hitting Greg Bird is trying to prove he is fully back from a series of injuries with the Yankees. Outfielder Yonathan Daza, who is out of Minor League options, and infielder/outfielder Connor Joe, a former first-round Draft pick of the Pirates who played briefly with the Giants in 2019 -- both right-handed bats -- also are in that mix.
The right-handed-hitting Welker, 23, a 2016 fourth-round pick out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., entered Tuesday batting .353 with one home run, three doubles and a .378 on-base percentage.
Beyond the field, Welker’s pregame preparation and comfort around veteran players have been noticed.
“I feel ready right now,” Welker said. “My confidence is there. My work ethic is there. I think I can perform at that level. Spring Training isn’t the Major League season because of who you’re facing, but I feel confident against anyone right now.”
Even more, he has continued dramatic progress since his .252/.313/.408 slash line, with 10 home runs and 23 doubles in 98 games at Double-A Hartford in 2019. He arrived last spring with a swing that worked for him, and batted .438 with two doubles in 11 games before Spring Training was halted.
“My swing felt awesome last year, and with the COVID-19 shutdown it was definitely tough not get a chance to show people I can really play,” Welker said.
The work he put in during that period led to solid performances at the alternate training site and in the Arizona instructional league, turning Welker's total bummer into his advantage.
Listed at 6-foot-1, and with a wide-shouldered frame, Welker added first base to increase his chances of making the Majors and has dedicated himself to workouts for strength and agility. He also made sacrifices at the dinner table.
“I hate spinach, but I ate a bunch of spinach,” he said, smiling. “That was tough, but I had a guy make a meal plan for me. He dropped it off twice a week, three meals per day. They were small, so my stomach took some adjusting to that. No more carbs. And I definitely saw my body tightening up and transforming.”
He also reluctantly told his mother to “chill out” on her fine Italian cooking -- a request that no doubt hurt to make. But here is Welker, a lean 235 pounds, moving well to make plays and throws from third base, and improving at first, where agility is king.
The Rockies have many considerations for their Opening Day roster decisions. Will they carry an extra relief pitcher? Do they risk losing the potential for solid off-the-bench defense from Daza, who would have to be placed on waivers to be sent down? Is Bird ready, or will he need regular at-bats at the alternate site and in Triple-A before his power returns?
Welker is on the 40-man roster, so whether the Rockies send him down at the end of camp or during the season, they would be using a Minor League option. And if Welker is deemed ready, there will be ways to work him into the lineup since the roster is full of players who can change position to accommodate any lineup structure.
Welker’s work this spring suggests starting the year in the Majors isn’t a stretch.
“I’ve mentioned how he’s taken care of himself over the last couple of years to improve strength and conditioning,” Black said. “Even during the course of a game, when we’re talking specific strategy, he’s lucid. He’s present. He’s a clear thinker during the game.
“There’s a lot of good stuff going on with Colton.”