December 9, 2022

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After taste of MLB, Welker ready to work his way back

19 min read

Welcome to the Rockies prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

Two Top 30 Rockies putting on a show in Triple-A (April 15)
No. 4
prospect Elehuris Montero and No. 23 Colton Welker are off to bold starts at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Montero’s home runs make highlight reels — he knocked three in his first nine games, including Thursday night’s 442-footer — and he has a 1.064 OPS. But manager Warren Schaeffer said Montero, who came over in the Nolan Arenado trade with the Cardinals and took a while last year to get comfortable, is still rounding out his game.

“Montero seems like a new man this year,” Schaeffer said. “He worked hard on his defense in the offseason and he looks quicker, more comfortable, at both corners. He’s walking with more confidence and has a swagger to him this year that you can definitely feel at the plate.

“He is an intimidating presence in the middle of the order for us, and I’m proud of how he has come back this year with a clear focus to his game. That homer last night was impressive, but not out of the ordinary for him. He has the ability to do that on a consistent basis.”

Welker had a grand slam in Thursday’s game, but his special trait is his steadiness. He went 11-for-29 through seven games (.379) and had a .441 on-base percentage. While there has been talk of him increasing his power, Welker continues to be a relentless hit collector.

“He can really hit, always has,” Schaeffer said. “No doubt he knows who he is.

“I expect those guys to help in ‘The Show’ at some point this year.” —Thomas Harding

Welker enjoys a grand night (April 14)
The season might only be a week old, but Colton Welker is doing his best to erase the memories of a tumultuous 2021. The 23rd-ranked Rockies prospect singled and belted a mammoth grand slam to lead Triple-A Albuquerque past Tacoma, 11-8.

Welker’s first roundtripper of the year came off the bat at nearly 104 mph and was estimated at 421 feet. The slam was the first of Welker’s career and gave him three consecutive multihit games. The 24-year-old has hit safely in six of seven to begin the year and is batting .379/.441/.517 with seven runs and six RBIs.

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Welker batted .258 with an .828 OPS and 14 extra-base hits in 33 Minor League games last season. He made his big league debut but struggled to a .189 37 at-bats. — Michael Avallone

Welker sends a message to finish spring (April 5)
Corner infielder Colton Welker (the Rockies’ No. 23 prospect) is swinging like a player refusing to be boxed in by circumstance.

Welker, 24, returned from an 80-game suspension last season for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to rake at Triple-A Albuquerque (.286/.378/.476 line in 23 games) and earn his first promotion to the Majors, where he hit 7-for-37. But late last year and again this Spring Training, eye infections — never a problem previously — forced him out of action for a good amount of time.

When on the field, Welker has stuck to a controlled swing that makes him a difficult out, which more than makes up for the fact he has not hit more than 13 homers in any pro season. His strength and strike-zone discipline could lead to power numbers if he continues his patient approach.

“Be a hitter first,” Rockies manager Bud Black said of Welker. “Get the on-base percentage. He’ll take a walk or get a hit. He’s got some power, but let it come. He’s still young.

“We’ve got to get him playing. He hasn’t played a lot the last couple of years.”

In his final four Cactus League games, Welker went 4-for-8 with four RBIs after notching a single and a walk in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory over the Guardians in the spring finale. He may be going back to Triple-A Albuquerque, but he has no intention of being forgotten.

“I hope everything else I have done in my career has shown that, as well,” Welker said. “The past week or so I felt comfortable, felt good. It was good to show I’ve still got it, I guess. I just need to be myself, don’t try to do too much and try to chase getting to the big leagues.”

The infield corners seem jam-packed in the Rockies’ organization. At Triple-A, Elehuris Montero, who brings a bigger power profile, also plays first and third base, and Ryan Vilade is learning first base. Former top pick Michael Toglia, assigned to Double-A Hartford, is considered a potential Gold Glove first baseman.

Welker will try to earn his way despite the competition, or he could draw trade interest for a Rockies team that could parlay their surpluses into filled needs.

“Don’t try to do too much, because it’s Triple-A, and try to chase getting to the big leagues,” Welker said of his mindset. “Just be myself, have good at-bats.

“Last year was a rollercoaster for me, but getting to the big leagues was a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. It met every expectation and more. I definitely feel hungry to get back up there.” — Thomas Harding

Olivarez takes a step back for shoulder health (April 5)
The Rockies are expecting a major leap from lefty Helcris Olivarez, whose delivery modification should help him increase his strike-throwing output. However, that project has been delayed because of a left shoulder issue that will keep the Rockies’ No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline in the extended spring training program.

