Rockies prospect, Parkland native wears alma mater’s ‘SD’ cap in spring training tilt

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Players throughout Major League Baseball wore caps with an "SD" logo Friday to honor the 17 victims of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

For Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Colton Welker, the gesture hit especially close to home.

Welker, a top infield prospect in the Rockies’ system, played for Stoneman Douglas’ state title team in 2016 and was a fourth-round draft pick by Colorado in June of that year. Along with Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Oakland Athletics minor league pitcher Jesus Luzardo, he’s one of three alumni of the Parkland high school playing in the Cactus League this spring.

Welker, called upon to pinch-hit by Rockies manager Bud Black in the eighth inning Friday, was robbed of a hit by Arizona’s Rey Fuentes in a line drive to center field. He came on to play third base and flied out to center field again in the 10th inning of the Diamondbacks’ 7-6 victory.

"There were definitely a lot of emotions after the tragedy,” Welker told ESPN after the game. "To come out here and get to strap it on with the big team felt good. The last time I wore this hat I was over there [in Parkland] playing baseball. That’s what got me here, so it meant a lot to me.

"I tried not to make it a big deal of it today. But it was very cool to be out there with these guys and watch them work and watch what the best do every day. It’s just a great experience being around them.”

Welker was friends with Parkland athletic director Chris Hixon and football coach Aaron Feis, both of whom died along with 14 students and a teacher in the Feb. 14 shooting. Feis, who was killed while throwing himself in front of students to protect them, was a security guard at the school and let Welker into the building each day.

As a middle school student in Parkland, Walker rode the bus to school each day with Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who confessed to the killings.

"All my friends are still down there,” Welker said. "My mom still lives down there. She says the town is quiet and it’s still healing. It’s going to take some time after something like that happens. But they’re doing a great job regrouping and staying together and staying strong. They’ll get back to school soon and get athletics going, and that will be good.”

Welker, ranked as the Rockies’ No. 7 prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law, has hit .341 with a .496 slugging percentage in his first two minor league stops with Grand Junction of the Pioneer League and Asheville of the South Atlantic. As he embarks upon his third professional season, his heart and mind are constantly with the people back home in Parkland.

"That’s where I want to raise my kids,” Welker said. "It’s the greatest place on earth. They have great schools all the way from elementary through high school. It’s a beautiful place to grow up. I’m beyond proud to say I’m from there.

"It’s sickening to know that our name is on the map for that, and not for the other great things that we’ve accomplished. But [baseball] is something I can use to help people, and maybe represent the school and lift people up even more.”

The Rockies were among many teams to wear the Stoneman Douglas caps Friday, with several managers taking time to reflect on how baseball can offer a diversion.

"Anytime people are hurting, and we know the community is hurting right now, baseball can sometimes play a part with the healing process," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "And so to honor them and try and have a little bit of thoughts and prayers, and our thoughts are with people who are hurting, it’s something small that it was cool to be a part of."

More than 2,500 of the Stoneman Douglas caps were ordered from New Era, MLB spokesman Steven Arrocho said, with many of them expected to be signed and auctioned off to benefit those affected by the shooting.

Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday’s gesture "puts everything in perspective."

"Wearing the hats today, I think that means a lot to all of us. It puts everything in perspective," Cora said. "Something that obviously, it gets your attention. My daughter turns 15 in a few weeks, and I got an email the other day from her school talking about them having a drill. That’s not normal."

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Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, who was a Columbine High School sophomore at the time of the 1999 mass shooting, is pushing legislation that he says would protect students — by getting rid of gun restrictions in schools.

He has introduced the bill annually since he was elected in 2014, The Washington Times reported. Previous attempts have been turned down.

Neville, a Republican, told The Times the current law “creates a so-called gun free zone in every K-12 public school.”

Shepard Smith reads list of school shootings since Columbine

Under Colorado law, concealed-carry permit holders may bring firearms onto school property, according to The Times, but must keep them locked inside their vehicles.

“Time and time again we point to the one common theme with mass shootings, they occur in gun-free zones,” Neville told The Times.

He added law-abiding citizens should be able “to defend themselves and most importantly our children from the worst-case scenarios.”

