Colton Welker's strong 2017 season for Class A Asheville helped propel the him to Class A Advanced Lancaster to start this year. And the Rockies' No. 4 prospect hasn't missed a beat.
Welker went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored, raising his average to .579 and helping the JetHawks outlast San Jose, 5-3, at The Hangar.
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After helping clinch Stoneman Douglas High School's first Florida state baseball title in 2016, Welker was selected by Colorado in the fourth round of that summer's Draft with the 110th overall pick. His prowess at the plate helped him advance quickly through the Rockies organization, playing in 51 games with Rookie-level Grand Junction and totaling 69 hits, including 22 for extra bases.h
Last year, his patience and consistency improved. In 67 games with Asheville, Welker batted .350. But much is often said about the stark difference in pitching in the jump to Class A Advanced. Welker hasn't encountered that problem yet.
"I'm sticking with what I know and what I do with my approach," he said. "I've got to have confidence in myself at this new level and show guys what I'm about and believe in myself and trust the whole way.
"I know now especially I need to work into hitter's counts and do my homework."
On Monday against San Jose, Welker endured a rare hitless night as Lancaster suffered its first home shutout loss in three years.
"We hit it hard but just at everyone in the field. It just wasn't our night," he said. "Pitchers aren't just giving it to you as easy here. You have to use your head a little more. They give you pitches to hit, but you have to use your head."
Welker recovered on Tuesday, doubling to center field leading off the third inning with Lancaster trailing, 2-1. After taking third on a groundout by Tyler Nevin, he scored on Vince Fernandez's single to center.
The 20-year-old third baseman also singled in the fifth and seventh, although he was thrown out trying to stretch his third hit into a double. He's 11-for-19 with two homers in six games and ranks first or second in the California League in seven offensive categories.
Fernandez led the JetHawks, going 4-for-4 with a double that sparked a two-run eighth.
Welker has fended off stingier pitchers and his heavy heart alike. The Rockies prospect was leaving the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Complex on Valentine's Day when his phone began buzzing with a message depicting the horrific news unfolding at his alma mater. That day, a gunman entered the building and shot and killed 17 people, including Welker's former athletic director, Chris Hixon, and the sister of one of his best friends.
Days later, Welker and players across Spring Training donned his old black ballcap with the red interlocking "SD" to honor and remember the lives lost at the high school.
"It just felt good, maybe people using me as, 'Hey, that kid went to our high school.' It was surreal to wear that hat, see all the All-Stars in the field wearing that hat," he said last month. "It was a blown away experience being two years out of high school to see that."
Nearly two months since the shooting, Welker said life is starting not to normalize but reach a new normal. He talks to his former state champion teammates often, including A's No. 2 prospect Jesus Luzardo. Now they reflect more on the historic season that ended with being named the No. 1 high school baseball in the country, but the pain lingers.
"It's becoming a little more normal. Time heals everything," he said. "But it won't ever fully."