The problem is in the scapular area where the shoulder meets the upper back. Player development director Chris Forbes said the organization wants Olivarez, 21, to strengthen the region before building back his throwing program. — Thomas Harding

Rolison has a shoulder issue (April 4)
Lefty Ryan Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, will miss the early part of the 2022 season after receiving two anti-inflammatory shots in his left shoulder, he said Monday.

Rolison, 24, was expected to be part of Triple-A Albuquerque’s rotation, but instead was placed on the 60-day injured list. His IL placement allowed non-roster veteran lefty Ty Blach to be added to the Opening Day roster.

His 2021 season was truncated because he underwent an appendectomy, then sustained a fractured bone in his throwing hand shagging balls during batting practice while the surgery spot healed.

Rolison pitched in the Dominican Winter League to gain experience and prepare him for camp. In Cactus League play, however, he threw just 3 1/3 innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. He struck out four against one walk.

“I wasn’t really myself coming into camp,” Rolison explained. “I thought I could get through it until it got to a point where it was affecting my velocity and my results.

“It’s definitely frustrating, just dealing with injuries last year and then coming back. I felt it a little bit last year, but it wasn’t really affecting anything. It just got progressively worse.”

Rolison added that he had “some thick tissue buildup around my labrum area that was causing some tendons to crunch together.” — Thomas Harding

Toglia’s bat is arriving in time (April 1)
Switch-hitting first baseman Michael Toglia, the Rockies’ No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, won Friday night’s game with a walkoff RBI double into the opposite gap in left-center.

After starting the spring slowly, Toglia, 23, has his batting average up to .278 and has doubled in his past two Cactus League appearances. Touted as a possible Gold Glove candidate defensively, Toglia has gained strength to go with his 6-5 frame.

“He’s gotten more comfortable and the swing has gotten better as we’ve gone through the spring,” Rockies manager Bud Black said of Toglia, selected out of UCLA No. 23 overall in the first round in 2019. “That was a really good piece of hitting — down two strikes he squared one up, showed opposite-field power.

“I like the glove, too. Potentially, he’s a two-way player.” –Thomas Harding

Bird flying up the Rockies’ radar (April 1)
Righty Jake Bird, 26, who went a combined 6-1 with a 3.39 ERA in 39 games (two starts) at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque, hasn’t allowed a hit in 4 1/3 scoreless innings this spring. He has four strikeouts and has allowed just one walk.

A fifth-rounder in 2018 out of UCLA, Bird isn’t on prospect lists but is producing where it counts.

“He jumped on the radar last year,” Black said. “We follow game reports. We talk to Minor League managers, talk to Minor League personnel. They said he was throwing the ball really well. The organization had seen that coming. His velocity has picked up since his days at UCLA and generally an upward trend of his stuff. He’s doing great. He’s not going to make the team, but he’s put himself in the mix of guys we could potentially call up if he throws well.” –Thomas Harding

Olivares will put delivery tweaks into action (March 27)
Lefty Helcris Olivarez (Rockies No. 17) was optioned to Minor League camp without pitching in a Major League game. Olivarez had a tough year numbers-wise at High A — 6.05 ERA after a 3.86 at Rookie levels in ’19 — but his fastball and power slider have made him a pitcher to watch. He’s in his second year of options.

Manager Bud Black is encouraged by delivery adjustments that could keep Olivarez’s power stuff in the strike zone — adjustments he began incorporating in instructional ball over the winter. Olivarez, 21, had several throwing sessions while in Major League camp, but a slight shoulder problem kept him out of games.

“He took those [adjustments] to heart in the offseason, and, hopefully, it shows up in the Minor Leagues this year,” Black said. “He’s got to throw strikes.

“He’s practicing. It takes time. … Doesn’t happen overnight.”

Player development director Chris Forbes said Olivarez needs to throw live batting practice, so it could be a week before he appears in Minor League Spring Training games. — Thomas Harding

With his catching making strong progress, MacIver’s next step is with the bat (March 27)
Catcher Willie MacIver participated in the SiriusXM Futures Game at Coors Field during All-Star weekend, but did not show up on MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 30 Rockies prospects for this season. However, the path to being noticed is there for him.

First, he has made dramatic progress with his main job — defense.