The massacre on Valentine’s Day of last week in Florida has renewed a nationwide debate about gun violence and how to prevent mass shootings.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was suspected of opening fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he was a former student, killing 17 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Neville has contended, according to The Times, that more of his classmates would have survived the attack if faculty had been armed. In April 1999, two teens killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves inside Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado.

The congressman’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

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DENVER — The road has not been kind to UNO during Summit League play, and that trend continued on Saturday.

UNO shot 30.6 percent from the floor en route to its second straight loss, falling 81-60 at Denver.

The Mavericks (11-14, 2-10 Summit) are 0-5 in away conference games with two remaining.

The loss also dropped the Mavericks into a tie with North Dakota State for sixth place in the conference standings.

Courtney Vaccher scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting for UNO and added seven rebounds and three blocks.

But the rest of the Mavericks struggled from the field, combining to go 12 for 52. UNO was also 4 of 25 from behind the 3-point line and the Pioneers (16-12, 7-6) dominated the glass with a 59-33 rebounding advantage.

The Pioneers used a pair of early runs to take an 11-point lead in the first quarter. Madison Nelson scored a layup with 6:44 remaining to cap a 9-0 run and give Denver a 12-3 lead.

After Romekia Wallace cut the lead to five with a pair of free throws, the Pioneers answered with a 10-3 run.

Claire Gritt scored 18 points to lead Denver. Nelson added 13, and Jordyn Alt scored 12 and grabbed 14 rebounds.

UNO: Vaccher 7-10 4-5 18, Vidal 5-18 6-9 17, Walter 2-15 1-2 5, Mountain 1-3 2-2 4, Phillips 0-4 3-4 3, Petersen 3-7 0-0 9, Wallace 1-1 2-2 4, Killian 0-4 0-0 0, Dewey 0-0 0-0 0, Echelberry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-62 18-24 60.

DU: Gritt 6-16 4-4 18, Nelson 5-12 3-6 13, Alt 5-11 1-1 12, Johnson 1-5 2-4 4. Romanowski 0-2 0-0 0, Loven 4-9 4-5 15, Jeffcoat 1-2 6-7 8, White 3-6 0-0 6, Curtin 1-3 0-0 3, Morgan 0-0 2-3 2, Weinman 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 26-69 22-30 81.

3-point goals: UNO 4-25 (Petersen 3-7, Vidal 1-4, Killian 0-2, Phillips 0-3, Walter 0-9) DU 7-21 (Loven 3-6, Gritt 2-5, Alt 1-2, Curtin 1-2, Johnson 0-1, Nelson 0-1, Weinman 0-2, White 0-2). Rebounds: UNO 33 (Vaccher 7), DU 59 (Alt 14). Assists: UNO 9 (Vidal 4), DU 16 (Johnson 8). Total fouls: UNO 25, DU 18. Fouled out: Killian. A: 422.

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After five straight AFC West titles, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl victory, the Denver Broncos have struggled the past two seasons missing out on the playoffs in each campaign. There is no sugar coating it — the team needs a lot of work this offseason. John Elway and his staff have a huge task in front of them to help rebuild the roster in order to get back to their winning ways. Listed below are my top needs that the Broncos need to address in free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft in order to become successful and win now and from now on.

Nobody on the roster is capable of being the franchise’s quarterback of the future. If Denver wants to get serious about winning, there is no question they will have to make a major play for a quarterback in free agency. The top name available on the market is Kirk Cousins, but if the Broncos miss on reeling him in they may have to settle for someone like Case Keenum, or perhaps make a trade for a veteran such as Nick Foles. If the Broncos come out of free agency empty handed or with a less than ideal candidate, expect them to use the fifth overall pick on a signal caller.

Why is @VonMiller recruiting @KirkCousins8?@Broncos: 29-22 incl. playoffs since 2015 (10th-best) despite ranking 31st in passer ratingNFL avg passer rtg is 88.8 since 2015 & DEN had 2nd-fewest games w/ such rtg (14)Cousins passer rtg is 97.5 since 2015 (6th-best, 500+ att)

— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 13, 2018

The Broncos could use upgrades at both offensive tackle and guard. A starting caliber player at right tackle is a major need, and while the team does have some depth on the interior of their offensive line, acquiring a top talent at guard would be in their best interest moving forward to protect whoever becomes their quarterback of the future. I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to spend lavishly in free agency at either position, but envision them using two early picks in the draft to shore up their needs here.

