Molina had a brief stay in New York in April
Gustavo Molina, 26, was signed by the Mets after spending 2007 in Double-A. More known for his glove than his bat, the Zephyrs' backstop has turned out to be a reliable battery mate not only for his ability to handle the pitching staff, but as a deterrent for baserunners and a defensive rock.
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Few teams have the luxury of a Gold Glove caliber catcher. The New York Mets might just have two of them.
We all know that incumbent Brian Schneider, whom the Mets traded for in the offseason, was a regular top finisher for the Gold Glove in his prime, such as in 2004, when he threw out 47.8 percent of the baserunners. His skills behind the plate are a large reason why the team sent Lastings Milledge to the Nationals in exchange for Schneider and Ryan Church.
But it’s Gustavo Molina, who is waiting in the wings during his current stint with the New Orleans Zephyrs, who has the potential to step into Schneider’s cleats as the best catcher in town.
Molina, who signed with the Mets, hasn’t had the chance to show off his defensive prowess, since the 26-year-old has largely been relegated to the minors in his 8-year career.
But while many fans might not have noticed his talents behind the plate, scouts have. He was the consensus top defensive catcher in the White Sox organization and was listed as one of the best in the minors.
He’s done nothing this year to suggest otherwise. He leads the PCL in fielding among catchers, making only one error so far in 234 chances. That gives him a nearly perfect .996 fielding percentage.
Molina has been just as impressive at gunning down runners. He has thrown out 37 percent (10 for 27) of base stealers so far this season.
“If the pitcher is giving him a chance, then he’s got a good enough arm to throw out baserunners,” hitting coach Jack Voigt said.
Molina said that what makes him so effective behind the plate is his day-to-day approach to the game. He said that he analyzes numbers daily on the opposing team, giving him insight into who might be more prone to run in different situations.
“The big leagues are different. They’ve got so much video,” Molina said. “Here, you have to watch the game. If you’re starting the game, you look and you see the papers, you see the numbers, how they’re swinging with a man on base, up and in, or leadoff. You’re kind of a student before the game.”
This studiousness aids him in calling the pitches for each game, something that each catcher does for the Zephyrs. He studies statistics on the opposing team’s batters daily and works with pitching coach Dan Warthen to establish a plan for the pitchers.
But a lot of it is also instinct and knowing the trends of the opposing batters by not just numbers, but also in how they look from behind the plate, he said.
“If you see somebody that’s late with the fastball that tells you that you can still throw fastballs,” Molina said. “If they jump into the fastball a little earlier, you can throw off-pitch. So, you watch the game and you pick it up something that can help you to make a good pitch call a good pitch.”
Apparently, the calls are working. The Zephyrs are second in ERA (4.06) in the PCL, which is just a few percentage points behind Sacramento, who are at an even 4.00. The staff has been a bright spot for the team, who have struggled mightily to put runs on the board.
Despite calling over half of the games played, he refuses to take credit.
“They make the good pitches. Sometimes you can call the right pitch, but they have to make it happen,” Molina said.
Molina improved his day-to-day approach during his stint with the Mets earlier this year, when he was with the team from April 24 to May 2. He was able to work alongside Raul Casanova and Schneider – a “community,” as he called it – sharing notes about batters and learning what it takes to succeed on a major league level. They digested footage together daily and talked about what Molina had to do to realize his potential.
It’s an experience that has him thirsting for another shot at the big leagues.
“You want to be there as long as you can. You’ve got to be ready,” Molina said. “So, I got a chance for one week. I’m working here to get better and hopefully come up again.”