It’s late August and Colton Welker is playing some really good baseball.
That may not be surprising considering the 23-year-old former fourth-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies entered the season rated as the organization’s No. 11 prospect by MPB Pipeline.
That his season with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes is just 14 games deep after Thursday night’s 9-1 loss to Round Rock in a seven-inning, rain-shortened game is the unusual part.
“I think this is kind of what I expect for myself and what my teammates expect from me,” said Welker, a third baseman who is hitting .310 with a pair of home runs, four doubles and 15 RBIs in his 14 games.
“You know, I’m feeling good — feeling back in the rhythm of playing every day and being being accountable to my guys and stuff like that. Everything’s feels great.”
The feeling wasn’t so great when, only hours before the Isotopes season was about to begin on May 6, Welker was suspended for 80 games without pay for a violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The prospect tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone — a controversial performance enhancing drug that, as the Wall Street Journal put it in a 2020 article is “mostly associated with East Germany’s state-sponsored doping program throughout the 1970s and 1980s, not Major League Baseball in 2020.”
Welker isn’t the only MLB player or prospect hit with a suspension for such small amounts of the PED that many question both how it got there in the first place and what performance enhancing advantage one might even get for having it.
Local sports fans well-versed in such matters might recall Albuquerque’s own UFC champion Jon Jones had a suspension for the same substance in his system reduced significantly with the help of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that concluded he did not knowingly take the substance nor was the amount in his system a clear benefit anyway.
As for Welker, from Day 1 of his suspension, he said he had no idea how the PED was found in his system and instead of people being critical or bashing him for it, he said he received a lot of support from players around the league facing similar punishment.
“I had hundreds of players reach out to me saying I’ve got your back,” Welker said, noting the Rockies organization has been supportive throughout the matter, even allowing him to play 10 rehab games before being reinstated Aug. 8 with the Isotopes.
“I took absolutely nothing. This is my fifth year in professional baseball. I would never cheat the game or do anything to harm it.”
As for Welker with the Isotopes now, none of that is really a topic anyone — other than reporters — seem to spend much time thinking about.
“You just trust him and you move forward,” said manager Warren Schaeffer. “That’s all. I mean, I’ve known Colton for a long time, now. He’s a young kid and he’s a man of his word. So that’s the only thing you go with and you move forward.”
The moving forward part now means consistency in his approach at the plate — something he says trying to learn every day from veteran teammate Greg Bird has helped tremendously with — and continuing to develop at multiple infield positions.
“He can hit. He’s got bat to ball skills — extremely good bat to ball skills,” Schaeffer said. “A line-drive hitter who thinks well in the box. He knows pitchers. He knows what they’re going to do with him. He’s advanced in his years in terms of dissecting what pitchers give him. And he’s a solid defender, too.”
For Welker, he may need to answer some questions about the suspension one more time when he gets called up to the Rockies.
But until then, he’s fine with the wait being over and his days being filled with just focusing on the game again.
“My goals are day by day, man,” Welker said. “I don’t really think about the long term. I don’t really set a number on home runs or RBI stuff like that. I just think about just being my best version today and that will just keep building into a monster.”
‘TOPES FRIDAY: Vs. Round Rock
6:35 p.m., 610 AM/905.9 FM, abqisotopes.com
PROMOTION: Windbreakers giveaway
PROBABLES: Both starters TBA
THURSDAY: Jordan Hicks homered twice as Round Rock routed host Albuquerque 9-1 in a rain-shortened seven-inning opener of a six-game series. (Click here for the box score, here for updated league standings.)
LOOKING AHEAD: Major League Baseball released the 2022 Triple-A West schedule Thursday. Each team will play 144 games. Six-game series will be the norm again next season, but the regularly scheduled day off will be Monday, in alignment with other minor leagues. The Isotopes’ home opener will be April 12 vs. Tacoma.