Everyone else outside of Brandon Marshall is a free agent of some capacity this offseason. Many fans across Broncos Country have been banging the table for years to have Elway draft a stud inside linebacker, but to date that has never happened. However, this year’s draft class has a ton of talent at the inside linebacker position and the Broncos should be able to find a plug-and-play rookie that can make a significant impact from day one. If there was ever a draft to use an early selection on an inside linebacker, this would definitely be the one.

The ambiguity surrounding the situations pertaining to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders make wide receiver a top five need for the Broncos this offseason. While the team did use a third round selection on Carlos Henderson in last year’s draft (which was lost due to injury), I believe the Broncos would be wise to select an electric receiver in the draft to shore up their offensive firepower. It isn’t necessarily a top two round need, but Denver shouldn’t have a problem finding a productive prospect late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

In a hypothetical scenario where the Broncos cut ties with C.J. Anderson in order to create cap space, running back slides into the realm of a top five need for the Broncos. While Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson have solid potential, this year’s draft offers a plethora of high-caliber prospects at the position and the Broncos would be wise to take advantage of adding an electric playmaker to their backfield. Some fans covet Saquon Barkley if he’s available at the fifth overall pick, but with the depth available in the draft, I believe Denver would be best suited wait until the second day of the draft to make a splash toward upgrading their running back stable.

As always, thank you for reading. Feel free to give your top five needs for the Broncos this offseason in the comments section. Without further adieu, here is today’s offering of Horse Tracks.

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Peyton Manning to be honorary pace car driver for Daytona 500
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Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu getting fresh starts under Paul Guenther
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Colts’ Frank Reich: ‘Backup role has suited me well’ – NFL.com
The Colts on Tuesday introduced new coach Frank Reich to the media, an episode of fanfare coming less than a week after the team was jilted by Josh McDaniels. That incident certainly came up.

Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson heads to become free agent – NFL.com
The Kansas City Chiefs will say goodbye to Derrick Johnson. The team announced Tuesday the veteran linebacker will be a free agent when his contract voids at the start of the new league year.

Charley Casserly mock draft 1.0: Colts snag Saquon Barkley – NFL.com
Four QBs come off the board within the first 15 picks and two RBs go in Charley Casserly’s first mock of the 2018 NFL Draft. Have a look at his forecast for the first round.

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Colorado forward Lucas Siewert, center, is fouled as he goes up for a basket between Stanford forwards Trevor Stanback, front, and Reid Travis in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 64-56. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Lucas Siewert scored a career-high 17 points, including a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch and the Colorado Buffaloes beat the Stanford Cardinal 64-56 Sunday for their third win in a row.

George King had 11 points and McKinley Wright 10 for Colorado (15-10, 7-6 Pac-12), which beat Stanford (13-13, 7-6) for a ninth straight time.

”Coach challenged me to do better on the glass after the Cal game,” said Siewert, who had seven rebounds against Stanford after having only a couple against Cal last week. ”My shots were falling today, which made things easier. … I want my performance today to be the standard on how I should play going forward.”

The Cardinal were led by Dorian Pickens’ 18 points. Daejon Davis had 12 points and Reid Travis added 10 for Stanford, which fell to 2-5 in conference play since a 5-1 start.

Trailing by 11 at the half, Stanford gradually cut into the deficit and pulled to within 45-42 on consecutive 3-pointers by Isaac White and Pickens with 9:01 remaining.

Pickens connected on another 3-pointer to get the Cardinal within a point with 6:35 left.

Colorado, though, put together a 12-3 run that Siewert punctuated with a pair of 3-pointers as the Buffaloes regained a 10-point edge with 1:07 remaining. Tyler Bey, who finished with nine points, also contributed a pair of key baskets, including a put-back dunk, during the flurry that the Buffaloes used to fend off the Cardinal.

”Coach encouraged me to go to the boards whenever I could and I was able to chase down a lot of those boards to help my team,” Bey said.

Stanford coach Jerod Haase said Colorado got the offense it needed at crunch time and the Cardinal couldn’t find the range.

”Sounds simple, but players made plays,” Haase said. ”We had about three or four clean looks down that stretch there and didn’t make them and they had three or four looks and made them. They did a nice job of getting looks and making plays.”

