RHP, Brooklyn Cyclones (SS-A)
Height, weight: 6'3", 188
Age (2014 season age): 19
Acquired: IFA, 2012 ($100,000)
Date(s) seen: 6/27/14 vs. Staten Island Yankees: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
2014 so far: 3 G, 19 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 20 K
The short of it
Molina's mechanics are a problem, the stuff doesn't hold up deep into games, and the risk is extreme. There aren't ten guys I'd take over him in the system. There might not be five.
The long of it
When I had Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus on the podcast a few months ago, we talked extensively about Molina. He had placed him at #10 in the Mets system, while most other publications barely mentioned him if they talked about him at all. It was an aggressive ranking, and Jason admitted he would rather be a year early on a guy than a year late.
Here's the thing: He might have been low on Molina.
It's a starting pitcher's frame. Molina's closer to 210 than the 188 he's listed at. Broad shoulders, not too much weight, an athletic frame built to log innings. The fastball is electric. He sat 92-94 early. It's an explosive fastball. Against lefties he could spot it away with run and late life. Then in the second inning he started throwing Mejia-like cutters to right-handers. It's the Penn League yes, but even by Penn League standards, I saw some bad, desperate swings at the fastball. He was down to 91-92 in the third, and topped out at 91 in the fifth, but the movement still allowed him to miss barrels. Molina shows feel for two different breaking pitches, a hard slider that sat 87, which he could backfoot to lefties, and a low 80s curve with some late tilt to it. The slider is the better of the two breaking balls right now, as he will still slow his armspeed down and cast the curve at times. When Molina was signed, he was said to have a potentially above-average change, but he didn't throw it much in my look. He struck out the first seven guys he faced, and then followed it with a parade of weak contact. There's three potential plus pitches here. He's nineteen.
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There's just one problem. These are high-effort, reliever mechanics right now. Molina is a very good athlete, but even so he struggled to repeat his delivery. When he was in-sync he would flash above-average command of the fastball, but he would occasionally lose the release point on each of his offerings. He hardly uses his lower half, and there is a bit of a hitch in his delivery right before foot strike that cuts off what little momentum he derives from his legs. So Molina is generating everything through a short arm path and a lightning-fast arm action. Unsurprisingly then, there's a fair amount of forearm recoil after follow-through, which is a red flag for pitcher health. He also doesn't get out over his lower half at all, which makes me wary about his ever developing consistent command. He throws from a low three-quarters slot. That makes me less wary than most (see anything I have written on Domingo Tapia or Gabriel Ynoa, but it is something to keep an eye on.The Mets had some success tweaking Hansel Robles' delivery over the years, and mechanically he's the closest comp for me to Molina, but there is always the risk you will temper the electric stuff the more you tinker.
Molina has more risk than anyone else in the system. Let's get that out of the way. There is a huge gap between what he is now and the grade I am throwing out in his optimistic projection. The mechanics and command profile have a long way to go. But I have never seen a pitcher at this level with the same mix of raw arm strength and feel for secondaries, certainly not at nineteen. You can extend the Mejia comp past just the hair that has started poking out the back of his cap.
The optimistic projection
The pessimistic projection
These are reliever mechanics. You can probably connect the dots. No guarantee it is a major league reliever either. Injury risk is baked into all pitcher projections, but Molina's also probably riskier than most.
What to look for during the rest of the 2014 season
Whatever you want to look for, I recommend you take the train out to Coney and do it in person.