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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 27, Anthony Molina

The 22-year-old Venezuelan right-hander was a Rule 5 pick from the Rays

27. Anthony Molina (100 points, 15 ballots)

Molina is a Rule 5 draft pick this off-season from the Tampa Bay Rays. The 22-year-old right-hander was signed out of Venezuela by the Rays for $240k in 2018 and has moved up the minor league ladder in his four professional seasons, making it all the way to Triple-A in 2023. Due to the pandemic, though, Molina only really has had two years of full-season ball under his belt, pitching in Low/High-A in 2022 and Double/Triple-A in 2023. In 2022, Molina made 22 of his 29 appearances in relief, but in 2023, all but one of his 28 appearances were starts.

Molina began the year pitching for Double-A Montgomery, where he threw 66 13 innings across 15 games. Molina posted a 4.61 ERA (5.11 xFIP), 1.39 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 rate, and 2.7 BB/9 rate for Montgomery, which was enough to earn a promotion in early July to Triple-A Durham*. In Durham, Molina pitched another 55 23 frames in 13 games with a 4.37 ERA (4.86 xFIP), 1.64 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 rate, and 2.9 BB/9 rate. Though his numbers took a bit of a hit, maintaining effectiveness after a jump of level is impressive. Between the two levels, Molina threw 122 innings of 4.50 ERA ball in 2023.

*Those used to sky high offensive environments for Triple-A should remember that the International League is quite a bit more pitcher friendly than Albuquerque’s Pacific Coast League environment. With that written, Durham has an elevated three year park factor (from 2017-2019) of 103 for HR and 101 for runs and hits vs. 129 for HR, 125 for runs, and 115 for hits in Albuquerque.

Here’s how Rockies director of scouting Sterling Monfort explained the decision to take Molina to Thomas Harding:

[Rockies scout] Jack Gillis kind of comped this guy to Germán Márquez at the same age. [Molina] was actually two levels higher than when we traded for Márquez. The numbers were about the same as Márquez — he was not a huge strikeout guy until he got to us and developed the offspeed and fastball. Not saying they’re going to be the same guy, but we’re hoping.

The comp is understandable given that both pitchers were Rays prospects, but as Purple Row’s own Evan Lang explained after the pick, perhaps the better comp for Molina is Antonio Senzatela:

The two are also very different pitchers right now. When Márquez was in Triple-A he had a plus fastball with improving velocity to pair with his plus curveball, as well as a solid changeup and other developing breaking pitches.

Molina has a good changeup. It’s probably his best pitch with solid bite that can be deployed at any time and works especially well against left-handed batters. His fastball is just okay but he’s added velocity to it over the years, averaging 94 MPH and topping out at around 97 MPH. His developing slider hasn’t really taken shape yet and he doesn’t really have other breaking pitches established at this time.

A more accurate comparison might be to Rockies starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela. He pounds the zone with good control and an easily repeatable delivery. He has experience starting and has the potential to be a mid-to-back end starter in the rotation. He’s also young enough that he can still continue to develop his slider or other breaking pitches.

Here’s some video of Molina in September 2023 courtesy of MLB.com:

In the write-up accompanying the above video, MLB.com ranks Molina 22nd in the system as a 40 FV player:

Molina has some potential starting pitcher ingredients if it all clicks. He has added some velocity to his fastball, and it averaged around 94 mph in 2023, topping out at 97 mph. His go-to secondary pitch is his changeup, a splitter that he can throw at any count and is particularly effective against left-handed hitters. He’s worked to improve his mid-80s slider, but it remains behind his fastball-cambio combination.

With clean mechanics, arm action and a repeatable delivery, Molina has done a very good job of filling up the strike zone in his pro career, though it was more control over command as he got hit a little bit more in 2023. The Rockies might bring him along slowly as a long reliever and if it goes well, he could eventually get the chance to claim a spot in the rotation, perhaps in 2025.

FanGraphs ranked Molina 35th in Tampa’s system before the 2023 season as a 35+ FV player, then had this to say in their Rule 5 draft write-up:

Molina’s strikeout numbers haven’t been especially good since he was a teenager on the complex, but his prospect stock began to climb late in 2022 when he shifted from a long relief role into Tampa’s High-A rotation without losing any of his mid-90s velocity. Molina has thrown his fastball and slider for strikes at a 65% clip or better for each of the past two years, and he’s held above-average velocity during that time despite throwing more and more innings since minor league baseball returned post-pandemic … He routinely sits 93-94 mph and was touching 97 late in the year. The Rays seem to have tweaked his fastball usage in 2023 because Molina’s groundball rate plummeted; now that he’s a Rockie, it’s plausible he’ll return to his older approach to pitching. Molina is definitely more of a control-over-command type, imprecisely peppering the zone with his sinking changeup and tilting slider. We’ve had a depth starter grade on Molina for the last couple of list cycles and still think that’d be his role in a vacuum, but given that Colorado badly needs to cultivate starting pitching, he may be given an opportunity in their rotation next year.

As those scouting reports mention, Molina’s role with the Rockies could be either in long relief or in the rotation. As a Rule 5 pick, Molina must spend all of 2024 on Colorado’s 26-man roster or be returned to the Rays, so either way it’s unlikely he will be eligible for the mid-season 2024 list. I like Molina’s starter traits, ranking him 21st as a 40 FV player on my ballot. The Rockies could certainly use more arms with upside to give a look in what is likely to be a non-competitive 2024, so this pick is a gamble I really like for them.