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Get To Know Twins RH RP Prospect Derek Molina

I am often asked for the names of a few Twins minor leaguers who might not rank in a Top 30 list but are sleeper candidates. Maybe they were drafted out of a smaller school but have strong tools. Maybe there is a player who develops a little later. Maybe the player has one pitch or one tool that is significant and worth following.

One name that I often mention is that of Elizabethton Twins relief pitcher Derek Molina. In fact, if you read Molina’s profile in the 2018 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, you’ll see a star above his picture with the words Seth’s Sleeper.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the 20-year-old and get to know a little more about him.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Derek Molina)
Derek Molina grew up in northern California, so it is no surprise that his favorite team was the Oakland A’s. “Just because they were near, and my dad really liked them.”

You might be a little surprised to learn that his favorite player was not a pitcher. Instead, it was one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history. Molina said, “I looked up to Derek Jeter, especially growing up playing infield all my life. He was a role model for me.”

When Derek Molina entered high school, he played three sports. Besides baseball, he spent some time playing football and basketball. Unfortunately, a couple of major injuries pushed him to focusing on baseball.

“In high school, I played football my freshman year. I messed up my knee, my meniscus, but I kept playing through the season. When basketball season came along, I made the team. I went up for a rebound, and I really messed up my knee more. I needed surgery, and that’s when I stopped playing basketball.”

Molina’s story continued, “The next year, I played football again, but I tore my ACL and meniscus, so that’s when I stopped playing football and focused on baseball.”

At Atwater High School, he was a three-year letter winner in baseball and impressed on the national circuit.


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Following high school, Molina spent one year at Cal State-Northridge. He played 19 games but accumulated just 16 at bats. He made the decision to transfer to Merced College, a two-year school closer to home.

“I knew the coach from Merced growing up. My brother had gone there, and he was always around and at a lot of our games. He had interest in me out of high school, but he also helped set me up at Northridge. He and the recruiting coordinator at Northridge were really good friends. It was the closest school to home, and I knew I would be in good hands if I went to Merced because of the coaching staff. It was a late decision, but I trusted it.”

He went to Merced where he played mostly second base and hit most every game. However, he also pitched, working 28 1/3 innings over the season.

As the season went on, there was one scout that watched Molina frequently throughout the season.

“Michael (Quesada), the Twins scout responsible for drafting me was one of the only ones all along. He wanted to see me throw. He took the time to go out there. I wasn’t throwing a lot, but he made sure he was there when I did. I’m not going to say I was a bad hitter, but all the scouts really liked my arm. It wasn’t something I really expected or tried to focus on. I just wanted to have fun.”

As the draft approached, Molina was hearing a variety of thing, but mostly he assumed he would be a Day 3 pick.

“I was talking to a scout for a good amount of time. I had an idea the day before. ‘Be excited for tomorrow.’ I really didn’t think I was going to go in the 14th round, like I did, because other scouts I’d talked to thought I would be late third day because you’re a reliever and don’t have much experience. I kind of had an idea that I was going to the Twins.”

Upon signing, Molina went to the Gulf Coast League where, in 16 2/3 innings, he walked three and struck out 21 batters.

This spring, he began the season at Extended Spring Training. He had a short, seven game stretch with Cedar Rapids early in the season when the needed an arm. In 13 2/3 innings, he struck out 15, but he also walked nine.He gave up at least one run in five of the seven appearances. However, he had one outing in which he faced eight batters and got each of them out, six of them on strikeouts. In his next outing, he pitched three scoreless innings to record a win.

He returned to Extended Spring Training and made the trek north to Elizabethton where he has seven strikeouts and no walks in five innings.

Molina has a good, three-pitch mix. He throws a fastball. (“I’m really comfortable with my fastball.”) He has a curveball (“actually, it’s a little slurvish. I’d say it’s my number two pitch.). He is also working on his changeup (“I really like my changeup. I’m just not throwing it as much as I should.”

Pitching was still so new to new to Molina. In fact, he acknowledges that last year, he didn’t know a lot about pitching, as much on the mental part of the game along with the act of pitching. “I was able to go up on the mound and, pitching was new to me, so I didn’t have too much to think about. I went out there with an empty mind and filled the zone. This year, I’ve faced some adversity. I’m learning as I go. There are things that I wish wouldn’t occur like learning how to respond to them. I’m definitely learning more on the mental side of the game. I think that’s a big thing. I can always work on that, to be more mentally strong. Just little things with batters to get your advantage. That’s something I’m always working on. There’s some stuff that the pitching coordinator and the coaches want me to do. My glove hand a little higher when I pitch. That could help me be more explosive with my legs. Just little mechanical things. Help save my arm and add a little velo.”

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Pitching is definitely much more than taking the sign from the catcher and throwing the ball. That’s for sure.

As a reliever, one of the bigger adjustments for Molina has been getting used to pitching occasionally and not playing every day.

Asked if he misses hitting, Molina answered definitively. “I miss it a lot. I just miss playing in the infield and hitting. It’s just something I did all my life. I always dreamed of myself being in the infield and hitting.

But he doesn’t call that his biggest adjustment.

“Biggest adjustment would probably be, I’d say, taking care of your body. As a pitcher, you’re not in the game every day, but still you’re out on the field doing a lot of stuff. This is my first longer season. I was in CR (Cedar Rapids) for a bit. In the beginning of the year, I got drained really, really fast. I think that’s something I’ll work on. You've got to really take care of your body and be in the training room a lot. You don’t want to get hurt in the season.”

Molina has a nice, three-pitch mix already despite doing very little pitching in his lifetime. As he works more innings and continues to learn the mechanics and the mentals side of the game, his natural skills should continue to improve. He sits 92-93 with his fastball and touches 94 and even 95 already. Mechanical adjustments could increase his velocity a few ticks. But mostly just learning from in-game experiences, good and bad, is what he needs.


“I’m really happy with where I am right now. I’m not going to take anything for granted.”

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5 Comments

Great interview.  Not your typical, cliched answers--he opened up a bit.  Did he really mean to say he's "uncomfortable" with his fastball?  I would think that might be a good thing to leak to opposing hitters, actually.  

 

 Did he really mean to say he's "uncomfortable" with his fastball?  I would think that might be a good thing to leak to opposing hitters, actually.  

 

No, he didn't. I edited it after re-listening to the interview. Poor transcribing on my part. He said "comfortable." 

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Carole Keller
Jun 29 2018 12:04 PM

I like these articles. Everyone gloms onto the 'big names' ... I like the sleeper stories.

Thanks Seth. These articles are a lot of fun. They put a real life story and personality with the player. And was much as some of us following the minors, there are so many names you can get lost at times. This really helps organize who is who.
Great story of a sleeper in the system and as a pitcher! Was the Twins scout mentioned the same Michael Quesada who was in Twins system a few years ago?

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