Molina, 21, struck out 102 against 38 walks in 122 combined innings in 28 games (27 starts) at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham this past season.
The Rockies can only hope selecting Molina works as well as things did during the winter ahead of the 2016 season, when they traded with the Rays for right-hander Germán Márquez, who helped lead the club to the postseason in '16 and '17.
Back then, the Rockies had Minor League development time with Márquez, who spent the bulk of 2016 in Double-A and Triple-A, made six Major League appearances at the end of that season, and hit the mound running the next. Molina will essentially have to be carried for the 2024 season. The plan is to use him in a long-relief role and eventually transition him into a starter.
For now, the Rockies’ most experienced starters are lefties Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber, and righty Cal Quantrill (obtained from the Guardians in November). They spent the Winter Meetings seeking rotation help, which is most likely to happen in a trade. Those efforts continue.
Molina still must develop his slider to make himself a part of the starting pitching future. But he adds needed depth to staff for now and for the rotation long term.
“It’s a big fastball up to 98, sits 96, the slider’s getting better -- a little more sharp than it has been in the past, and a changeup,” said Sterling Monfort, the Rockies’ pro scouting director. ”You don’t really run across guys that have the numbers and the stuff and lack of injury history, and are super young.
“We’re taking a chance on the guy with a huge upside. We can keep him on the roster for a year and then may be looking at a starter down the line.”
Montfort noted that Rockies pro scout Jack Gillis has been keeping tabs on Molina, a native of San Joaquin, Venezuela, who signed with the Rays for $240,000 in July 2018. Gillis also pushed for the Rockies to trade for Márquez a few years back. Márquez came with lefty reliever Jake McGee, with the Rockies sending back outfielder Corey Dickerson and then-infield prospect Kevin Padlo.
“They [the Rays] have always been very highly regarded with pitching and getting the right arms," said Monfort. "It’s something to definitely look at because of their track history. 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.”
To make room on the 40-man Major League roster, the Rockies released righty Connor Seabold, who was acquired from the Red Sox last offseason before going 1-7 with a 7.52 ERA in 27 games (13 starts).
The club also reached a Minor League agreement with right-hander Matt Koch, according to a Major League source. Koch pitched for the Rockies last season, going 3-2 with a 5.12 ERA in 39 games, all but one in relief. He received a non-roster invitation to Major League camp.
BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Starting pitching, of course
General manager Bill Schmidt said the Rockies continue to seek creative ways to fill the hole, since free-agent arms never have Colorado at the top of their wish list. There is a chance that righties Chase Anderson and Chris Flexen -- two veterans who helped the Rockies through last season -- as well as lefty Ty Blach could be matches once free-agent dominoes fall into place.
2. Bench bat
Most of the bench will be a share involving younger players who will come to Spring Training competing for starts and roster spots. Candidates include corner infielder Elehuris Montero, infield-outfield types Sean Bouchard, Michael Toglia and Hunter Goodman and shortstop-capable Alan Trejo. But the club would also like an experienced player who can provide offense.
3. Backup catcher
All-Star Game MVP Elias Díaz caught in a team-record 126 games. Veteran Austin Wynns was the most-used backup. While Wynns put up standout numbers as a receiver and was valued for his knowledge and understanding of advanced information, the Rockies decided to look for more offense. Of organizational products, Brian Serven has appeared in 69 games at catcher since his debut in 2022. No. 9 prospect Drew Romo, onetime Futures Game participant Willie MacIver and Braxton Fullwood offer young depth.
RULE 5 DRAFT
In addition to Molina, the Rockies used the Minor League phase to select righties Brendan Hardy from the Mets and Thomas Ponticelli from the Guardians. The Rockies also lost the following right-handers in the Minor League phase:
- Fineas Del Bonta-Smith (Pirates)
- Nick Garcia (Giants)
- Gabriel Barbosa (Yankees)
- Nelvis Ochoa (Orioles)
- Alan Perdomo (Mets)
GM’s BOTTOM LINE
The Rockies are coming off the worst record in their history at 59-103. Intentionally going with youth later in the season accelerated the rate of close losses. But the real issue is depth -- in quantity and quality.
“Look at the numbers -- we went through 57 players, 32 pitchers," Schmidt said. “We’ve acquired 37 pitchers [now 38] through the Draft and trades. Hopefully, out of the numbers, somebody’s going to hit for you there.”