Welker had long journey to his 1st MLB start

Rockies' No. 20 prospect gets first hit, RBI, contributes to game-winning rally vs. Phillies

September 10th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- It was less than four months ago that Rockies prospect learned he had been suspended 80 games for violating MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program -- something he called one of the worst moments of his life.

On Thursday night, the 23-year-old was at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum after seeing his name penciled into a Major League starting lineup for the first time in his career. Welker’s night only got better from there, as he picked up his first career hit with an RBI single in the fourth inning before igniting Colorado’s ninth-inning rally with a two-out single that set up Ryan McMahon’s go-ahead two-run homer in a 4-3 win over the Phillies.

That all took place in front of a sizable cheering section at Citizens Bank Park. Among those in attendance for Welker’s first career start were his mom, some aunts and uncles, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s family and a handful of his best friends.

“I feel unbelievable,” Welker said. “That was definitely a dream come true in front of my family and closest friends. I’m just very grateful right now.”

Welker already knows exactly where the ball from his first big league hit is going.

“I'm going to definitely give it to my mom. She collects a bunch of stuff, so that one's definitely going to her,” Welker said. “She already asked me about it.”

Given the way this year unfolded, it was an extended path for Welker to earn that collector’s item for his mom.

"It's just been a perfect storm," Welker said after taking batting practice on the field prior to the game. "From probably one of the lowest points of my life to this, now, probably one of the best moments of my life. It's all kind of God's timing, and I trusted that. So I'm grateful I kept my head up during those dark times, and now, I'm here."

Welker, the club's No. 20 prospect, was a fourth-round pick out of Stoneman-Douglas (Fla.) High School in the 2016 MLB Draft. He immediately impressed, hitting .329 over 51 games with Colorado's Rookie level team later that summer.

He continued to hit the ball well in 2017, hitting .350 over 67 games with then-Class A Asheville. Welker then made the leap in 2018 to Lancaster -- the Rockies' High-A affiliate at the time -- where he hit .333 with 13 homers and an .872 OPS over 114 games.

Welker's numbers took a bit of a dip in 2019 with Double-A Hartford, but he's received an invite to big league Spring Training each of the last three years. Of course, his suspension in May came on the heels of the entire 2020 Minor League season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It was like a doubly whammy for me, just having the COVID year and then all of that going down this year," Welker said. "So I was just eager to get out there and play."

Upon the completion of his suspension, Welker got his feet wet in eight games with High-A Spokane before rejoining Triple-A Albuquerque -- the place he began the season before news of the suspension came down on Minor League Opening Day.

Welker didn't seem to miss a beat upon his return, hitting .341 (14-for-41) with two homers and five walks over his first 10 games with Albuquerque. Overall, he hit .286 with a .378 on-base percentage in 23 games with the Isotopes before getting called up.

"We've seen him in Major League camp for three years, so we have an understanding of who he is as a player, where he's come from as a Minor Leaguer to where he is now," manager Bud Black said. "There's a maturity that has taken place, there's a skill level that has improved. I think the bat has sort of been the trademark of Colton."

Black added that Welker has also shown improvement on the defensive side of the ball, where the third baseman has taken occasional reps across the diamond at first base. Though he started at his natural position at the hot corner on Thursday, Welker said he's "ready at both corners."

So what does he hope to show the Rockies over the final three-and-a-half weeks of his up-and-down 2021 season?

"Just that I can play. I'm just going to be myself, play loose and have fun," Welker said. "I'm going to cherish all these moments, because this is the highest level and this is what I've worked my whole life for. So I'm just happy to be here and ready to help the team however I can."