All of his close-up photos have smirks. // Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Exit Interviews: Nestor Molina


These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

Nestor Molina - Disappointing and injury-troubled right-handed pitching prospect

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 25

Contract: He’s yet to make his major league debut, and the Sox weren’t the team that paid him his signing bonus. We’re talking the bare minimum investment for a 40-man player here.

Relevant stats: Mostly in Double-A with three innings of rehab work in rookie ball: 19 games (five starts), 39.1 IP, 44 H, 4.35 ERA, 2 HR, 31 K, 11 BB, 2.82 K/BB, 13,874 cell phone selfies.

Interpretation: Scary shoulder problems robbed him of almost all of the season’s first half, and he spent the second half being a decent, but forgettable bullpen arm for a championship-winning Birmingham Barons team.

Emblematic split: 7.84 hits per nine innings allowed as a member of the Blue Jays organization,11.33 hits per nine innings since joining the White Sox organization.

Or, more cheerily, a 3.42 ERA albeit with only 15 strikeouts in 23.2 IP as a reliever in 2013.

Pre-season expectations: It looks as though the last vestiges of Molina Fever had been eradicated from the Southside Showdown writing staff by the time his first slate of unimpressive Spring Training appearances had started:

“Molina has four scoreless innings to his name, but they have been filled with hard lineouts and rippling contact. He lacks a strikeout to his credit this spring because his high-80′s heat isn’t putting anyone off-balance.”

Nick was farther along in the grieving process. Molina had dropped off all the prospects lists for even the White Sox system, after all.

“Nestor Molina continues to have nice K:BB numbers but get absolutely tattooed, and sometimes that’s just who a pitcher is – look at Ricky Nolasco.”

Quote of the year:

Pitch-to-contact Double-A relievers deserve their moment in the sun too.

Nestor’s story: The season ended nicely for Molina, who got to enjoy his first prolonged stretch of successful appearances since joining the White Sox organization. However, none of the developments that led the Sox to running Molina out of the Barons bullpen during the second half were positive, and his success in the pen was more of a product of  it being easier to be a decent reliever than his stuff playing up in a short-term role.

Perhaps that has to wait for a full season in which he doesn’t start off the year stretched out or spend three months dealing with shoulder issues, but alas.

Molina looked to be in for a rough season in Spring, where his 89-90 mph fastball was getting knocked around the park before he could even attempt to set up his splitter, but things quickly turned a different shade of sad when he didn’t make it out of April before hitting the disabled list with shoulder tightness. He returned after six weeks, but his very first appearance was cut short after three innings when the problem recurred.

It would be another six weeks and a precautionary MRI before Molina returned to action, and after a bit of rehab work in Bristol, he returned Double-A Birmingham as a reliever. His manager, Julio Vinas, predictably had nice things to say to South Side Sox about his player:

“Moving to the bullpen I think helped him. His injuries did set him back a little bit, but he’s throwing the ball really well right now. He’s getting three quality pitches over for strikes and he’s really dominating these hitters here at this level, so we’re really excited seeing what we’re seeing right now, especially this last month.”

The numbers don’t show a drastically changed pitcher, as Molina only struck out 16 batters over 23.2 innings and was pretty brutal with runners on. However, he was commonly used in multiple-inning appearances.

Assessment: The ‘Molina as Starter’ ship had likely already sailed off the top of the Earth anyway, so while the shoulder injury troubles are truly scary and unfortunate, if it brought Molina closer to the role that will allow him to achieve major league success, so be it.

Molina’s perpetually questionable stuff didn’t start producing immediately upon joining the bullpen, but hopefully a completely healthy offseason and Spring spent focusing on working in short bursts will provide him with the extra ticks on the fastball he’s always needed, and allow him to abandon efforts to make his curveball a usable pitch.

A troubled, 25 year-old relief prospect who has yet to stomp on Double-A is not the best use of a 40-man roster spot, but there’s so much flotsam taking up slots these days that it’s unlikely to become an issue.

 

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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