Recent news from a number of Yankee beat writers is that Gustavo Molina, not Jesus Montero or Austin Romine, is now the front-runner to win the Yankee backup catcher job to begin the season. There are several likely explanations for this decision. I imagine the main reason for the decision is that the Yankees have decided that both Montero and Romine could use additional minor league time to work on their defense (especially Montero), and they would get better experience catching every day in the minors than playing twice a week as Russell Martin’s backup in the bigs. Additionally, neither Montero nor Romine were particularly impressive at the plate in spring training, so the Yankees may want to give them some additional time in the minors to get into an offensive groove before they consider promoting one of them. Francisco Cervelli will likely regain the backup job when he is back from his injury (sometime in the next few weeks, I hope), and the Yankees probably decided that it did not make sense to promote one of their top prospects for only a few weeks if the plan was to send them back to the minors anyway.
So who is Gustavo Molina? One might expect Gustavo to be related to the Catching Molina Brothers (Bengie, Jose, and Yadier), but to the best of my knowledge, there is no relation. Molina was signed out of Venezuela by the White Sox, and made his debut in Rookie Ball at age 18 with a .680 OPS. He repeated Rookie Ball the following season, and spent the next 6 seasons between low-A and high-A. His playing time largely diminished as he got older, but his best season in the minors was 2005, when he OPS’s .748 in high-A as a 23 year old. Molina spent the next few seasons between AA and AAA before making his major league debut in 2007 with the Blue Jays, a 17-game cup of coffee. Molina bounced around between the minors and the bigs over the next few years, seeing major league time with the White Sox, Orioles, Mets, and Red Sox while spending the majority of his time in AAA. Molina’s career minor league OPS of .643 explains why he was never considered much of a prospect, especially because he frequently repeated levels.
Molina’s big league career has been none too impressive either, with a measly .305 OPS (.122/.159/.146) in 41 at-bats. Based on these numbers, I would assume that Molina’s calling card is defense, though the small sample of major league experience canot provide much in the way of statistical evidence (he is 0 for 7 in throwing out attempted basestealers). So overall, the numbers look pretty ugly for Molina, which makes one wonder, couldn’t the Yankees do better with their backup catcher? The answer is, they probably could, but given the relatively short period in which Molina is likely to be on the team (hopefully), it may not be worth the additional resources to acquire a more accomplished backup catcher. Molina will be at best replacement level, but I imagine that his defense and work with the Yankee pitching staff is what caught Joe Girardi’s notice (or so I would hope). Basically, don’t expect anything from Molina during his Yankee tenure, which will hopefully be very short.
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