Comparisons are part of the game of baseball, particularly when it comes to projections of younger players.
Colton Welker has heard for the past couple of years from a handful of scouts and other would-be prophets that his abilities on the left side of the infield and the right side of the plate are reminiscent of perennial Gold Glover Nolan Arenado. Not surprisingly, those similarities have increased since Welker was drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies last June.
Welker, meanwhile, is almost embarrassed when the topic is mentioned. Yet now that he's shifted from playing shortstop at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to third base in pro ball, he realizes the comparisons are going to continue, provided he maintains the promise he has shown to date on the diamond.
"I've seen how [Arenado] hits in the cages and stuff like that during Spring Training," Welker said. "We have some similarities. I'm not comparing myself to one of the best players in the game right now; that's not right. But from what some people have told me, based on when he came out of high school, we have some similarities offensively and defensively. I hope I can develop like he did because he's definitely a big idol for me."
Welker's performance has done nothing to silence the comparisons. The Asheville third baseman has jumped out to a solid start, posting a .328/.389/.484 line in 17 games. He has four doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs for a Tourists team that has opened the slate with a 10-11 record.
"You gotta remember that he's a 19-year-old kid who's going to take his lumps while he learns a bunch of stuff," said Asheville manager Warren Schaeffer. "But for a 19-year-old he's gotten off to a strong start. His offense is fitting the bill. His defense has a long way to go and he knows that. We have a lot to work on, but overall he's doing very well."
Welker also had a productive start to his pro career last year in the Pioneer League. In 51 games at Grand Junction, he batted .329/.366/.490 with 15 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 36 RBIs. Despite his solid numbers, Welker admits going from high school to the Minor Leagues featured some challenges.
"Coming from South Florida, I did face some good arms coming out of high school, particularly in terms of velocity," Welker said. "That really helped me prepare for pro ball. But the game was a lot faster when I first started in Grand Junction. It took some time to get acclimated to how fast the game was played, such as getting my [front] foot down and letting the bat head do the work, because these guys were throwing a lot harder with better stuff. I had to become a hitter. I knew I had the tools and I just put them to use last year."
Welker worked hard on his physical conditioning, going to the Rockies' Spring Training facility in Arizona in November and spending the remainder of the offseason toiling with the organization's strength coaches. He feels that effort gave him a foundation to get through a full season while he sharpens his skills on a daily basis under Schaeffer's watchful eyes.
"That's been the key for me, just getting my body acclimated and getting a routine down defensively and in the cages before the game," Welker said. "Getting in a routine is so important because any time you start to struggle or get in a slump, you have something to remind yourself what got you here and that's who you are as a player. If I can keep doing that, I think I'll be able to make the progress I need to make."
Big audience for Mazza's perfecto: Augusta's Domenic Mazza threw the first nine-inning perfect game in South Atlantic League history when he silenced the Legends' bats at Lexington on April 24. Mazza struck out nine batters to earn his first victory of the campaign and did so in front of some key people. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, most of his coaching staff and a handful of other Giants officials watched the latter part of the game on the large screen television in the clubhouse meeting room via the MiLB.TV feed.
Hot hitters: Several hitters have gotten off to hot starts. Rome's Kevin Josephina owned the league's longest hitting streak thus far by putting together an 11-game string through April 26. Greensboro's Boo Vazquez has a 10-game streak while batting at a .444 clip (16-for-36). West Virginia's Ty Moore also hit safely in 10 straight, from April 11-21, and was 20-for-46 (.435) during that stretch.
Merandy the man: Four SAL pitchers have already won four games but no one has been more dominant than Columbia's Merandy Gonzalez. The right-hander from the Dominican Republic has not allowed an earned run through his first four starts, covering a league-high 28 1/3 innings. He has allowed only 15 hits and three walks while fanning 23 batters. He has pitched at least six innings in every outing and tossed 7 2/3 frames on two occasions.