Nestor Molina was acquired by the White Sox in the controversial Sergio Santos trade before the 2012 season, in which the White Sox gave up a solid back of the bullpen reliever for just one prospect, and not even an extremely high thought of prospect. I wrote about the success of one on one prospects for MLB player trades here when talking about the Denard Span trade. This one hasn’t turned out good or really bad for either team yet, as 2012 was pretty much a lost season for Santos (though reports say he looks like he could and should be ready for the season), and Molina reached AAA at the end of the year, but his numbers in AA were not that impressive, striking out less than 16% of batters, and his best asset being able to limit homers in a park that played pitcher friendly.
At 6-1, the height is obviously below average for right-handed pitchers. There are exceptions of course, but this probably makes him a reliever. In Spring Training so far, we have two Pitch F/X outings of him, both in one inning stints, so this lets us see what he might look like a reliever. The fastball so far is really disappointing, averaging 90.46 MPH despite pitching out of the bullpen in these outings. Vertically, the movement is really conservative, but the closest comp is Jason Hammel. Hammel’s 4-seamer is a solid groundball, below average whiff fastball, and it is also about 3 MPH faster than the one that Molina is throwing. While I haven’t personally seen a lot of Molina in the past, this fastball seemed like a fastball not fit for any kind of prospect at all. While, again, he isn’t thought of as a big time prospect, he is a prospect, so I looked wanted to look at some more scouting reports of him. Mark Anderson has said of Molina “offers the ability to mix a four-seam fastball that can reach 92-93 mph on occasion, while also keeping hitters at bay with a sinker and cutter that work in the 88-90 mph range”
With the Pitch F/X data (and the outing I watched of him on television, the second of the two outings), we didn’t see the cutter that he is supposed to have, but we did see the sinker. It breaks down (of course), and also broke arm-side, as did his changeup. The vertical movement is below average on the sinker, and his closest comparisons in this regard were decent at getting grounders, but didn’t get many strikeouts.
The changeup has extremely little vertical movement, but does have solid horizontal movement. The slider was also really weak, averaging 77.33 MPH. It doesn’t appear to be a very good slider in movement either. The closest comparisons I could find in movement were Tom Gorzelanny and Lucas Luetge, both lefties. They also throw their sliders anywhere from 4-6 MPH harder, so it is really hard to compare.
Molina also throws a really slow curve, getting under 70 MPH occasionally. It got up to 78 MPH though and averaged around 74 MPH. At somewhat similar velocity, it may seem like it would be easy to confuse the slider and the curve, but the movement is really different. He gets much better movement on his curve, and it compares, in movement, closest to Daniel Schlereth, another lefty. Schlereth’s is harder as well. I thought it was a little weird he kept being compared to lefties, and in horizontal movement, the two above pitches were almost identical to Craig Stammen’s, though Stammen, a capable starter a couple of years ago and a solid reliever in 2012, gets better vertical movement than Molina does.
It isn’t a great pitch mix, to say the very least, especially from the right side (he would be much more interesting, not only movement wise, but velocity wise, if he threw from the left side). I compared him to relievers, because there are some questions about whether or not he will be a starter long term, and just the stuff looks like middle relief stuff to me, or a really below average back end starter.
In watching him, he begins with a very standard delivery until he releases the ball, which is a little more messy. The way he finishes his delivery reminds me of a lot of deliveries that you see a lot in the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues from veteran relievers. He sort of pivots on his landing knee to bring him into a pretty aggressive fielding position. This seems like a good thing, but one would speculate that it would make it harder to repeat his delivery. For his first spring training outing, nothing could be further from the case:
However, his second outing was more inconsistent:
Just anecdotally, it seemed like he landed inconsistently a few times, sometimes sliding to the right as he finished his delivery, and sometimes going straight up. With runners on base, his delivery is quite a bit different, as he quickly sweeps his front leg before bringing it up (it doesn’t seem to help his stride and may just be a timing device). His finishing point also seemed more smooth. This is usually the opposite in what we see in most pitchers, but as we have seen in pitchers like Yu Darvish, sometimes the more simpler delivery out of the stretch is better because there are less moving parts.
Molina doesn’t really have platoon splits, and while is arm angle is out a little bit and somewhat low, he probably isn’t extremely easy for lefties to see. This probably rules him out as far as being a specialist reliever. The good news is that he doesn’t walk anybody (which probably shows in his first outing, as he repeated his release point very well), or at least has extremely low walk rates over the last two seasons in the minors. The ability to throw strikes always has some value, but if the stuff is below average, like Molina’s appears to be, it is going to get hit. If this is what Molina is, then he probably isn’t a big league pitcher long term.