Colorado opened a 31-20 lead at halftime, hitting four 3-pointers in the last 3:55 of the period, including two by Siewert during a 9-0 burst by the Buffaloes.

The surge carried Colorado to a 15-point advantage but Travis had a couple of layups, converting one after a steal the final moments of the period, to narrow the gap a bit.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford: The Cardinal struggled again with their shooting, converting 35.7 percent of their shots from the floor against the Buffaloes, a tick below their 35.8 percent shooting in Thursday’s 15-point loss at Utah. Stanford’s offensive woes were epitomized by their 3-point shooting (7 of 21) as well as their consistency from the free throw line (9 of 15).

Colorado: The Buffaloes are poised for a strong finish, completing a sweep of their three-game homestand. They have five regular season games remaining – three on the road – but seem to be playing their best basketball down the stretch.

”It’s been a huge run for us at home getting these quality wins to help build our resume for us to go to the tournament,” said Wright. ”Going on the road, these are two must win games for us and we are very confident.”

REBOUNDING EDGE

Colorado outrebounded Stanford 42-38 overall and also came up with several offensive rebounds in the late going that led to critical second chance points for the Buffaloes as they sought to stifle Stanford’s comeback bid.

Said Pickens: ”Unfortunately we didn’t rebound the way we need to and they crushed us on the boards and they were able to get second chance points which ended up killing us. I think our effort was great.”

OUT INDEFINITELY

Colorado sophomore guard Deleon Brown fractured his left hand in a collision during practice last week, Boyle said. Brown, who watched the game from the bench with his arm in a sling, is expected to see a specialist in the next few days. He is out indefinitely.

Colorado: Opens two-game road swing with a visit to Washington State on Thursday night.

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Never in my years of watching Broncos football have I encountered a player who, despite repeated failures, managed to keep getting opportunities that absolutely kill all meager traces of momentum.

I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of Isaiah McKenzie. Earlier in the season I concluded that the only way he could play as bad as he did in 2017 was that he had to be on another team’s payroll.

Despite being poison to points and possessions, McKenzie’s real talent is Jedi mind tricking coaches to let him back onto the field. There are players on other teams who are paid far more who affect the Broncos far less than McKenzie. You can’t accidentally be this bad.

Isaiah entered the season as a hot 5th round prospect out of Georgia that dazzled in training camp. As with most things about the 2017 Broncos, great practice did not translate to quality play on the football field on game day.

PFF agreed with my assessment of his play during the season. Overall he scored a jaw-dropping 47.8 and ranked in the ‘Poor’ category. Again, one wonders why he was given so many opportunities to be so putrid.

McKenzie will enter the second year of his rookie contract in 2018.

2018 Status

McKenzie will enter training camp competing for a roster spot. I wish I could say with certainty that his place on the team will only be assured through improved play, but, especially in this case, performance is in no way an indicator of future play. I want to say that with his history, fans should expect (and hope) that he’ll be on a short leash, but there’s no guarantee of that. The only things McKenzie has going for him is that he’s cheap and the coaches seem to want him to succeed. Unfortunately for Broncos fans, that may just be enough incentive to keep him in 2018.

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have reported interest in Marcus Smart, but the Celtics want a first rounder for him

Marc Stein of the New York Times reported Monday that the Denver Nuggets have explored a trade for Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.

Emmanuel Mudiay was the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, and has seen his minutes decrease in each of his first three seasons. He is a career 32% three point shooter and has had his struggles on the defensive end, leading to Denver going with Jamal Murray as their main ball handler.

Smart is sidelined for the next two weeks with a right hand laceration, and has continued to struggle from the outside, hitting just under 36% from the field and 30% from three on the year.

There have been multiple reports around Smart in the last week, including that the Celtics would be willing to listen to an offer for Smart if they received a first round pick. The rumors were reported due to Smart’s upcoming restricted free agency, while a separate report suggests that Smart won’t make more than a mid-level exception.

Reminder that the trade deadline is this Thursday, February 8th at 3 p.m. EST.

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WATCH & READ

The Broncos Have To Tread Carefully With Kirk Cousins

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With Kansas City dealing Alex Smith to Washington, the first domino in the 2018 quarterback market has fallen.

