When the Mets assigned various minor league player to the 2016 Arizona Fall League, one prospect stood out in terms of excitement being generated—aside from then-newly-signed outfielder Tim Tebow, that is. When Marcos Molina stepped on the mound at Peoria Stadium on Thursday, October 13 at roughly 12:45 in the afternoon and threw a 93 MPH fastball to Padres prospect Michael Gettys for a ball, it marked the first time he was throwing a professional pitch since August 17, 2015.
Signed on January 11, 2012, for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Molina flew under the radar until 2014, when he made his Brooklyn Cyclone debut. The 19-year-old absolutely tore up the New York-Penn League, posting one of the most statistically dominant pitching seasons in Brooklyn Cyclones history. While the eye popping numbers certainly were impressive, it was how Molina was doing it that was catching everyone’s eye. The Dominican-born pitcher utilized a delivery that as unique as it was ergonomically inefficient, generating virtually all of his arm strength from a lightning-fast arm with a short path rather than his lower half. This put a great deal of stress on his pitching arm, generating red flags and doubts about his long-term health in the minds of many.
Molina was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets for the 2015 season, but something was wrong. In six starts, batters hit .293/.329/.406 against him, and the right-hander allowed 16 earned runs in 32.2 innings (4.41 ERA), striking out 32 and walking eight. On May 14, he was placed on the disabled list due to a strained right elbow. He returned to the mound on August 5, starting a rehab game for the GCL Mets, but had his season come to an end after only two more appearances due to lingering elbow issues. Sure enough, after a 2015 season that was lost due to injury and rehabilitation efforts, Molina underwent Tommy John Surgery shortly after the end of the minor league season.
Molina made one more start for the Scottsdale Scorpions and appeared in an additional five games over the course of the 2016 Arizona Fall League season. In his seven appearances in that league, he posted a 3.78 ERA, walking 7 and striking out 8 in 16.2 innings. While the results were not exactly there, the fact that Molina was healthy an on the mound was a victory in and of itself.
Although there was rust to shake off, evidenced by a high amount of unintentional walks, Molina demonstrated in the AFL and spring training that he still possesses electric stuff. His fastball has ranged from 87-95 MPH, averaging roughly 92 MPH, with plenty of life. He has only thrown a handful of secondary pitches, but the potential seems to still be there. His slider and curveball both looked solid with good rotation and break, and while his changeup still lagged far behind, Molina was in the process of developing that pitch even before his surgery. Almost as important as the right-hander still flashing a plus fastball and multiple plus secondary pitches is the fact that he appeared to have altered his delivery somewhat, adding slightly additional stride length, allowing him to use his lower half better and place less stress on his pitching arm.
Molina will begin the 2017 season in St. Lucie, roughly the same place in his maturation that he was at three years ago. The Mets will undoubtedly ease Molina back into competitive baseball, but the time continues ticking for the recently-turned 22-year-old.