In his last season at the University of Washington, before the Rockies selected him in the ninth round of the MLB Draft in 2018, MacIver caught just one game. He had caught, but also played corner infield positions throughout college. Black said bench coach Mike Redmond, a former Major League catcher; Mark Strittmatter, Rockies system catching instructor and field coordinator; and Major League bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz all give him high marks for his development behind the plate.

Last year, MacIver hit .286 in 46 games at High-A Spokane, but .167 at Double-A Hartford.

“Receiving, blocking, throwing all look good — he’s a bright guy with a good head on his shoulders,” Black said. “We won’t have to worry about Willie on that end.

“Offensively is where he has to improve. He’s stronger this spring, had a good offseason. He has to continue to make adjustments with his swing based on what he’s learned from facing higher-quality pitching.” — Thomas Harding

Tovar, Montero fitting right in (March 25)
Rockies No. 6 prospect Ezequiel Tovar’s third spring homer — and third in his past four games — has manager Bud Black alternately praising his play and pumping the brakes on a player who was in Single-A ball last year.

At least there were other young players to praise, with six Rockies homers in a 17-1 victory over the Cubs, including four long balls from players who haven’t made the Majors.

“He’s doing a great job — playing loose, playing with confidence,” Black said of Tovar. “It’s nice to see. It’s Spring Training. It’s a bigger stage, although it’s Spring Training, and he’s rising to the occasion.”

Montero’s bat speed has produced some hard contact. His homer went out over the left-field wall in a hurry. Whatever pressure Montero may have put on himself in a brief camp stint last year, after he arrived from the Cardinals in the Nolan Arenado trade, appears gone.

“More comfortable,” Black said. “Last year, new team, new trade, not knowing a lot of people — quiet by nature. But he’s feeling more comfortable in his surroundings and with his teammates, the coaching staff. And he’s showing his ability.” –Thomas Harding

A glove to watch (March 25)
Rockies No. 8 prospect Michael Toglia went to the dirt for a nice play at first base to rob the Cubs’ Ildemaro Vargas in the seventh inning. Scouts around baseball and Rockies club officials believe Toglia has Gold Glove potential.

Toglia went 1-for-2 against the Cubs and has a .214 batting average this spring. The Rockies have been feeding his big league opportunities against lefty and righty pitchers — important, since he is a switch-hitter.

“I feel like I’m making the most of it,” Toglia said. “We’re facing a lot of good arms. I faced [the Padres’] Yu Darvish the other day. That was an awesome moment. With that, I’m trying to do my job — get runners over, get runners in, hit the ball hard.

“I’m trying to keep that same approach from both sides, trying to simplify it.” — Thomas Harding

Davis getting a look (March 25)
Righty Noah Davis, the Rockies’ No. 26 prospect, had his second intriguing two-inning performance. Davis, acquired from the Reds last summer for veteran reliever Mychal Givens, struck out three, and has four strikeouts to one walk in four hitless spring innings.

“He’s got a good arsenal of breaking pitches, and enough fastball,” manager Bud Black said. “It’s a mix of pitches. He’s not afraid and can land a breaking ball behind in the count. He’s very comfortable in the strike zone. We’ll see what he can do in the Minor Leagues.”

“He’s interesting, and I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen.” — Thomas Harding

Tovar making it look natural (March 24)
Ezequiel Tovar admitted to being “a little bit anxious [and] a little bit nervous” about his first Major League camp.

He could have fooled everyone.

D.J. Peterson homered in the ninth inning to cut the Rockies’ deficit to 6-5. Then Tovar connected for his second homer of Spring Training — and eighth hit in 13 at-bats — to help Colorado salvage a 6-6 tie at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Not only has Tovar — who played at Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane last year — brought a bat that has been somewhat of a surprise, but he has lived up to the billing of standout defensive play.

“He’s showing something for a young, young kid,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Good for him. He’s doing great.”

Tovar excelled at Low-A Fresno before struggling a bit offensively when moved a step higher to High-A Spokane. However, time in instructional ball and the Arizona Fall League helped him with his swing. He’s also put on about eight pounds and is now up to 192.

The Rockies have no intention of rushing Tovar. They signed José Iglesias to a one-year, $5 million deal. Alan Trejo, another infielder, is having the type of camp that can earn him an Opening Day roster spot, and shortstop is the original position of utility player Garrett Hampson.

But Tovar is part of the future. Tovar, whom the Rockies signed at 16 and convinced to give up switch-hitting so he didn’t have as much to think about, must improve his strike-zone control to fully reach his potential.

But he’s handling it well right now.