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The Smith trade leaves little doubt that Kirk Cousins will be an open and viable option, whether by trade or free agency, when the new league year opens in March.

Per multiple sources, the Denver Broncos are aggressively pursuing Cousins, even now.

Similar to the Redskins deal for Smith, the Broncos could orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal with Washington, which would allow Denver to negotiate with the Redskins on a contract extension for Cousins, and would also allow them to avoid direct contact with the player.

But the Broncos will have to tread carefully. Why?

[Full Story In The Video Above]

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Murray failed to score (0-4 FG) in a 106-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, but still provided 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

The zero obviously looks suspicious, but the fact that he provided such elite peripheral statistics truly shows that Murray has taken the jump. That’s why Greg Popovich trusts him, as he can produce without scoring. That’s a rare trend from such a young player, but its really shown since he’s taken over this starting point guard job. In fact, Murray is averaging 10.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks across his last six games

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The Denver Nuggets’ point guard situation is already decidedly less-than-ideal, but it’s about to get a whole heck of a lot worse.

Make of this what you will: The best point guard on the Denver Nuggets‘ roster is Will Barton.

You could fight me on it, to which I’d respond that Barton’s assist percentage is third-best on the team (and 5.7 percent better than Jamal Murray’s), trailing only Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay. Meanwhile, Barton’s turnover percentage is 6.7 percent lower than Mudiay’s. Barton is, of course, a far more efficient and prolific scorer than Mudiay as well.

You could marvel at how far Barton’s come, and you’d be right to do so. Barton was an afterthought for two and a half years in Portland, firmly entrenched on the fringes of the league. In Denver, he’s blossomed. Barton’s elevated his 3-point percentage from 19.8 percent with Portland to 34.9 percent with Denver, his true shooting percentage from 44.8 to 53.8 percent, and his assist percentage from 11.7 to 16.5 percent.

You could be slightly horrified by the state of the point guard position in Denver. Again, this would be a reasonable response. The Nuggets have invested heavily in point guards, spending top-seven picks on both Mudiay and Murray within the last three years. Mudiay has struggled immensely, and the logical assumption would be that he and Denver’s long-term plans at the position have very little to do with each other. Murray is, at least, a useful player, but his position is nebulous.

Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Barton is in the final year of his contract, earning just $3.5 million. He’s due for a healthy raise. At first glance, it looks as if the Nuggets should be able to dole out that raise. They possess Barton’s Bird Rights, and they only have $111.8 million committed next year, comfortably under the $123 million luxury tax threshold.

More from Denver Nuggets

Due to a quirk in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Nuggets actually have nowhere near $11.2 million of breathing room under the tax, because Nikola Jokic, as a former second round selection, is subject to different rules than most players on their rookie contracts.

Former first round picks enter restricted free agency following the expiration of their four-year rookie scale contracts. Second round picks, meanwhile, become restricted free agents if they enter free agency with three or fewer years of NBA service. If they have four or more years of experience, they enter unrestricted free agency, in which the incumbent team does not have first right of refusal.

This is Jokic’s third year of service. The Nuggets have a $1.6 million team option for Jokic’s fourth season. To maintain first right of refusal and not risk losing him, the Nuggets will decline Jokic’s mind-bogglingly cheap option and elect to pay him handsomely.

I’m going to work under two assumptions: 1) The Nuggets will offer Jokic a maximum contract 2) The Nuggets intend to stay under the luxury tax. As a 0-6 year veteran, Jokic’s max will start at around $25.3 million a year. To do both, the Nuggets will have to remove salary through trades. Making additional commitments will not be an option, which is why Barton will be playing elsewhere in 2018-19.

The Nuggets have two realistic options, and they’re equally unattractive. They can accept that Barton’s leaving after this year and push for the playoffs with their best point guard on the roster, or they can be proactive, move on from Barton, and likely move on from playoff contention. Aren’t you glad you’re not Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly?

As the trade deadline approaches, don’t look for the Nuggets to do anything radical. Rather, look for them to prepare for the future. Look for them to dump money (most likely one of Darrell Arthur or Kenneth Faried) in preparation for Jokic’s impending free agency. Look for them to begin the hunt for Will Barton’s replacement, because even if Barton remains in Denver through the deadline, the Nuggets will need a new cost-controlled, backup floor general next year.

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