Two years after signing a $1.4 million deal with the Yankees, the Dominican-born Molina has begun his journey to becoming an everyday player for the Yankees. And at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he has the body to grow into a player that can hopefully contribute significantly at the Major League level someday.
But for now, he’s trying to become a well-rounded player down in the minors. After spending time at Extended Spring Training this year -- his third year in Extended -- Molina has begun the long process of learning to play at a professional baseball level.
“It’s all part of a learning process,” he explained through the help of a translator. “This year, I’ve performed much better. I’m getting better on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, even base running has been better.”
Now at short season single-A Pulaski, Molina seems to have gotten the attention of his manager, Tony Franklin.
“He started off well, but he cooled off a bit,” Franklin said. “But that’s typical of young players, it’s bound to happen and that’s what this level of baseball is all about. If you struggle, can you bounce back and get it going again.”
And on June 25th, Molina was able to show Franklin that he might in fact have such an ability to bounce back. After grounding out in his first two at-bats and striking out in his third and with the Yankees up by just one run, Molina laced an RBI-double down the right field line to score an insurance run. He would later come around to score in a four-run inning that sealed a win for the P-Yanks.
Before the game, Molina attributed some of his early season success to his time down in Charleston earlier this season even though he struggled to hit just .198 in his 36-game trial with the RiverDogs.
“My hitting feels much better,” Molina stated. “I also wasn’t surprised by my promotion to there. I had just been doing my job [in Extended Spring Training] and I felt great hearing about it.”
Despite this, he seems to understand that not everything works out exactly to plan and that he just has to get used to it, that struggles are part of the game and both patience and adjustments are required.
“I didn’t get the result that I wanted [in Charleston], but I learned and that’s all part of the process,” he said.
Franklin was also quick to point out that that’s why the players are in Pulaski, to learns the ins and outs of the development process, and sometimes taking a step back is needed to take another step forward.
“The guys are going to dictate where they’re going to play,” Franklin explained. “We do everything to make sure that they are ready to produce at the next level, because each level you advance to, it’s going to be just a little bit better.”
“These are young kids,” he continued. “You don’t want them to be overwhelmed [at the next level] by any phase of the game, but it’s all a learning experience. It usually doesn’t form overnight like some of these other players; Machado, Harper, they are special cases.”
Even Molina himself mentioned how the pitching at the South Atlantic League was harder than what he was used to.
“The pitchers throw a little harder,” he said. “They’re smarter with the mixing and use of their pitches as well.”
However, Franklin had nothing but praise when it came to Molina’s ability as a hitter, something he has shown in the early Appalachian League season that he's able to do quite well. Molina is hitting .348 with five extra-base hits and seven walks in his first seven games.
“We’ve always liked him,” Franklin stated “It’s just going to take some time for him to fully develop to where we would like him to be.”
“He’s shown us for two straight years that he can hit,” Pulaski hitting coach Kevin Mahoney chimed in. “He’s going to be just fine.”
Outside of his improvements made at Charleston, Molina’s biggest adjustment was something that many of his teammates are used to and it's an adjustment all Latin American players need to make early in their careers.
“It was my first time playing at night,” Molina mentioned of his time in Charleston. “It was a weird adjustment that I had to make, but I was able to do so and I feel much more comfortable now playing at night.”
And despite all this, Molina is still just 18 years old, one of the youngest players in the league. But he never sees it as a disadvantage against him.
“I just have to remember to do my job while playing aggressive on the field,” he explained. “I just have to realize that baseball is the same game everywhere else.”
Getting used to better pitching, getting used to playing at night, or whatever comes his way short-term, Franklin also agrees that Molina shouldn’t really be fazed by what he is having to play against.
“It’s a period of adjustment, that’s all it is,” Franklin said. “Sometimes you do get out of whack, but eventually you can get back to it. It just takes some time.”
With a lot on his shoulders, Molina seems ready to show just what he can do. He has already made a great impression on his team and his coaches through the first week of the Pulaski season, and he seems primed to show why he was so sought after as an amateur a couple of years ago.
“We like everything about him,” Franklin said. “We think that he’s going to develop into a pretty good hitter, he’s definitely a really good defender. His confidence might come and go, but we think that he’s going to be a nice player for this team and for the future.”