“He doesn’t seem fazed by the stage … a lot of guys thrive on the stage,” Black said. “They get better.” — Thomas Harding

Romo has the look (March 22)
Catcher Drew Romo — the No. 2 Rockies prospect — has seen considerable action for a player just two years out of high school. And Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond, a former Major League catcher, said the 20-year-old Romo looks like he belongs.

“You notice him, and there’s something different there — and for a catcher, that’s a good thing,” Redmond said. “He’s a switch-hitter. He’s got a good, strong arm and blocks well. He looks really calm back there for such a young kid.” — Thomas Harding

Gil shows what his dad knew all along (March 22)
Minor League infielder Mateo Gil, 21, one of the players obtained in the deal that sent Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals before last season, led off the top of the ninth Tuesday against the Angels with a double. A coach on the other side already knew what Gil brings to the table.

Benji Gil, a former Major League catcher and the current Angels first-base coach, is Mateo’s dad. In addition, father managed son with Culiacán in winter ball in Mexico.

“He was my coach growing up, and I grew up around the game,” Mateo Gil said. “There are pictures of me with him when the Angels won the World Series.

“This is the first time I’ve been on the other side.”

Gil’s .306 average at Culiacán could be the start of him establishing himself in the Rockies’ system. Last year, his first year after a major trade, Gil batted .249 with nine home runs and 56 RBIs at Single-A Fresno.

“I feel more comfortable being in the org,” he said. “I was kind of in my own head last year.” — Thomas Harding

Prospect-palooza in Peoria (March 21)
The future stars of the franchise were given a chance to shine at Peoria Stadium in the Rockies’ 8-4 victory over the Padres.

Shortstop Ezequiel Tovar had three hits, including a two-run home run in the sixth inning to pace the offense. No. 14 Warming Bernabel put the Rockies ahead, 5-4, with an RBI single in the top of the eighth.

“[Tovar] has got some bat speed, and he’s getting stronger,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He really takes a rip at it. I think what we are looking for overall in his development in the Minor Leagues is keeping the aggressiveness but a little more plate discipline.”

Elehuris Montero went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts. No. 9 Ryan Vilade finished 1-for-2 with a walk, one run scored and one RBI. Michael Toglia had a double.

No. 5 Ryan Rolison allowed four runs on three hits and one walk in one inning of work. Only one of Rolison’s runs allowed was earned.

“I thought I made some pretty good pitches,” Rolison said. “Some tough luck in the first, and I got challenged early. I got to be better to be able to get out of that.” — Jesse Sanchez

Rolison takes the stage (March 20)
Lefty starter Ryan Rolison will receive some time on the big stage Monday, when he starts against the Padres in a Cactus League game in Peoria, Ariz. Facing off against five-time All-Star Yu Darvish adds a little glitter to Rolison’s start.

But it won’t be as wild, at least in the stands, as what he experienced this winter.

Rolison made five starts for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. He went 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA to go with 24 strikeouts against five walks in 20 innings. He accomplished goals of building his innings after an injury-filled 2021, and improving his pitch mix.

The big-game atmosphere also furthered his education.

“It was a lot crazier than college,” said Rolison, who threw big games at Ole Miss before the Rockies took him in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2018. “With the bands going — just to have that atmosphere, that adrenaline, with the fan base behind me. It was a lot of fun.

“I accomplished throwing four pitches for a strike. That was the last bit of development for me — establishing my changeup and fastball to both sides, along with my curveball. And now I’m developing a slider, and I had a lot of success with it.”

The signing of veteran righty Chad Kuhl lessened Rolison’s chance of breaking camp in the starting rotation, although injuries could change that. However, manager Bud Black has put Rolison in the mix for a long-relief role at the start of the season. — Thomas Harding

Tovar stands before the class (March 20)
Analysts say shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, has Major League skills defensively. So why not let Tovar, 20, who is on the 40-man Major League roster after a solid Class A year at Fresno and Spokane, show his teammates a little personality.

One of manager Bud Black’s team-building exercises is having first-timers do special little projects.

Early in camp, Black had director of baseball operations Al Gilbert introduce himself to the club. Gilbert discussed spending his childhood in Oakland, and his favorite player was shortstop Miguel Tejada.

“Within that context, I assigned Tovar to give a report to the team on Miguel Tejada,” said Black, who managed Tejada briefly with the Padres in 2010. “[Video coordinator Brian Jones] put a little video up on Tejada. Tovar stood up in front of the whole team and did a report on Tejada.

“The thing about Tejada: Six years in a row, played 162 games. You look at those six and you look at years around those — 155, 159, 157. This guy played, and played with energy and played a demanding position.” — Thomas Harding

Montero on the big league radar (March 20)
Right-handed hitting corner infielder Elehuris Montero hit two balls hard — one for an RBI single — and made a diving stop at third base to begin a double play in a 4-2 loss to the White Sox. Montero played first base on Saturday.

Montero, 23, is strong and wide-shouldered, but the Rockies notice him for more than just his imposing figure.

“We’re very curious [about] how this is going to play out,” manager Bud Black said. “We’re very positive about how this outcome for him might turn out. He’s got some bat speed. He’s young, but there’s a hitter in there. Continued repetitions on defense of third and first will only help him. But he’s intriguing because [of the] power and the talent.” — Thomas Harding

Davis brings a method to his own development (March 20)
The Rockies acquired righty starter Noah Davis from the Reds in the Deadline deal that sent away righty reliever Mychal Givens. Davis, 24, pitched to his strengths by leaning on his slider, which is his best pitch, and going heavy with offspeed pitches.

The Rockies wanted to see more fastballs, and Davis will increase that just a touch. But the method behind how Davis worked was partly his own development plan, and partly a philosophy taught by pitching expert Kyle Boddy, who spent the last two years as the Reds’ director of pitching.

“Over in Cincinnati, we were working a lot of offspeed, which is really good for development — learning how to throw those pitches in any count, any situation,” Davis explained. “Now that I feel I can do that in any situation, I’ll get back to a more traditional mix with the fastball, while being able to mix and keep hitters off balance. We’re getting back to the fastball and we’ll see where we are after that.

“I still kind of buy into the thought process from Kyle Boddy — whatever your best pitch is, you should probably throw that the most. For me that was my slider. I fell into throwing it a little it too much. I’ve got to give credit to my other pitches, and trust that they will be effective in the zone.”

Davis spent the offseason working on a four-seamer and a sinker. Interestingly enough, he thinks he can tailor his best pitch, one of his two sliders, to work at altitude. He also has a changeup.

“I have a smaller, gyro slider, and a sweeper,” Davis added. “After doing some research at Coors Field, it seems that smaller slider is going to be more effective.” — Thomas Harding

Building an appetite (March 19)
The Rockies called up Ryan Vilade, an outfielder who is learning first base, and Colton Welker, a corner infielder, late last season, in large part to get them accustomed to the Major League atmosphere. In a perfect world, they’ll need seasoning before they return for a greater piece of action. Asked about both, manager Bud Black said they “need to play,” even if it’s a full Triple-A season.

Vilade, 23, often hit at the top of the Triple-A Albuquerque lineup last year, and posted a .339 on-base percentage and .410 slugging percentage. Welker, 24, missed a large chunk of last season because of a PED suspension, but including rehab assignments and a 23-game Albuquerque run, he had a .345 OBP and .483 SLG.

Both are well-put-together fellows with a common strength — hitting for average and getting on base. You see both in uniform and think power, but they understand the danger of trying to hit to a body type.

Vilade, who singled during Saturday’s 8-5 Cactus League loss to the Giants, reinforced his plan in the Arizona Fall League.

“To be able to get to the big leagues, you’ve got to hit first,” he said. “I’ve been able to put together very good at-bats, get hard contact, get jobs done when they need to be done as far as moving runners. Some of the best hitters in the game, the power came when they got to the big leagues.”

Welker’s worst year came in Double-A when he experimented with manufacturing launch angle. But his refocus on fundamentals showed his baseball intelligence.

“Hitting is going to come back into the game — guys trying to hit for average will be very valuable,” said Welker, who resisted the organization’s suggestion to play winter ball because he wanted to be around family and focus on his training program. “Everyone will take a hit in their lineup.

“The power is going to come. I’ve shown glimpses of it. I’m excited to get a full season under my belt to show what I can do.”

Albuquerque manager Warren Schaeffer believes both hitters are accurate in their self-evaluation, and he’s on board with helping them stick to it.

“Those boys both know how to hit,” Schaeffer said. “I remember playing with Nolan [Arenado] in Double-A, and it was line drives all over the place. It’s the same with both guys. The power comes later if you learn to hit, and they’ve got a good knack for it.

“I spend all my time talking to them about it. Everybody wants to hit for power in this game because that’s where the money is. But stick to who you are.” — Thomas Harding

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